'We are like an old married couple'
Ella Walker catches up with long-time MasterChef hosts John Torode and Gregg Wallace as the show returns for a 13th series
Pudding aficionado and grocer Gregg Wallace and his partner in cookery crime, chef John Torode, are back for another instalment of MasterChef. One guffaws happily whenever presented with a slick of something chocolatey, while the other has trademarked a "look" so withering that amateur chefs shrivel as though they've been bunged in hot oil.
Torode (51) considers this "look" of his absolutely crucial.
"I'm very happy to do the look at their faces," he says blithely. "I have no issue with that whatsoever.
"The great thing about doing MasterChef is you have to be brutally honest, and if you're not brutally honest, the next round, someone's going to have their heart broken.
"The worst thing to do to anybody is lie to them and pretend it's goodish; there's no such thing as goodish. It's either really good, or it's not."
This series, their 13th together, will see 64 home cooks sharpen their knife skills and reveal just how refined their palates are across a series of culinary challenges.
"It's just watching people striving to be as good as they can be - and it's addictive," buzzes Wallace (52) on the show's enduring appeal.
"It might not even be food; it could have been anything else, as long as they were passionate about it."
For a show that essentially records a room full of sweating home cooks trying to get something edible on the table without hacking up their fingers on telly, it's done incredibly well. Through the rounds, the most talented 2017 contestants will face top critics, including William Sitwell and Jay Rayner, mass-cater for the 120-strong cast and crew of Holby City, and work a shift in the restaurants of Shaun Rankin and Michel Roux Jr.
But most telling will be the dishes they serve Wallace and Torode during invention tests, in the cold metallic belly of the illustrious MasterChef kitchen.
Many will triumph; others will attempt custard ravioli.
When it comes to amateur chefs being "wacky", Wallace explains: "It often delights John, and often scares me. I'm much more conservative in my tastes than John is. I don't like them going too wild. John, on the other hand, loves to see them really push themselves."
They're a true double act, so it seems strange when you stumble across them separately - for instance, when Wallace tackled Strictly Come Dancing in 2014 (he was kicked off in week two) and Torode appeared in 10-part series, Malaysian Adventure in 2016.
However, they rely on the fact they don't see each other much outside of filming.
"It's really important that we have that time away. We almost live as a married couple (during filming)," explains Torode. "That's the beauty and the survival of MasterChef - that we have our opinions - but we go about our lives very, very differently from each other."
That's not to say they aren't great friends though.
"When we come to work, we really respect each other, and I trust Gregg, Gregg trusts me; we are very, very close. If something happened to our lives and we knew we had to pick up the phone, we'd pick up the phone and we know we'd be there; we look after each other."
In fact, when Wallace married his fourth wife, Anne-Marie Sterpini, last August, Torode (who is in a relationship with actress and recipe writer Lisa Faulkner) was best man.
You would think, on the big day, considering the culinary calibre of the guests, that rather than the bride and groom succumbing to nerves, it'd be the caterers having a wobble.
Wallace had asked for a seven course Italian menu ("Nothing with a squiggly sauce, nothing in a funny shape") and told the caterers that when it came to the guests: "Just forget any idea of impressing them - you're not going to impress them. However, we are going to feed them."
"This is where I think everyone gets it slightly wrong," agrees Torode, who finds it slightly bemusing that people assume they'll only scoff Michelin-standard fare. "We love food as much as everyone else does."
When they're not eating on the clock, their typical weekend fare is a roast for Torode ("Always, always, always!" he shouts. "There'll probably be a Bloody Mary in there somewhere."), while Wallace will happily eat a healthy breakfast and then spend the rest of day cooking "something big and meaty, and smashing it back with a couple of bottles of claret".
Of course, neither will let slip this year's MasterChef winner, but Wallace does note: "It's not the best cooks at the start that win MasterChef, it's the ones that learn the most and the quickest," and says 2016 champion Jane Devonshire proves it.
"There was the odd early round when things weren't quite where they should be, but she just came up very, very nicely," agrees Torode.
"She'd taken on so much throughout that competition, but her heart is massive, and food from the heart tastes a lot better than food from the head."