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MasterChef: The Professionals: 'The nation has divided in two... those who got fatter and those who got fitter'

As MasterChef: The Professionals returns to our screens for series 13, Danielle de Wolfe chats to the judges Gregg Wallace, Monica Galetti and Marcus Wareing


MasterChef: The Professionals Pictured:Marcus Wareing, Monica Galetti, Gregg Wallace.

MasterChef: The Professionals Pictured:Marcus Wareing, Monica Galetti, Gregg Wallace.

Press Association Images

MasterChef: The Professionals Pictured:Marcus Wareing, Monica Galetti, Gregg Wallace.

MasterChef: The Professionals is back, serving up a healthy portion of positivity at a time when the UK's hospitality industry continues to struggle under the weight of Covid restrictions.

Entering its 13th series, the professional instalment of the hit BBC cooking show sees 32 chefs battle it out over the course of six weeks to be crowned MasterChef champion.

Finding a new home on BBC One, MasterChef: The Professionals will see longstanding judge and presenter Gregg Wallace return to our screens, alongside the discerning taste buds of chefs Monica Galetti and Marcus Wareing.

And with a second national lockdown triggering swathes of the population to return to their kitchens en masse, the forthcoming series is just the culinary inspiration we needed.

The initial lockdown period saw the judging trio swap paying customers for family members as they cooked up a storm in their respective kitchens.

Now, in news that is bound to come as a relief for many, it appears that months of home cooking can become tiresome for even the most enthusiastic of professional chefs.

"Cooking lunch and dinner seven days a week - I mean, they've just finished breakfast and they're asking what's for lunch. They're just finishing lunch and they're asking what's for dinner," exclaims Galetti (45) of her family's insatiable appetite. "I had my neighbours requesting what sourdough they wanted. It was getting a bit much.

"Sharing it with the neighbours and they say, 'Hmm, I quite prefer the one you made yesterday' and I'm like, 'Okay. There's no delivery next week.'"

However, it is Wallace's lockdown transformation that has truly stolen the limelight of late.

As the television personality-turned-internet fitness sensation took over the nation's Instagram feeds with his workout regime, the presenter is keen to highlight the upsides of lockdown, most notably, his newly-toned physique.

"That was honestly being able to have complete control over my diet," says Wallace (56) of his full body makeover. "It seemed to me, after lockdown, that the nation seemed to have fallen into two camps: those that had got fitter and those that had got fatter.

"Lockdown was the first time in nearly 20 years that I had complete and utter control over everything that I ate. It was amazing. I didn't look like that when I was 26. It's quite phenomenal, isn't it?"

As shooting for the hit show swung into action shortly after the heaviest lockdown restrictions were eased, it was all change for the production crew, judges and professional chefs alike.

The knock-on effects of the pandemic saw tight new safety measures brought in on set, however, the implementation of new social distancing measures did not prove too much of a challenge for the team.

"When you think about it, cooking is quite a singular activity anyway," says Wallace. "What was different was that there was no social mixing of the crew who have known each other for over 15 years. That was what was odd."

"I think we'd been in lockdown for something like four months when we started filming," adds fellow judge Galetti. "There was just a lot of excitement to be back among other people, which is the weirdest thing. Marcus and I hadn't been working for the first time ever; we weren't as tired, we were full of energy.

"Normally, in between filming, we're sloping off to have a bit of a nap and catch up on some rest, or trying to catch up on some emails, but there was none of that happening. The attention was completely on filming and that was great, you know?

"You gave it everything and people were excited to be back working and it was a really fabulous feeling to have on set. It was actually a bit of a celebration."

And while social-distancing measures did prove an annoyance for some, its introduction created an interesting new dynamic for the judges, who found themselves excluded to a separate room and forced to watch proceedings on a monitor. "I think the running commentary from either one of us in the back gives the viewer an insight into what the cook is doing, which you wouldn't normally hear," says Wareing (50).

"You may get a little snippet of that when we're doing the tasting, so I think our viewers who like the skills tests so much will really enjoy it, as you get a sense of what's right or what's wrong. I think this gives it a complete new angle."

As with previous series, MasterChef: The Professionals brings together a host of chefs from around the world.

It's a culinary melting pot, one that's as much of an eye-opening experience for the judges as it is for the viewers at home.

"We had a chef from Nepal," recalls Wareing. "I remember there was one dish, the whole dish was ingredients from Nepal - and you have to bear in mind there's not a lot up there in Nepal, they're so high up - so, to watch what this particular chef created was quite cool. Can I remember the ingredients? No. Because I didn't even know when I was eating them."

"Yeah, he was quite special," adds Galetti. "He introduced us to a lot of different ingredients - and also there was another chef that did that. Half of the ingredients we couldn't pronounce, so it made them even more exciting because we had no idea what they were.

"I tend to take away a lot when we have chefs who are just masters of working with spices and they bring their own spice mix. I normally go around and say, 'Do you need to take that back with you?' And they say, 'No, no chef, you can have it' and then I'm really happy. I can take it away and play with it at home."

MasterChef: The Professionals, BBC One, Tuesday, 9pm

Belfast Telegraph