'I will tickle the contestants or tell a joke... just to get a reaction'
The search is on for Britain's best home cook in a new BBC show starring Mary Berry and Claudia Winkleman, says Lucy Mapstone
Mary Berry loves baking. In fact, she loves it so much she recently divulged to Graham Norton that she once got arrested for lugging baking produce to the US in her suitcase. But take the Berry out of baking and, well, it feels like something's missing - a feeling fans of The Great British Bake Off judge know only too well following her decision last year not to follow the show to Channel 4.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, though - a peak in the meringue, if you like - because Queen Mary Berry is back on our screens very soon, this time on a mission to find the nation's best home cook in a new BBC One cookery competition.
In a TV schedule already packed with plenty of other cookery competitions, what will make this rise above the rest? "I think the simplicity of it, because all we want are the best home cooks," Berry says.
She is back in the judging hot seat and will be joined by presenter Claudia Winkleman and co-judges Chris Bavin, a produce expert, and renowned chef Dan Doherty.
The series will see her preside over 10 budding cooks, each of whom is vying to be named the most exceptional home cook in all the land, as they grapple with cooking challenges that certainly weren't designed with ready meal fans in mind.
She's keen to do away with "fancy food" and all that "complicated stuff", which may help set the new show, called Britain's Best Home Cook, apart from others, such as MasterChef.
That's not to say the eight-part series isn't oozing with culinary moments of brilliance. "Somebody made a fingerling potato the other day in garlic oil, and I almost cried," Winkleman confesses.
Described as an "immersive cooking competition", the show sees 10 contestants from across the UK living together in a house as they do battle in the kitchen.
Each episode will see them face three challenges, the first of which - the Your Ultimate challenge - gives the home cooks a chance to flaunt their talents by serving up a signature dish.
The winner, or winners, of round one will then choose a main ingredient that must be used prominently by everyone in a newly invented dish for the second round, the Cooks' Challenge.
"They don't know what's in that store cupboard, or in the fridge. They might have decided to do something with almonds and they've worked it all out in their heads, but they get here and there's no almonds, so they have to think again," Berry teases of the jeopardy-laden task.
Round three, the Elimination Round, puts those who failed to impress in the previous rounds to the test as they asked to execute a tricky recipe flawlessly.
To make it even more difficult, the cooks are only given the exact amount of ingredients needed. If they go wrong, there are no second chances.
Berry acts as the lead judge, accompanied by Bavin, a fresh produce importer and presenter of shows such as Eat Well For Less, and Doherty, the chef/director of popular London restaurant Duck & Waffle.
Berry confesses to having "learnt an awful lot" from her new sidekicks: "I've been cooking for yonks and I learn from both of the boys. It's lovely to know the origin of all the ingredients that Chris helps me with, and from Dan I see a chef's way of doing things."
Strictly Come Dancing's Winkleman is trading the dancefloor for the dining table, but her role on Britain's Best Home Cook is far more involved.
"I think I have two jobs here. One is to be as orange as humanly possible and two is to make sure the contestants have a fantastic time," divulges the telly favourite.
She says it is a "nerve-wracking" experience for the participants: "They've been making the most delicious spaghetti bolognese in their street for years, then they come here where there are cameras and lights, there's Mary and the brilliant boys, so they're daunted and scared."
Winkleman explains her job in her usual, upbeat manner, saying: "I tickle them sometimes and tell jokes - I've been known to do anything to get a reaction."
In a twist that might seem a bit more Big Brother than a BBC One cooking show, the 10 contestants - aged between 27 and 59 - live together under one roof for the duration of the series.
"From the first moment they walk in, they are a proper unit, they link arms, they finish each other's sentences, they ask each other for advice," Winkleman discloses.
There's Q, a 38-year-old children's A&E nurse who comes from Slovakia, where food was of big importance to her family life, and wealth client executive Josie (37), from Glasgow, whose love of cooking began when she was asked to peel an onion in her youth.
There's Tobi, a 27-year-old London-based compliance manager who started cooking with his mum and gran at the age of seven, Surrey-based maths teacher Philip (48), who loves food from the 1970s, and 44-year-old civil servant Dipa from Wolverhampton, who is inspired by her Kenyan and Indian heritage.
Cyrus, a 27-year-old entrepreneur from York, is a big fan of French and Italian food, and 59-year-old Fiona, a retired shopkeeper from Co Down, has been obsessed with home cooking since the age of 15.
Katie, a 32-year-old 999 emergency call handler from Neath, includes many Welsh dishes in her repertoire, while 28-year-old oncology researcher Pippa, from Salford, is more into Asian food, particularly Chinese.
Rounding off the 10 hopefuls is farmer Trevor (29), who enjoys cooking with spices and adding bold flavours to his grub.
"We're looking for someone who makes the most of our wonderful British ingredients with variations on the classics," Berry says. "Things that their own family are going to go 'Ooh' and 'Aah' about when they eat them.
"When people are watching, they want to make that at home, so when they switch off they get the ingredients and have a go.
"I don't want to see trickles of glaze on a plate, or lots of piping, just simple, really well-cooked food with a great style."
Britain's Best Home Cook, BBC One, Thursday, 8pm