Gregg Wallace and John Torode reveal what to expect from the latest series of MasterChef

As MasterChef returns for a long-awaited 18th series, Danielle de Wolfe learns about the shake-up from presenters Gregg Wallace and John Torode.

It has been a decade since MasterChef Synesthesia, also known as the Buttery Biscuit Base song, took the internet by storm.

A viral mashup that saw clips of MasterChef hosts Gregg Wallace and John Torode spliced together to create a two minute auto-tuned song about cheesecake, the creation has racked up over 11 million views on YouTube, subsequently peaking at number 37 in the Official UK Singles Chart.

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It is a track Torode, 56, describes as “one of the most iconic songs of the last two decades”.

MasterChef hosts John Torode and Gregg Wallace. Photo: PA Media / BBC / Shine TV

Holding back a smirk as he does so, the straight-talking celebrity chef announces the single is set to experience something of a revival, forming the basis of a brand new MasterChef challenge as part of the forthcoming series.

Using the song’s descriptive lyrics, “things like crunchy, slimy, slippery, wobbly” according to Torode, contestants must create an adjective-inspired dish, a task set to make their minds “work in a very different way”.

“It’s open to interpretation,” says Torode. “Whether it be sweet or savoury, it doesn’t, in any way, have to be a cheesecake.”

Now, heading into its eighteenth series, the show is no stranger to embracing online trends.

MasterChef returns for an 18th series this week. Photo: PA Media / BBC / Shine TV

In fact, Torode estimates that three-quarters of the show’s contestants admit to drawing culinary inspiration from the internet.

Heaping praise on the instantaneous nature of social media, the chef says online platforms offer on-demand access to recipe ideas, making them “much more accessible than a cookery book”.

Recounting how a past contestant memorably skinned a salmon using only their hands, “not with a knife, with his hand!” exclaims the celebrity chef, the contestant in question attributed the trick to a YouTube video he’d accidentally stumbled upon.

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Going on to describe the “enormity” of online food trends, Torode cryptically recalls how more recently a contestant “did something odd with a prawn”, an idea also discovered whilst browsing videos, this time on social media platform TikTok.

Social media is quite an egalitarian playing field, isn’t it?” adds fellow judge and former greengrocer Wallace, 57.

“It’s evened things up considerably. Where before it may have actually been cookery school or parents that knew how to do it, now of course, there it is.”

MasterChef is a culinary journey that incorporates extreme highs and crippling lows where contestants are concerned.

But Torode says it is also worth sparing a thought for the health of both he and Wallace.

Noting a single tasting session can easily see the pair consume upwards of 1200 calories in a single sitting, filming can often be spread over five days, totalling an eye-wateringly calorific intake.

It is something the health conscious pair are actively aware of, with Wallace’s lockdown weight-loss transformation regularly flaunted across social media.

“You’ve got to try and find a way of actually staying fit. And I think, at the same time, staying mentally fit,” says Torode.

Going on to describe the MasterChef filming process as “draining” and “emotional”, the Australian-born chef says that life as a judge is actually a lot tougher than it looks.

“Regardless of what you think about us as judges – and we might be a bit mean, sometimes – it’s difficult to say to somebody: ‘I’m really sorry, but that’s not cooked’.”

The comments come as British culinary queen Dame Delia Smith labelled MasterChef “awful” for its hard-handed approach to criticism in a recent interview with The Daily Mail, describing it as “the opposite” of her own cookery style.

It is a notion Wallace rejects, adding the “problem” with MasterChef is that it is a competition that can “only have one winner”.

“I’d like to think that any programme that celebrates cookery and celebrates achievement would be inspirational for people rather than off putting,” says the presenter.

“I’m not sure the Olympics puts people off running, and I’m not sure that Wimbledon puts people off playing tennis.”

Despite highlighting the demands of the job, Wallace is also quick to admit that life as a MasterChef judge is not all doom and gloom.

Describing how Torode, husband of actress Lisa Faulkner, is not one to talk about his personal life, he speaks on the chef’s behalf when he describes the way in which the pair’s attitudes towards life have changed with age.

“We’re just two very old, comfortable, settled down, happy blokes,” chuckles Wallace. “I’ll tell you what is happening, I’m going classic and John’s getting younger as he gets older. He likes it more daring. That’s what’s happening with the food.”

As with any long-running television series, change is all but to be expected. MasterChef’s format is being shaken up with the introduction of multiple new rounds, including five weeks of auditions in which nine contestants create a signature dish served blindly to the judges.

Paired with the all-new pressurised Chef’s Table challenge featuring Gordon Ramsay, series 18 will see 45 hopeful amateurs, from an NHS worker to a beer bike tour guide, step behind their work benches in a bid to impress the professionals.

“MasterChef changes, because food changes,” adds Torode.

What does not change, however, is the frequency with which contestants succumb to the pressures of the MasterChef kitchen. With each new season comes a new, often bizarre stumbling block. A seemingly simple ingredient that brings the aspiring chefs’ dreams crashing down.

Series seventeen saw lamb become the enemy, with contestants seeming unable to perfect a perfectly a finely cooked chop. This year, however, it seems the humble potato has becomes the contestants’ arch-nemesis, or to be more specific, “raw potatoes”.

“Bloody potatoes. Just cook a potato. I mean for goodness sake, it’s a potato,” exclaims Torode. “You deep fry it, it becomes a chip. You put in some butter and stock, it comes a fondant.

“You boil it, it becomes mash. Just cook the thing.”

But with the hearty carbohydrate clearly putting in a lacklustre performance this series, what is it that makes MasterChef a recipe for success?

According to Torode, the answer is simple. “It’s bloody brilliant contestants, who are doing bloody brilliant things, who have gone on to create some bloody brilliant restaurants.”

MasterChef returns to BBC One on Wednesday, March 23.

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