MasterChef: What's it really like? From ‘freezing’ food, to a secret wine fridge

Cooking doesn’t get tougher than in the MasterChef kitchen – but what’s it really like to take part?

MasterChef has been running on the BBC for nearly two decades and even has a successful celeb spin-off, with the likes of Ping Coombes and latest champion Eddie Scott taking the crown.

Each hour-long episode of the cookery competition sees amateur chefs and foodies try their hand out at coming up with some memorable dishes, in the hope of impressing John Torode and Gregg Wallace.

If they’re not creating three-course meals for RAF bases, they’re delivering expertly-crafted dishes to the likes of famous food critics Jay Rayner and Grace Dent.

But is it as hard as it looks?

We spoke to former MasterChef semi-finalist Anthony O’Shaughnessy, who appeared on the show in 2018, to give us the complete lowdown.

Hopefuls have to bring a homemade dish up to their audition

Anthony shared how he actually ‘messed up’ his application, after accidentally skipping ahead, missing out some of the questions and submitting it before it was ready. He’d not been able to resubmit it. 

But he still got the call inviting him to audition in Glasgow, which he was happy to travel up to from his home in Teesside.

‘It was quite late in the process at that point, so they only had Glasgow,’ he explained. ‘I said, “I’ll go to Glasgow,” and I had to make a dish to take along.

‘It was weird, [the casting team] said as long it’s not fish or something really weird! I took this red pepper, hummus sort of dish, it was in a hotel with some of the casting people who then try the food. When that was done, I waited a little bit and then found out I got it!’

Producers go to great lengths to ensure continuity

Some rounds were filmed over more than one day, meaning producers had to watch carefully for any possible continuity blunders which might ruin the magic of TV.

Anthony, who currently works as Head Chef at Blackfriars Cookery School in Newcastle, commented: ‘Sometimes we’d have to film one round across two days and wear the same clothes over two days.

‘We literally had to stop filming if someone’s wearing [something different].’

He recalled one moment where ‘someone actually was wearing a different colour pair of socks’ adding: ‘Something that small will literally stop the filming, the runner had to go out and get different socks!’ 

John and Gregg often disagree on dishes

While celebrity chef John often looks for more precision and technique in what he’s served up, greengrocer Gregg is known for his love of hearty dishes and his sweet tooth.

So it’s no surprise to hear they sometimes don’t feel the same way about plates of food.

‘John’s obviously got a palette for tasting things whereas Gregg knows what food is more comforting in a home setting. They often used to disagree a lot, which was quite interesting.

‘Gregg was more on my side! Whereas John had a bit more critique,’ Anthony recalled.

Nope, there’s no extra time to prepare food

Anthony admitted: ’Lot of people ask whether they actually give us more time when we’re doing the cooking challenges, they don’t. If you run out of time, you run out of time.

‘I ran out of time on one of mine and had to throw it on the plate!’

Filming starts at the crack of dawn

Anthony was travelling down to London for filming, which meant lengthy train journeys and late nights… but also early starts.

‘Pretty much every train I took out to London was delayed as well,’ he laughed. ‘I’d get in around two in the morning and then it was up at five o’clock for filming. It was really tiring.’

There’s a secret wine fridge and loads of snacks

Contestants often end up waiting around for challenges to start, sometimes for up to two hours at a time.

But in the participant’s lounge, there are plenty of snacks to help keep their energy up: ‘My favourite thing about that room is that there are lots of drawers and sideboards. What a lot of people don’t know is that they are actually full of snacks, like crisps and chocolate.’

And there’s even a wine fridge, with the chef adding: ‘It’s really cleverly hidden out of shots and it’s full of bottles of wine.

’There were actually a lot of times when we were sat on the couch waiting and the camera was doing the pan shots, we had cans of Fanta between our legs and crisps hidden out the way.’

John and Gregg always end up eating food cold

While dishes are served fresh out of the kitchen if they’re delivered to some of the country’s biggest chefs and critics, things aren’t as speedy when it comes to John and Gregg.

Anthony revealed there was often a couple of hours between finishing up a course and actually seeing the pair try it out, to give time to film and photograph the plates of food.

‘When we come back in, the food is freezing cold by that point,’ he told us. ‘You have to bear that in mind. I wasn’t aware of this before, but as the competition went on, I had to actually plan dishes around the fact that it was going to be cold.’

This meant certain dishes are off the table: ‘I didn’t want to do anything that might get a bit of skin on it, or ice cream. I did ice cream in one of the early rounds but I saw it didn’t really work because it’s sitting out a lot of melts a bit. You have to work around that and be conscious of it.’

All the food used in the MasterChef kitchen is bought by production

‘They ordered all the food,’ Anthony told us, but it didn’t always work out to plan.

He shared: ‘There was one situation where I was going to make a parmo (breaded chicken or pork cutlet topped with a béchamel sauce and cheese, delish) and asked for orange cheddar cheese, but they didn’t get it because I don’t think it’s a southern thing.

‘They provided me with white cheese, normal cheddar. People in Teesside went off, saying,” you have to use orange cheese!” I was like, “I know but I didn’t have it!”

But contestants can end up spending hundreds testing out recipes at home

Anthony remembered just how much time and money went into trying to perfect dishes at home.

’You’re spending so much [money] on testing the dishes and so on and finding the time to do that,’ he recalled. ‘I worked it out, I spent about a grand during the course of the show, just buying ingredients to test stuff with again and again.

‘Towards the end of the competitions, you start to plan the dishes a bit more, and they’ll give you a bit more of a brief.’

MasterChef can be streamed on BBC iPlayer now.

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