The pressure cookers are out, the table has been laid, and the trophy has been polished – MasterChef is back, opening its doors to a new batch of aspiring chefs all battling to become Britain’s best amateur cook.
And one of those competitors is my fiance Chris Hale!
Across twenty-five episodes spread over seven weeks on BBC One, the contestants face extraordinary culinary challenges, expert critique, and the trusted MasterChef faces, as John Torode and Gregg Wallace return to the judging table on the hunt for the twelfth champion.
This year 40 amateur cooks are through to the heat stages. Each of the four heat weeks see two heat programmes with five new chef-contenders in each show. The ten contestants will battle for just six places in Friday’s Quarter Final – and only the best can make it through.
However to get to that Quarter Final the hopefuls will need to impress with three tough challenges.
First, they must dazzle the judges with their Calling Card Dish, with only one hour and fifteen minutes to wow with just one plate of food to showcase their talents. Then, John and Gregg will each choose their favourite dish, and send those two cooks sailing straight through to round three. The remaining three contestants must cook again in a twist on the infamous Invention Test – The Sweet and Savoury Invention Test. The hopefuls are given one sweet and one savoury ingredient as well as access to the larder. Choosing just one of the ingredients they must produce a dish that celebrates that ingredient, and create a plate of food that will sway the judges and earn them a place in the next round. It’s the end of the road for one person after this cook-off, as one amateur cook is sent home.
The remaining four contestants must now survive the final test of their heat – cooking their own two courses to impress not only John and Gregg, but three exceptional MasterChef champions and finalists who know exactly what the contestants are going through. They must draw on all their skills; it is their last chance to win a place in the Quarter Finals.
At the end of each heat, the best three cooks will go through to Friday’s Quarter Final where they are put through the mill with a seriously daunting test –The Critic’s Test.
The home cooks have to impress just one food critic with a dish. Each week a critic will give the four Quarter-Finalists a central ingredient, which they must design a dish around. Week One will see Tracey MacLeod ask them to cook a dish with cheese as its star, week two Charles Campion chooses Brill, then coriander for William Sitwell and in the last of the heats Jay Rayner asks for dishes with duck breast as the focus.
After cooking the dish, the quarterfinalists are introduced to this single guest critic, as they stand before them with their dish. They get to hear exactly what the critic and John and Gregg think, before more must leave the competition, leaving the best cooks through to the next stage.
Only the strongest cooks can make it to the final challenges, and after the four weeks of heats the 40 hopefuls will have been whittled down to just a handful of standout culinary stars. Now the last three weeks’ challenges begin…and the competition really hots up.
First they face the daunting Knockout Week, which starts when the remaining 14 cooks are split into two groups of seven, and across two half-hour shows must cook a ‘family favourite,’ or dish inspired by their childhood, for John and Gregg.
For those who survive, the next two shows will see them split into two groups again and sent into the world of the professional kitchen. For the first time they will be forced to cope with the demands of running a restaurant service alone for the paying public. All on their own, they will be charged with overseeing service for Stevie Parle of Craft, and Antonio Favuzzi at L’Anima respectively.
Then each contestant’s own style, food ambition and stamina will be scrutinised by John and Gregg when they are asked to cook an exceptional plate of food in another Invention Test. However this time the judges will be bringing in someone to help them taste – the two Michelin starred British chef and Professional MasterChef judge, Marcus Wareing. At the end of this week only the strongest will become Semi-Finalists.
This year sees the Semi-Finalists undergo some serious culinary tasks including: the exciting Relay Invention Test, cooking for one hundred navy sailors in kitchen tents on the back of their ship, HMS Northumberland, and designing the menu that they would put in their very own restaurant, then choosing one dish from it to cook for some of Britain’s best restaurateurs, including Russell Norman, David Lowei and Aldo Zilli.
The week ends with the Semi-Finalists fighting for a place in Final Week by enduring the infamous Critic’s Table. Three Critics, one dish – to secure their place in the finals. It is a brutal test and they are all pushed to their limits; only the most talented get through to the Final Week of MasterChef.
This year’s Final Week sees a level of competition that amazes. The last few amateur cooks, with the title finally in their reach, will cook a special 250th anniversary dinner for the Bristol Old Vic Theatre, with one of Britain’s most creative and innovative chefs. The recently starred Michael O’Hare oversees the finalists as they cook for some of those exceptional alumni who’ve trod the theatre’s boards, including Samantha Bond and Greta Scacchi. They also travel to one of the most influential and exciting culinary destinations of the moment – Mexico City – where they face a street food challenge in a busy market, cook in service at Pujol – the number 16 best restaurant in the world – with superstar chef Enrique Olvera, and cater a fine-dining dinner for some of the heavy hitters in the food and cultural world of Mexico City.
The Finalists’ penultimate challenge is the awe-inspiring Chef’s Table, which will be presided over by New York’s Daniel Humm, the world’s fifth best chef, of Eleven Madison Park fame.
All of the challenges build towards the MasterChef final where, after the most incredible culinary journeys, one finalist will be crowned MasterChef Champion 2016.