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Another helping of talent

Gregg Wallace and John Torode are off on a big rant. They're getting worked up about the idea of a 'weekly shop' and they both admonish the ritual with fervour.

John's describing how, in Australia, people say hello to their butcher on their way into work, then buy meat from him on their way back.

Gregg looks like he's about to explode.

"The weekly shop is one of the absolute death knells of decent cooking. How does anybody on a Saturday morning know what they want for dinner on a Thursday evening?" he says.

This passion for food is one of the reasons that they make Masterchef such compelling television.

As they judge the dishes served up by hopefuls, their job is not to make cheap digs for the amusement of the viewers but to give incisive and inspirational feedback. Egos may bruise, but that's not what Gregg and John set out to do -- they just care about the cooking.

Gregg explains: "It isn't celebrity TV, it's an honest approach to a cookery competition. We don't ask people if they are doing it for any dead relatives, we're not interested if any of their pets have died, what we're worried about is the quality of their soup."

Potential

That said, the two do sometimes differ in their reactions -- which Gregg thinks is down to the fact that John is a chef and restaurateur, while he is a greengrocer by trade.

He says: "If John can see skill, and he can see potential, then he'll want to promote that person and I don't really care. All I care about is the end result. If the end result is good, that's enough for me. It could taste like Satan's bottom and John will say, 'But look, he did this, he did that'."

What the two men agree on, however, is the talent on display in the new series.

"What's really surprised us is the quality of the food. I know we say this every year but honestly this is the best standard we have ever seen. I expect at least two of them to become household names and culinary giants," Gregg says proudly.

But we will also witness a few disasters, John reveals.

"I had mushroom floating in tomato scum with blue cheese on top, it was dreadful," he says, wincing at the memory.

"That's the only time I've ever gagged at something. We eat everything -- apart from raw chicken -- because that's what we do but, Holy Mother of God it was vile and the poor woman actually thought it tasted good."

It is instances like this which inspired the show's producers to include a palate test this series, as well as an extended invention test -- in which hopefuls are given an array of produce and told to cook their own menu.

As the competition heats up towards the end of the series, they also take the competitors on location to India and challenge them to cook for a banquet at the Tower of London.

The tension-building, one-note piano soundtrack is still employed this series, as is Gregg's catchphrase, 'Cooking doesn't get tougher than this', which he admits follows him everywhere he goes -- but he's not sick of it. "Cab drivers shout it out to me as I cross the street," he says.

Talent

Masterchef, in its sleek modern kitchen and with its proven ability to break new talent, is a world away from the original incarnation of the series which was hosted by Loyd Grossman.

John and Gregg are signed up to host the show in its current format for two more years, and they both hope there will be even more to come.

"Everything's got a shelf life, it will probably do what it did before, it'll stop, it will have a gap and come back in another form. I hope it's got 30 years to go -- but you'll have to puree all the food for us," Gregg laughs.

Masterchef begins on BBC1 on Thursday, February 18


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