Masterchef Goes Large
India Fisher (voiceover)
Sean Pertwee (voiceover, MasterChef: The Professionals, 2011-)
Sharon Horgan (voiceover, Junior MasterChef, 2012)
Judges: John Torode and Gregg Wallace
Masterchef: The Professionals: Gregg Wallace (all series), Michel Roux Jr (2008-13), Marcus Wareing (2014), Monica Galetti (first round, 2009-)
Junior MasterChef: John Torode (all series), Nadia Sawalha (2010), Donal Skehan (2012)
The food critics, who have appeared from time to time in all the series, include Jay Rayner, Kate Spicer, Charles Campion, William Sitwell and Tracy McLeod.
Shine / Ziji Productions for BBC Two, 21 February 2005 to 26 February 2009 (2008-present as MasterChef)
Shine / Ziji Productions for BBC One, 18 February 2010 to present
Celebrity MasterChef BBC One, 2006 to present
Masterchef: The Professionals BBC Two, 25 August 2008 to present
Junior MasterChef BBC One, 10 May 2010 to present
Reality remake of Masterchef. Until the 2011 revamp, the stripped-across-a-week format saw six cooks each day battle it out over a series of culinary challenges whilst under the added pressure of zoo-style camerawork and thumping dance beats. The six are whittled down to three in a Ready Steady Cook use-these-ingredients-and-make-something-quickly style challenge ("The Invention Test"). Whichever three (or sometimes four) the two judges deem the worst go home; the winners stay overnight for two more challenges - working a shift in a professional kitchen ("The Pressure Test") and preparing their best two-course meal ("The (er) Final Test").
The winner (or sometimes winners) of each heat goes through to the Friday quarter-final. Originally, the four would-be chefs would face a name-the-ingredients quiz and must deliver a speech to the judges outlining why they deserve to win, after which one contestant was sent home without having cooked anything. In 2010, this was replaced with a solo cookery test along similar lines to the Professionals series "Elimination Test" (but this time with a choice between cooking meat or fish, along with a sauce), with plenty of interesting facial expressions from Torode and Wallace, although not quite matching the quality and variety of expressions displayed by Monica Galetti in said "Professionals" series (see below), and with the speech turned into a more informal affair tacked on the end, still leading up to one or more of the contestants being eliminated before the final cook-off. The remaining three (or whatever) must then cook their very best two-course meal — yes, even better than that two-course meal in the heat that was their very best - or, in fact, only one course in more than one case, due to the fact that there were more than four contestants in the relevant quarter-finals and therefore only time for one course to be made and judged. (Before 2010, i.e. when it was on BBC Two, it was a three-course meal in the quarter-finals. Why they changed it, we just don't know. At least having a "very best" two-course and "very best" three-course meal made some kind of sense. It's probably due to the extra contestants they now tend to have in the quarter-finals, all of whom have to be fitted into the normal half-hour timeslot, leaving time for only either one or two courses to be made). The winners of this go through to the semi-finals and then hopefully the grand final, with the chance of being taken on as a proper chef.
From the second series onwards, the last week of the heats is a "comeback" week in which knocked-out contestants from the previous year return for another shot at the title. The format is slightly different during this week, lacking the invention test but with the contestants facing a longer pressure test consisting of both a breakfast and dinner service on the same day. In the final stages, the contestants must cook under various (some would say novelty) conditions - to name but a few, in a ship's galley, for a wedding party, in the jungles of Belize, in a catering-van for the cast and crew of "Waterloo Road" or "Ashes To Ashes", at a Michelin-starred restaurant, backstage for The Corrs, on the Orient Express (with Wallace as the self-styled 'Fat Controller') - and, perhaps most significantly, for the Maharajah of Jodhpur, India and his family and entourage. The 2010 finallists, who had already done the latter, even got to run their own restaurant in London for one night only, complete with waiting staff and with Torode and Wallace acting as the maitre d's. One of the very last tasks is to cook for a roomful of Michelin-starred chefs, who tend to include the likes of Michel Roux Sr. and Michael Caines. Michel Roux Jr. also frequently appears during these latter stages of the regular and celebrity series, in addition to his regular role on the 'Professionals' series. For the absolutely final bit of the final, it's back to "Masterchef HQ" and a straight three-course cook-off. The winner is crowned The Winner, and goes off to enjoy their new-found job.
For a cookery show in which nine dishes are made every day, there's surprisingly little emphasis placed on the cooking, the producers evidently preferring the judges' deliberations, cogitations and digestion, and shots of the winners calling their friends and family on their mobiles. Nevertheless, it's a pretty entertaining half-hour, and let's face it: what's the alternative? Hollyoaks?
Changing the recipe
They dropped the "Goes Large" from the title in 2008, possibly because they finally noticed how silly India Fisher sounded when trying to make it sound portentous in the opening titles. 2008 also saw the series promoted from its original 6:30pm slot to a mid-evening 8:30 berth, where it performed so well that it transferred to BBC One in 2010. The interstitial captions ("The Pressure Test", etc.) seem to have been lost in the move, as (thankfully) have some of Torode and Wallace's annoyingly shouted catchphrases, but otherwise the show appears largely unchanged. One rather more noticeable change, however, has been the fact that the judges have now tended more towards putting two contestants through to both the quarter finals and the semi-finals if it was very hard to separate them - and they have also sent four instead of three contestants home after the Invention Test on at least two occasions. There was also one edition in which none of the three contestants involved were allowed to progress to the quarter-finals, as they were not considered to be up to the required standard. Although this came to the fore much more in the 2010 series, it actually started in the 2009 'Professionals' series, when Roux and Wallace found themselves unable to choose between two contestants (namely the eventual winner, Steve Groves, and another chef, Daniel), so they put them both through to the semi-finals - and their decision was confirmed still further when both Steve and Daniel made it through to the finals, along with a female chef, Marianne (see under the 'Professionals' section).
One element which has changed quite significantly in the 2010 series is the "comeback" week: now the programme takes advantage of its hour-long slot (which is usually just two half-hour heats grafted together) by breaking the 16 comeback contestants into two groups of eight, one for each of the week's two 60-minute episodes. The pro kitchen task is cut back from a double shift to the usual lunchtime service, and there is now a "skill test" (a close relative of the classic recipe test, but the contestants are given a choice of two quite basic meals to prepare, such as spaghetti carbonara or beefburger and chips) and a "palate test" (Torode cooks! Oh yes! And then the contestants troop in one at a time to see if they can identify the ingredients and processes that have gone into the food). The final round is still the traditional "best two-course meal".
2011: Changing the recipe even more
While all the above was going on, Shine was busy marketing the MasterChef brand around the world, chopping and changing the format as it went. The huge success story was the Australian version, which was a phenomenon of Britain's Got Talent proportions - and very different to the British format, with a Pop Idol-type series structure in which auditions produced a field which was then whittled down over several weeks.
2011 saw the UK version move significantly closer to the international format. Essentially, the entire "heats" phase that previously made up the bulk of the series has been dropped, replaced by a short "auditions" phase (which doesn't feel like proper MasterChef at all - it's maybe better to think of it as a sort of short spin-off series called something like So You Want To Be On MasterChef?) producing a field of 20 competitors, rapidly reduced to 12 and then more slowly reduced over the weeks that follow. Most of the series is now taken up by what is basically an elongated version of the old semi-final phase, with a bit of a twist in that each episode usually starts with one or two tasks that everybody does, and only the competitors deemed the weakest have to face the elimination test (which is generally some sort of Invention Test). There is also a new MasterChef kitchen (not an "HQ", we notice), a general lack of catchphrases, and a new closing theme with no actual tune to speak of. After the first couple of weeks, the scheduling dropped to one episode per week, which - in stark contrast to the Australian format - somewhat robbed the show of its "event" status, and (notwithstanding the overexposure created by all the various spinoffs) felt weirdly like a demotion.
Evidently the 2011 series didn't go down very well, as 2012 saw the audition shows dropped and the reintroduction of separate heats, and 2013 saw the show returned to something close enough to the original Goes Large format that Franc Roddam even got his creator credit back.
Inevitably, BBC1 gets the all-star variant. First broadcast in September 2006, the celeb version features 24 participants, most of whom we've heard of, at least vaguely, and one (yes, as many as one) of whom is actually famous enough to be listed in Who's Who. Take that, Love Island! The second celebrity series actually managed to attract an earth-shattering three Who's Who entrants (Gunnell, Rippon and Quirke), which we're guessing may be some sort of record.
Unusually for a celeb show, it's all pre-recorded, with no telephone voting, not even a Great British Menu-type poll at the end. The format is basically the same as the regular show, except that only three celebs begin each heat and there is no elimination after the first test. Also, in the quarter finals, the four celebs do not have to do the ingredients test or make a case for staying in the contest to John and Gregg. Instead, they all have to cook the same classic dish (Chicken Kiev or steak and chips or sponge pudding and custard, to give but three examples) and the celeb who produces the least successful version is eliminated. (The 'Classic Recipe' test is also frequently used during the final stages of the regular series and during the early stages of the Professionals version).
In 2010, there was a 'Sport Relief' Celebrity Special, whereby three Match of the Day regulars, namely host Gary Lineker and pundits Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson, who were all apparently decidedly lacking in cooking-ability, competed in a single-round edition of the show, each cooking his own chosen main course dish. Lineker cooked steak and chips, Hansen sausage and mash and Lawrenson pasta carbonara - none of the dishes were fault-free (Lawrenson, by the way, made basil bread instead of garlic bread), but Torode and Wallace did, for the most part, enjoy said dishes - and Hansen was the winner. The other two said afterwards that he'd never let them hear the last of it - no doubt that point has since been proved or disproved on 'Match Of The Day'. 2011 saw a Comic Relief version featuring Claudia Winkleman, Miranda Hart and Ruby Wax, all of whom (Hart in particular) were also apparently lacking in relevant experience. The trio actually cooked lunch in 10 Downing Street, no less, for Prime Minister David Cameron, regular judges Wallace and Galetti and reigning champions Dhruv Baker and Claire Lara, while Torode and Roux oversaw the cooking. All three celebrities caused a good deal of havoc in the kitchen, especially Wax, who was hacking very dangerously at a crab in order to get the shell off (Roux wished he'd brought a crash helmet). Anyway, notwithstanding all that, Wax served up a crab salad starter, Winkleman a chilli con carne with jacket potatoes for the main (which proved popular, although, according to the PM, not quite as good as the best chilli ever, ie his wife Samantha's version) and Hart made a meringue trifle (topped with Gummi Bears) for dessert - and the food proved, like the proverbial curate's egg, at least good in parts. Hart was the eventual winner.
2010 saw some tweaks to the Celebrity format: instead of being two three-person heats stuck together, the hour-long episodes start with five contestants. An Invention Test with a very generous range of ingredients produces one person who gets "fast tracked" to the Professional Kitchen round (this idea of allowing one contestant to bypass an elimination challenge is an import from the quite different Australian MasterChef format), while the others face a Palate Test and Skill Test after which two are eliminated. The remaining contestants then do the Pro Kitchen and Two Course Meal as usual, and one is eliminated, leaving two to go through to the weekly semi-final. Also, the set is now orange instead of the traditional red (which is presumably now reserved for the main MasterChef series). Furthermore, the semi-final procedure has now changed: instead of the 'Classic Recipe Test' and cooking their best two-course meal, the four celebrities each have to cook two courses for three food-experts from the WI (much the same as cooking for the food critics) and the least-successful contestant is eliminated.
Masterchef: The Professionals
Back on BBC Two, a further spin-off saw young professionals take on the Masterchef challenge. No John Torode in this one, for he has no Michelin stars so what does he know? Instead Michel Roux Jr (what, just the two stars?) joined Gregg Wallace in the studio. Three contestants featured in each heat, facing two rounds: the Versatility Test (create two different dishes using the same principal ingredient) and the Classic Recipe Test (make two courses based on recipes provided, but do it in your own style). The weekly finals were cook-for-the-critics rounds, with two from four advancing to the final phase.
Notably, and in stark contrast to the amateur and celebrity series, the realities of the industry are reflected in the gender balance of the contestants, with very few female chefs taking part - in the 2009 series, there were only 4 female contestants in the entire series, though one of them, Marianne, who frequently cooked for celebrities, made it to the final. The balance was improved somewhat in the 2010 and 2011 series: although still heavily outnumbered in the initial stages, women accounted for three of the last eight, including the eventual champion in 2010. Without the ability to characterise the contestants with lazy monickers such as "experimental cook Judy" or "classic cook Kevin", the programme spends a lot of time profiling each contestant, since they all have the same wet-look haircut, northern accent, trendy roll-up set of fierce looking knives and determination to burn exactly three sides of a crouton. As such, there's only the two rounds, the breath of fresh air that was the Pro Kitchen round being sadly missing.
Otherwise, the show is as entertaining as ever, and Roux Jr certainly has his moments. His manner may be considerably quieter and less in-your-face than either John or Gregg (which, frankly, can't be difficult), but his criticisms are, if anything, even more cutting - and, much of the time, his expression of disappointment and/or horror while watching what the chefs are doing is more than enough to tell us that he's not impressed with them. As well as picking up on minor details such as the wrong choice of plate and removing tiny sprigs of mint leaf atop a dish, his reactions vary from "That's good enough to be served in my restaurant" and "I could eat a whole plateful of this - no, I could eat two platefuls!" to "Have you considered doing something other than cooking food?" He also likened the sauce on one dish to something he might see on the pavement outside a pub - and he gave two other contestants short shrift, the first for 'chatting back', the second for saying that he didn't have the correct knife for removing the bones from a fish. ("A bad workman always blames his tools", declared Roux severely). Even the 2008 champion, Derek Johnstone, did not entirely escape criticism from Roux, especially when the shortbread biscuits that he presented as part of one dessert were not up to scratch. "You're Scottish, so you should know how to produce proper shortbread biscuits!" was Roux's opinion. Bottom lips have trembled on more than one occasion.
We note that Gregg and Michel only ever refer to the programme as "Professional Masterchef", suggesting that the title (an obvious crib from the successful University Challenge spin-off) may have been changed at a late stage, i.e. after the show was in the can. Probably the change was to make it "EPG friendly", so that Sky viewers would see "Masterchef: Th...", not "Professional M..."
The second series (2009) saw a slight tweak to the heats, with four contestants starting each heat, one being eliminated after the, er, "Elimination Test". This sees each contestant in turn having ten minutes to complete two tasks: a preparation task (spatchcock a chicken, trim an artichoke) and a simple (ha!) cooking task, usually making a sauce of some kind, or possibly something definitely simpler (in theory, anyway), like making scrambled eggs or an omelette. For this test, Michel is absent and his sous chef Monica Galetti joins Gregg to intimidate and judge the contestants. This is sold to the viewer as the contestants having to earn the right to cook for Michel, though it looks suspiciously as if Shine are looking to pitch a Monica Galetti series a few months down the line (amazingly, despite Galetti being a clear hit with viewers, this never actually happened). It's actually quite amazing to see how many supposedly professional contestants make a complete hash of this test, often failing even to complete it. As Gregg once put it, "I'm not gonna put anybody through to cook for Michel who can't cook a squid [and] doesn't know what a sauce vierge is — unless there's somebody worse than them." We think he was trying to make Monica laugh (and she almost did!) but it does often come down to that sort of judgement. (One unfortunate contestant made the simple but fatal error of cutting up butter to make scrambled eggs using the same knife and chopping board that she had previously used to cut up rabbit - and, naturally, Monica was far from impressed - "Do I want to taste it? No!" she declared brusquely. Gregg was more sympathetic, but equally unwilling to taste it). The addition of this test means each episode expands to 45 minutes, which fits rather awkwardly into the BBC Two schedules. In fact they had to resort to lopping 15 minutes off the end of the first heat each week and sticking it at the start of the second to make up a half-hour and an hour respectively. And filling up 15-minute gaps with extracts from Coast. Honestly, we've seen them all already. The 2010 series reduced each heat to a more sensible 30 minutes, comprising a Skills Test with Monica and a technically challenging Classic Recipe Test with Michel (see below). Another blessed relief is the fact that they've changed the sequence showing Michel and Monica at work in the former's kitchen: in the 2009 series, the constant sight of Michel polishing a shot glass and Monica barking out, "Move it - get that garnish on the plate NOW!!!" rapidly became tiresome. In the 2010 series, we had a longer sequence showing Michel and his team at work, which at least showed us a fairly interesting variety of things going on, enough so that the sequence never wore thin.
Like Michel, Monica invariably comes out with some memorably cutting comments regarding the chefs' prowess (or lack of it), such as, "If you were in my kitchen, you'd be wearing that fish by now!" "If you presented that to Michel, he'd lose the plot completely!" "You've failed that completely!" and, to a chef who was struggling to extract the livers from a chicken, "Come on, Rob, it's not a heart transplant!" In addition, she curtly informed one chef who had only scraped through because one his opponents had made the above-mentioned scrambled egg-error, "You're only still here because another contestant nearly poisoned me - you really need to up your game!" She's also the doyenne of facial expressions, which helps the editing no end as it means the progress of the tasks can more or less be reduced to a series of cuts between what the contestant is doing, and reaction shots of Monica displaying surprise, apprehension, delight, dismay, concern, amusement, bemusement, encouragement, discouragement, sheer terror, or any of a million other possible emotions. They tried the same thing with the skills test in the 2009 celebrity series, but John and Gregg just can't do it (except perhaps for one occasion, when John despairingly buried his head in Gregg's shoulder - sorry, chaps!). Forgive us the cliché, but how else can we put it? Monica's facial expressions rock. Reaction on the interwebs would seem to suggest that Monica is a real star of the show for many viewers (see also 'Key Moments, below), and in 2010 she and Michel got to judge one show - the whittling eight down to six "semi final" - together, making it the first episode of the revival or any of its spin-offs to feature neither John nor Gregg. She also returned to co-judge the same edition in the 2011 series: however, Gregg was included in this one.
The 2010 'Professionals' series has also been tweaked somewhat - we now see both Galetti and Roux demonstrating the skills test and classic recipe respectively, which is only right, given that Torode and Sawalha do so in the other series. As in the last series, one of the four chefs is knocked out after the skills and palate tests, then the remaining three go through the classic recipe test, at the end of which another chef is eliminated. The six surviving contestants then go through to the quarter-final, in which they cook their own food, before another two are eliminated and the remaining four cook for the critics: two more chefs are knocked out after this last test.
The 2011 series has seen a further change, whereby 10 chefs appear in the first edition of the week, cooking one dish from the 'mystery box' of ingredients for Wallace and Galetti. No one is eliminated at this stage: the chefs then return in groups of 5 to face the skills test, after which one is eliminated, then the surviving 4 get to cook for Roux (both the Classic Recipe Test and their own food) and a further 2 contestants are eliminated after that. The 2012 series saw yet another change, whereby, after the skills test, the chefs do the Classic Recipe Test only for Roux, then Wallace joins him for the next round, with Roux normally telling the contestants, "You've had to impress me, the chef - now you have to impress the diner as well".
2013 saw Wallace further sidelined, no longer joining Roux for the chefs' free choice round, not appearing in the "quarter finals" (i.e. weekly finals), which now feature Galetti alongside Roux, and taking no part in deciding the eliminations. Given Galetti's credentials and popularity, it feels like a natural progression, and with Sean Pertwee's narration already subtly nudging The Professionals away from the parent show, it wouldn't come as a shock to see Wallace drop out of the spin-off entirely.
After the regular, celebrity and professional versions, a children's version was pretty much inevitable, and following a one-shot tryout for Children In Need 2008, a full series finally hit our screens in May 2010, stripped across the week like the other versions, but broadcast as part of the afternoon children's programming block on BBC One - complete with some rather bizarre series mascots (see below left and right), with the sofas in the 'waiting' area replaced by beanbags and with the kids all being given differently-coloured checked trousers to wear with their chefs' white tunics. We've even seen one or two of the contestants travelling to the studio by bike or by skateboard, something you never see in the adult versions - who knows, maybe there'll also be a scooter or two featured in future 'Junior' series?
The heats normally involve four contestants (though as only 31 took part - the 32nd presumably dropping out at the last moment - one edition featured only three, without explanation), who have to do what is, essentially, the Classic Recipe Test (though with John Torode demonstrating the recipe first, ably assisted by Nadia Sawalha, or occasionally vice versa), followed by a two-course meal. Quarter-finals comprise a Taste Test (same as the regular series' Palate Test) and another two-course meal.
Sadly there's no Gregg Wallace in this one (they'd have problems telling him apart from the kids), with Celebrity MasterChef winner Sawalha stepping in instead in the 2010 series. (Maybe it's because Torode is absent from the 'Professionals' version, meaning that the producers have decided that Wallace, in his turn, should sit out the 'Junior' series). Sawalha seems a little patronising to us, certainly pretty gushy (as she also used to be on It's Not the Answer), but maybe we're just oversensitive to that sort of thing. Torode, meanwhile, seems to have toned his act down suitably for the occasion: while he still gives criticism where necessary, he's definitely less acerbic than usual - in fact, we could go so far as to say that he's showing a much more jovial side to his nature. (Several of the kids have stated that they greatly admire famous chefs such as Jamie Oliver, then they usually add hastily, "Oh - and you as well", much to Torode's delight and amusement in virtually equal measure). One very notable point regarding the series is that the kids' standard of cooking in all the tests has been very high indeed (the "masterclass" recipes are perhaps a little too easy for cooks of this ability), which constantly leaves Torode and Sawalha with a very difficult decision to make regarding who should go through to the next stage. It's also notable that the series has featured more girls than boys overall - and what a pleasure it's been to see such talented young cooks at work. The judges are certainly always saying so, both to the contestants' faces and while making the decisions. It's also very nice to see the kids all very supportive of one another and genuinely happy to enjoy the experience, with the 'winning's a bonus' attitude - and when they lose, they take it on the chin and are all more than happy to keep on cooking, especially as the judges are very keen to encourage them to do so. It certainly goes to show that the bad press that many kids and young people tend to get nowadays is often unfair and undeserved.
Possibly a sign that MasterChef has passed its peak, in 2011 the children's version was effectively replaced by Junior Bake Off, though Junior Masterchef returned in 2012, with Donal Skehan replacing Nadia Sawalha, and Sharon Horgan on voiceover duties. Thankfully, Skehan is neither patronising nor gushy in his approach, simply pleasant and matey, more in the style of Aaron Craze on 'Junior Bake Off', but far less gung-ho. Luckily one thing they didn't change was those weird multicoloured mascot things, which are now featured even more prominently in the opening titles - yes, we want a set too. Throughout this series, the standard of cooking has remained very high, the judges have once again frequently had difficult decisions to make regarding who should stay and who should go and the kids have been as delightful and enthusiastic as ever. As with the previous series, slightly more girls than boys have featured overall, but, whereas in the 2010 series the four finallists comprised three girls and one boy, the 2012 finallists were three boys and one girl. The 2010 finallists, incidentally, appeared memorably in one edition as the food critics, judging dishes cooked by their 2012 counterparts.
When someone puts a risotto with a piece of meat. Especially people on the second series who presumably saw it happen every week in the first run. Altogether now: "risotto is a dish in itself!"
Gregg is a major pudding fan (hence his Twitter account, @PuddingFace) and has come out with some memorable comments relating to some of the dishes that he's been served, such as when he likened one contestant's dessert to "a Jammie Dodger that's been run over by a steamroller" and at least one other occasion when he so loved the dessert that he declared, "I'd just like to take me shirt off and dive in there!" - not perhaps an image that many of us would like to contemplate. In addition, John and Gregg have often made their judgements in relation to how well they would receive the food if it were served to them in a restaurant. John once told a contestant, "If I were served this in a restaurant, I wouldn't send it back, but I'd probably ask for the service charge to be taken off," while one of Gregg's comments was, "If I were served this in a restaurant, I'd eat it quite happily, but I wouldn't come back tomorrow and order it again."
(No, you didn't miss this episode - this pic came from a Radio Times photoshoot. Somehow, you can't imagine a certain Monsieur Roux - or Ms Galetti, for that matter - indulging in such frivolous behaviour.)
The food critics have also come out with some memorable comments: these have included Jay Rayner's judgement on a dessert produced by a 2008 finallist: "It looks like a fancy display in a garden centre - I'd rather barbecue my own tongue than eat that!" Rayner also criticised a 2010 semi-finallist's main course by exclaiming in horror, "Where's my five-year-old? - it's a smiley face on a plate!" He said a similar thing in a 2010 edition of the 'Professionals' series, this time describing the food as looking like 'Mr Potato Head'. Charles Campion, meanwhile, has been known to describe food as being "like baby food" - and he and Rayner notably disagreed about a piece of jelly that was served on pork belly in the aforementioned edition of the 'Professionals' series. Rayner disliked it, but Campion said, "It has a sharpness to it that I find a blessed relief as everything else on the plate is sweet." "Charles - I'm startled - it's the sort of thing you'd find in a burns unit!" exclaimed Rayner, somewhat theatrically, but Campion was undeterred and replied calmly, "No - I think he's done something different and I applaud it". Kate Spicer described one fish dish in a 2011 edition as being like "something a mother seagull would put into its baby's mouth": however, in the 2008 Celebrity series, Andi Peters earned praise from Spicer when he made white chocolate mousse for the critics - the latter described it as "really quite sexy."
Gregg Wallace's masterclass in contradicting your own hyperbole:
"Cooking does not get tougher than this!" - opening titles to Celebrity Masterchef, 2006
"This competition just gets tougher!" - opening titles to Masterchef Goes Large, 2007
For the 2008 series he went back to a differently-stressed version, "Cooking doesn't get tougher than this!" with a heavy emphasis on the "doesn't". The same clip was used for the 2009 series. For The Professionals series India Fisher, whose scriptwriter must surely be goading us by this point, squeezed out one extra level of superlative with "Cooking doesn't get better than this!". Unfortunately, the editor seems to have a penchant for preceding this line with clips of Michel complaining that a dish is inedible, making "cooking doesn't get better than this" less a promise, more a threat. Thankfully, they seem to have ironed this 'little' problem out in the 2010 series. The opening titles to the 2012 Celebrity series had Gregg deliver the line and follow it up with an exaggerated wink, much to John's amusement (and much cringing from these quarters).
In the 'Professionals' series, Galetti and Wallace rarely disagree significantly (Galetti usually has the final say on who goes through), but a surprising disagreement occurred between the pair during a 2010 edition. One contestant, Arun, had made Hollandaise sauce that Wallace considered too salty, but Galetti felt that the seasoning was just right - "We can differ in opinion", she stated. "You can get it wrong", was Wallace's response, but Galetti was having none of it - "You can get it very wrong!" she retorted - albeit with a smile on her face. Wallace's final comment was, "Arun - you've started a fight between me and Monica!" (Maybe, but at least they agreed on their decision to put Arun through to the next round). Oh, and let's not forget the occasion later in the series when Wallace was really quite startled by Galetti's secret ingredient when making a steak tartare - tomato ketchup - not that we, the viewers, would ever doubt either the ability or the tastebuds of a sous-chef in a 2-Michelin-starred restaurant, would we? Either way, the ketchup would certainly have added some extra flavour to the dish, even if it did seem a bit random.
Later in the same series, during the previously-mentioned test that was judged by Roux and Galetti, the pair spoke to one of the surviving female chefs, Alice, who revealed that Galetti was her idol and she was determined to live up to the latter's high standards. "They're big boots to fill", declared Roux humorously. "Size 7, to be precise", added Galetti, once again showing her wry sense of humour, which has been increasingly coming to the fore from that series onwards.
Another contestant who managed to prove his dedication to the competition, this time in a rather unusual way, was a 2011 regular series contestant named James. After he had had his food for one test tasted by Torode, Wallace and the guest judge, a certain Monsieur Roux, the latter asked James how committed he was. James's response was to pull down his t-shirt to reveal a tattoo in the form of the 'Masterchef' logo. "That's a lot of pain to have to go through to prove your point", declared Roux, with an almost equal combination of admiration and amusement. James did indeed go a long way in the contest, but unfortunately failed to impress the food critics and thus did not get into the last four.
One memorably bizarre moment in the Junior series saw John Torode respond to a contestant's statement that she would like to be a chef and a singer by bursting into a few bars of "White Christmas". Though strictly speaking, that's not a key moment - more an off-key moment! (Sawalha certainly appeared to be of that opinion).
Even better was a scene later in that series, when the four finallists were informed by the judges that their first challenge outside the 'Masterchef' kitchen was to cook lunch in a catering van for the current Dr Who, Matt Smith, and his companion, Karen Gillan, and that their transport awaited them outside - the TARDIS, of course. The four duly got in and were 'transported off' to the Doctor Who shoot in Cardiff, then Torode and Sawalha came rushing outside, exclaiming in (mock)-horror, "They've gone without us - how could they do that?!" and, "How are we going to get there?" Three hours later (apparently), the judges caught up with the contestants and, after berating them (mildly) for leaving them behind ("We had to take the coach") they set the kids their task. Despite some problems and last-minute flaps, the food proved a great hit with the two actors, then the kids returned to the TARDIS to be taken back to base - leaving Torode and Sawalha behind as before. ("Not again!" exclaimed the pair). Although this was a bit jarring in the context of a cookery competition, we have to admit that Torode handled this spot of comic "business" surprisingly well.
In the first edition of the 2010 'Celebrity' series, Torode and Wallace were talking to Tessa Sanderson about the dishes that she was cooking and then Torode said, "Well, if you don't like the food, at least you'll be able to throw it a long way". Sanderson's response? "Yes - I'll throw it at you!" She didn't, of course, but she might as well have done, given that virtually all the food that she cooked proved fairly disastrous, especially her first dish, in which her chicken, potatoes and carrots were severely undercooked.
It's probably worth mentioning the show's "signature edit" here: at least once each episode, there'll be a cooking montage set to driving techno, during which the music cuts out for one beat, as we see and hear a knife making contact with a chopping board, or a spoon clanking in a bowl, or a food processor starting up or somesuch utensil-based sonic minutiae. It's quite a smart edit, but it wouldn't hurt to use it a bit more sparingly.
India Fisher (after the Pro Kitchen round): "The contestants have now been on their feet for six hours, but there's no let-up..." (or "respite").
(After the Invention Test, up to and including the 2009 regular series): "For the moment, they can relax, but tomorrow, they face two even tougher tests..."
(In the 2010 'Professionals' series): "Only an elite group of chefs hold two Michelin Stars - Michel Roux Junior is one of them" (followed by Roux ordering his kitchen staff, "Ca marche - two St Jacques on pass - now!" and a cheer from said staff), then Fisher adds, "Now he and Masterchef judge Gregg Wallace are on the hunt for Britain's next culinary superstar - a professional with the talent to cut it in the world's top kitchens".
(After the Elimination Test): "Culinary accolades are hard-won - Michel Roux Junior knows what it takes to cook at this level and how to test those who aspire to it".
John Torode: "Ladies and gentlemen - let's cook!"
"...Now, you're gonna have to cook for your 'Masterchef' lives..."
"We're looking for a great amateur cook, who can make it as a professional!"
"This is one tough competition!"
"Whoever wins, it'll chaaange theeeir life!"
"These celebrities are all passionate about cooking". (This phrase has been taken over and adapted slightly by Gregg from the 2010 series onwards: "20 celebrities who all claim to be passionate about cooking - but can they cook?")
"Step away from your benches, please - your time is up!"
"And our winner - our quarter-finallist (or whatever) is..."
"And the contestant leaving us is...."
"Decision time - who's it gonna be, Mr Wallace?"
(In the Junior series): "...So if you're going to do this at home, make sure that you've got a responsible adult with you..."
Gregg Wallace: "Someone who can turn out exceptional food!" (For the Celebrity version, it's: "Someone who's more than just a good home cook.")
As mentioned above, "Cooking doesn't get tougher than this!" and, "This competition just gets tougher!"
"You've got twooooooo minutes!"
(On occasion): "That, my friend, is a triumph" and "That is truly yummy".
Both judges: "Get it on the plates!"
"Move it - get that garnish on the plate NOW!!!" (this was filmed as part of the opening titles of the 2009 Professionals series and frankly, the phrase became pretty tiresome after a few editions).
"And the chef leaving us today is...."
(To the surviving three chefs): "Tomorrow, you will be cooking for my boss, Michel Roux Junior," followed by either "Don't let me down!" "Don't disappoint me!" or simply, "Good luck".
Torode and Sawalha in the Junior series: "Remember - wash your hands and be careful of the knives and the oven..."
Torode, also in the Junior series: "...So if you're going to do this at home, make sure that you've got a responsible adult with you..."
India Fisher, also in the Junior series: "These are experienced cooks, but this is the first time that John and Nadia will see them cook..."
"...But if you ever want to cook at home, do please remember to ask an adult to help you..."
"The cooking's over - now it's a nervous wait while John and Nadia decide whose cooking is the best" (or "who's good enough to go through to the quarter-final".)
Adapted by Karen Ross and John Silver from the original Masterchef format by Franc Roddam.
Due to the need for lots of close-ups of the food, it's often cold by the time the judges get to taste it. John Torode says that this doesn't matter because if the flavours are right it will still work.
Asked "Have you ever picked the wrong winner?" in a Guardian interview in March 2008, Gregg Wallace replied "Yeah. Celebrity Masterchef. The case of Hardeep Singh Kohli and Matt Dawson. Hardeep is the greatest Masterchef winner that never was." Gregg's repeated this in other interviews since, though John Torode stands by the original decision.
The fact that John always comes across as rather more acerbic and cutting towards the contestants than Gregg (not that the latter's incapable of making cutting comments) seemed to be confirmed by a remark made by Jan Leeming to her two opponents during the 2009 'Celebrity' series, "Gregg's all right, but John makes you feel like you're going to the executioners!"
One contestant in the 2008 regular series presented John and Gregg with pork accompanied by something very unusual - chocolate sauce. Although the combination was not a good one - surprise, surprise! - John and Gregg so admired his offbeat approach that they put him through to the next stage of the contest. (However, he did not progress any further than that.)
Another contestant who produced some very memorably unusual dishes was the 2009 'Professionals' series winner, Steve Groves. Of particular note was a dessert he made, based on a sweet shop - this included sherbet, rhubarb-and-custard sweets and basil-flavoured lollipops. Roux and Wallace were very impressed by the taste and inventiveness of the food, but rather less so with the presentation, especially as Groves had put the sherbet in a paper bag. "I can't tell whether you're trying to create fine dining or win the Turner Prize", was Wallace's main comment. Another notably interesting effort was during the semi-finals, when Groves produced boiled eggs and toast for a group of local restaurateurs dining at the 'Masterchef' studio. Roux and Wallace were initially far from impressed with the idea, thinking it far too simple, but Groves's twist was to use a smoke-gun to give the food a nicely smoky flavour - and it proved a hit with judges and guests alike.
Series 1 winner Thomasina Miers went on to co-star in the (slightly bonkers) Channel 4 series The Wild Gourmets, and now runs Wahaca in Covent Garden which serves up Mexican street food.  (The contestants in one of the editions of the 2009 regular series had to go through their Pressure Test in her restaurant - she assured them at the start that she didn't envy them one bit, as she'd been through it herself, but that certainly didn't stop her demanding the exacting standards that all the professional chefs demand). 2007 champion Steven Wallis has been spotted working as a "home economist" (or "dogsbody") in the background of Great British Menu. In addition, the 2008 winner, James Nathan, is now working as a chef in Rick Stein's famous Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, while the 2009 champion, Mat Follas, is now running his own restaurant in Dorset, no doubt serving up excellent food made from ingredients for which he has foraged and/or fished (see below).
Liz McClarnon won the 2008 Celebrity Masterchef series, despite having apparently hardly ever cooked before - she barely even knew how to use an oven. John and Gregg recognised that she had a natural talent for it - which of course got better and better. Indeed, she was not the only celebrity lacking cooking-experience in that series - Spoony revealed to John and Gregg that his mother had not allowed him to cook when he was a kid, since he was very left-handed. In spite of this, he managed to cook some decent dishes, although unlike Liz, he did not progress beyond the first round. Michael Buerk also had little experience of cooking: he wrote a very damning article on the programme, saying how much he had hated the experience and how he was - unlike most other Masterchef contestants - determined not to win his heat. (He needn't have worried, though - he was up against a certain Ms McClarnon!) Buerk's former newsreading colleague, Jennie Bond, who competed in the 2010 series (and who also had rather more cooking-experience than him) was another contestant who failed to enjoy the experience. She said so in her final piece to camera, adding that she could find no positives to take away with her - and this without having to go through the pro kitchen round. In addition, Iwan Thomas reached the 2009 final despite having only limited cooking-experience: he was clearly another contestant who had a natural ability, even if he didn't win the series. He said afterwards that, while he might still cook himself beans on toast in the future, it would definitely be the exception rather than the rule, because he now knew that he could cook much more sophisticated meals. Fellow-athlete Dean Macey took part in the 2010 series, having apparently only started cooking about a week before the contest and he made it into the quarter-finals, due to his natural ability: however, he unfortunately went out after failing to impress the WI food critics.
The 2009 regular series winner, Mat Follas, told John and Gregg how he loved foraging for food and was always out and about in the Dorset countryside, where he lived, searching for plants and mushrooms - and fishing as well. He was filmed doing so with his wife and children in the latter stages of the contest. In the final cookery test of all, his dessert included a stick of hokey-pokey - apparently, hokey-pokey is a name for honeycomb in New Zealand, where he grew up. As it turned out, Follas is by no means the only chef to forage for ingredients - the three finallists in the 2010 'Professionals' series were taken to Copenhagen to cook in the world-renowned restaurant, Noma, whereby the chef forages for his ingredients every day, and said finallists were taken on one of those trips, before being asked to recreate the award-winning dishes in the restaurant.
Another notable point is the surprisingly large proportion of contestants on the regular series who are in very high-powered jobs, yet want to give those jobs up in order to become chefs. Of particular note are the 2008 champion, James Nathan, who was originally a barrister, the 2010 finallist Dr Tim Kinnaird, who was a paediatrician and another 2010 contestant, Connor, who was a heart surgeon. Still, plenty of people fancy a change of direction at one time or another, and it would seem that breaking into the world of fine dining is an appealing option to many, especially if they already do it as a hobby.
It would seem that no allowance is made if contestants are injured or unwell on any of the "Masterchef" series. In the 2009 regular series, one contestant cut himself so badly that John advised him to go to A & E, thereby knocking him out of the contest. This was a real shame, because the contestant seemed to have made a decent start up until that point - and even more of a shame that he didn't return as a comeback contestant in the 2010 series. Simon Shepherd also cut himself in the pro kitchen during the 2009 Celebrity series and had to retire early from that round, but he was at least able to do the Final Test. Later in the same series, one comeback contestant, Marie Helvin, was so unwell on the second day of filming that she was unable to go through either the Pressure Test or the Final Test. It was therefore a 50/50 match between Tony Hadley and Helen Lederer - and Tony won. In the 2010 Celebrity series, quarter-finallist Colin Jackson burnt his hand in the pro kitchen round and, like Shepherd, had to retire early from the round and was unable to cook the head chef's signature dish, although he did make it back for the final round. Another contestant in that series, Dick Strawbridge, fell ill one day and was thus unable to go through one of the challenges, namely cooking lunch for over 800 Harrow schoolboys and then cooking for a private party hosted by the Headmaster, but it didn't stop him getting to the Grand Final. One contestant in the 2010 regular series, Terry, made it through to the semi-finals despite cutting himself badly and having to be checked over by the programme's resident First Aider. Not surprisingly, the time Terry had lost affected the presentation of his dishes, especially his dessert, but John and Gregg were sufficiently impressed by the taste of both dishes to put him - along with another contestant, Matt - through to the semis. A certain amount of allowance was made for a 'Junior Masterchef' contestant who cut herself: Torode and Sawalha kept an eye on her food while she went to get a plaster and she was able to serve the dish on time, which pleased both judges no end. In addition, pleasingly, a contestant in the 2011 Professionals series, Ben, was allowed to return, having originally had to go to A & E due to a severe cut: he re-entered the contest on a later edition, but at the same stage where he had previously injured himself, ie when cooking for Roux for the first time.
The original "Masterchef HQ" was located on Bastwick Street, Islington. In real life, the building is a halls of residence for City University.
2005: Thomasina "Tommi" Miers
2006: Peter Bayless
2007: Steven Wallis
2008: James Nathan
2009: Mat Follas
2010: Dhruv Baker
2011: Tim Anderson
2012: Shelina Permalloo
2013: Natalie Coleman
2014: Ping Coombes
2006: Matt Dawson
2007: Nadia Sawalha
2008: Liz McClarnon
2009: Jayne Middlemiss
2010: Lisa Faulkner
2011: Phil Vickery
2012: Emma Kennedy
2013: Ade Edmondson
2014: Sophie Thompson
Masterchef: The Professionals
2008: Derek Johnstone
2009: Steve Groves
2010: Claire Lara
2011: Ash Mair
2012: Anton Piotrowski & Keri Moss (tie)
2013: Steven Edwards
2010: Georgia Bradford
2012: Tom Barlow-Kay
2008 "Children in Need Junior MasterChef": Robin (surname not known)
2010 "Sport Relief does MasterChef": Alan Hansen
2011 "Comic Relief does MasterChef": Miranda Hart
All in Celebrity Masterchef:
2006: Graeme Le Saux, Hardeep Singh Kohli, Richard Arnold, Sarah Cawood, Linda Barker, Charlie Dimmock, Fred MacAulay, Paul Young, Sheila Ferguson, David Grant, Marie Helvin, Lady Isabella Hervey, Tony Hadley, Toyah Willcox, Jilly Goolden, Matt Dawson, Roger Black, Helen Lederer, Sue Perkins, Rowland Rivron, Arabella Weir, Simon Grant, Kristian Digby.
2007: Emma Forbes, Sally Gunnell, Martin Hancock, Sue Cook, Jeff Green, Nadia Sawalha, Jeremy Edwards, Lorne Spicer, Matthew Wright, Darren Bennett, Chris Bisson, Angela Rippon, Chris Hollins, Matt James, Pauline Quirke, Rani Price, Craig Revel Horwood, Phil Tufnell, Gemma Atkinson, Robbie Earle, Midge Ure, Mark Foster, Sherrie Hewson, Sunetra Sarker.
2008: Kaye Adams, Ninia Benjamin, Michael Buerk, Julia Bradbury, Andrew Castle, Josie D'Arby, Louis Emerick, Denise Lewis, Clare Grogan, Liz McClarnon, Joe McGann, Vicki Michelle, Mark Moraghan, Christopher Parker, Andi Peters, Wendi Peters, Steven Pinder, Claire Richards, Linda Robson, Hywel Simons, DJ Spoony, Debra Stephenson, Noel Whelan, Sean Wilson.
2009: Stephen Amos, Linda Barker, Ninia Benjamin, Gemma Bissix, Ian Bleasdale, Rosie Boycott, Janet Ellis, Jeff Green, Shobna Gulati, Tony Hadley, Martin Hancock, Marie Helvin, Helen Lederer, Jan Leeming, Saira Khan, Sian Lloyd, Paul Martin, Joe McGann, Jayne Middlemiss, Brian Moore, Colin Murray, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Michael Obioro, Deena Payne, Wendi Peters, Steven Pinder, Claire Richards, Rowland Rivron, Shirley Robertson, Joel Ross, Simon Shepherd, Joe Swift, Dennis Taylor, Iwan Thomas, Pete Waterman, Rav Wilding.
2010: Nihal Arthanayake, Jennie Bond, Mark Chapman, Richard Farleigh, Lisa Faulkner, Alex Fletcher, Christine Hamilton, Colin Jackson, Mark Little, Danielle Lloyd, Dean Macey, Kym Mazelle, Marcus Patric, Tricia Penrose, Jenny Powell, Martin Roberts, Tessa Sanderson, Dick Strawbridge, Neil Stuke, Chris Walker.
2011: Darren Campbell, Margi Clarke, Danny Goffey, Ruth Goodman, Ricky Groves, Shobu Kapoor, Tim Lovejoy, Linda Lusardi, Colin McAllister, Aggie MacKenzie, Sharon Maughan, Michelle Mone, Nick Pickard, Justin Ryan, Phil Vickery, Kirsty Wark.
2012: Cheryl Baker, Anne Charleston, Jenny Eclair, Gareth Gates, Diarmuid Gavin, Javine Hylton, Emma Kennedy, George Layton, Richard McCourt, Danny Mills, Steve Parry, Rebecca Romero, Laila Rouass, Zoe Salmon, Jamie Theakston, Michael Underwood
2013: Denise Black, Katy Brand, Joe Calzaghe, Brian Capron, Speech Debelle, Les Dennis, Ade Edmondson, Matthew Hoggard, Phillips Idowu, Shappi Khorsandi, Miranda Krestovnikoff, Shane Lynch, Heidi Range, Janet Street-Porter, John Thomson, Jo Wood
MasterChef Cookbook (2010 hardback book)
MasterChef at Home (2011 hardback book)
How to apply
Fill in the online application form or write to:
Masterchef PO Box 50405 London W8 4XF
Application details are provided as a service to readers, but please note that all contestant enquiries should be directed to the named production company and not to UKGameshows.com. Addresses can be found on our list of contact details for production companies.