Prior to the signing of his new book My Kind Of Food at Henley On Food, John Torode was interviewed about Masterchef, eating with friends and his Desert Island dish.
You’ve been doing Masterchef for how many years?
12 years, a dozen years with Greg Wallace – arghhh! I love him really; I love his shiny bald head. The funny thing is that he was my fruit and veg man at Quaglinos in 1992/93. So I’ve known him a really long time. But as much as we know each other and we work together, we don’t hang out with each other. And I think that’s a really good thing because what it means is we go to very different restaurants, our likes are very, very different from each other but it means we’ve kept our own opinions. We’ve kept our own opinions for the last 12 years and I think that really is the making of what we’re doing on Masterchef. Masterchef is not just about food and narrative, its about the fact that the world has different opinions. And social media tells us when they think we get it wrong, we don’t get it wrong, but they tell us anyway
Do you have any plans for retirement?
No. It’s an extraordinary, incredible and amazing job. If I look round at what’s happened, Thomasina Myers, our first winner, now has 30 restaurants. That’s wild, that’s just fantastic. The girl who wanted to cook Mexican food, loved Mexican food and that’s exactly what she did. But then I look back at Thomasina’s winning courses and you probably wouldn’t get through the critics (round) now. Food has changed so much in 12 years, because of the way we all travel, the way we all eat, the way we’re all excited about food. It’s extraordinary.
It’s so impressive when you get the novices coming in and then you see, by the end of the season, the ones who have made it. 12 years on, are you still excited by the journey that they take and their growing self confidence?
One of the most wonderful things about Masterchef is the variable. And the variables are really exciting and food’s variable. A piece of cod doesn’t cook the same as another piece of cod as another piece of cod. A piece of beef doesn’t cook the same way as another piece of beef. A lamb cutlet in summer cooks very differently from a lamb cutlet in winter. So there’s all these variables that happen. And everybody has got their own opinions, their own styles and that keeps us very committed. There’s always somebody coming up with new stuff. And there’s always new food, there’s always new interesting ideas coming through. Each year we’ll see the amazing array of ingredients and things we’ve never ever seen on the programme before. You know, we’ve eaten camel’s drool, that’s a first on Masterchef and hopefully last. Someone made brick pastry, it’s incredible like filo but you do it over a pot of boiling water with a fry pan and you paint this pan and as it cooks you fill in the holes. I’ve never seen it done before. Last year someone made cous cous from scratch, absolute scratch and someone used zhoug, which is a spice from the Middle East, which we’d never seen before.
We’re always learning and watching and I love that. As somebody who’s been cooking for thirty odd years I know a bit, but it goes to show, you know absolutely nothing. I find the whole thing just fascinating, It bowls me over that we find somebody like Juanita (Hennessey Masterchef 2016) who walked in with a piece of Presa. Presa is a cut of pork that comes from inside the shoulder blade of the most expensive pig in the whole world. It’s available in about 3 butcher’s shops in the whole of the U.K. Where the hecky decky is that girl buying that from for her own kitchen? Of course it’s going to taste amazing, but where do they find it? That’s what fascinates me.
Have you ever been presented with a particular food you’re not very keen and you’ve had to put all your bias to one side?
There’s only one thing I’m not really keen on and that’s kidneys. Its something to do with their function, I can’t really cope with something that has to filter that. We’ve just filmed Celebrity and they appeared 6 times. I’ve got to at least pay respect to the fact that someone has taken the time to cook it.
You can tell whether it’s cooked, it’s the taste I’m not great with. But texture’s really important and how it works in the dish. Someone says that if you eat it ten times you’ll learn to like it. I’ve eaten kidney at least ten times and I still don’t like it. So if you want to go on Masterchef and cook kidneys – please don’t. And I’ll let you get through to the next round.
For each contestant it’s personal journey. We, the viewers, get very attached to some of them.
Yeah, and I’m really pleased you do get attached to them. I see that on social media. When Jenny went home ( Masterchef 2016) we had ‘How dare you.’ ‘It’s the wrong one.’ ‘Maybe you’re wrong.’ I’m really pleased that people are engaging and people are talking about it.
Television’s changing, the way we watch television’s changing, but we’re doing great figures and as long as everybody keeps watching – please keep on watching – I’ll be there with the shiny bald one.
Is there something you’d really like to make, a programme wise a book or a restaurant. Is there something burning inside you that you haven’t done yet?
There’s a huge amount of stuff. If anybody saw Argentina (A Cook Abroad BBC2) I love driving, there’s something about driving, about looking out the window and discovering. I think for me, a journey to Asia from top to bottom would be amazing. A proper road trip, whether it be modes of transport, motorbikes, boats whatever. What I’d really like to do is to go and find something.
Argentina was very much like that. There were bits that were planned down, you’ve got to have content to make a television programme. But a lot of the stuff we did in Argentina was never planned. We were just driving along a road, pulled up at a place and went “Look at that, that’s so cool.” And that’s it, boom away you go. And that for me is what I love. I love that spontaneity, I love discovering things and as I said before the more I know the more I realise I know very very little at all. I love that.
When you go to friend’s houses for dinner are they ever nervous about what to cook you for dinner?
No because they’re my friends. It doesn’t really matter. I’m always in awe of someone where you turn up and they made you a cheeseburger, I think it’s brilliant. Its what everybody eats. I’m not going to go to my friend’s house and judge them – You’re not through to the next round!
You’re on a dessert island and you’ve got to choose one dish, what would you order?
It would probably be something crazy like a fish finger sandwich on really thick white bread with lashings of butter and tartar sauce. When you put the hot fish fingers in, you squeeze it down just a little bit so the butter melts on one side the mayonnaise/ tartar sauce melts into the whole lot and the breads just warm enough and soggy enough that when you eat it you‘ve got the crunch of the fish fingers on the outside, soft lovely fish, spiciness of the tartar sauce butter running down your chin and soft crusty bread. I wouldn’t be going for anything too posh.
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My Kind Of Food is published by Headline priced £25