Will we ever be able to look Gregg Wallace in the eye again without thinking of human meat? The presenter was last seen in Gregg Wallace: The British Miracle Meat, a mockumentary in which he sampled steaks made from cash-strapped NHS workers and met children who were about to have their tissue harvested for burgers. Somewhere in the gristle, there was a point about the cost of living crisis. It was unforgettable, but probably not in the way Wallace intended.
That human meat was the first thing that came into my head when Dani Dyer carved up a loin of venison in the new series of Celebrity MasterChef (BBC One). It’s series 18 of the show in which you’re doing well if you recognise 50 per cent of the contestants. In this launch episode, I recognised three and could put names to two of them, so felt pretty chuffed.
Most did the very British thing of introducing themselves as hopeless cooks. “It’s best to stay out of the kitchen, to be honest,” said James Buckley, star of The Inbetweeners. “I just hope I remember my potato from my piece of meat,” said Mica Ven of Gogglebox fame. This turned out to be false modesty. Venn made a decent pineapple upside-down pudding, and a brown stew chicken that won a rave review from John Torode. Buckley cooked his (non-human) steak perfectly and produced a serviceable tiger prawn stir fry.
I confess to feeling a bit short-changed. Half the fun of Celebrity MasterChef is in seeing someone make disastrously bad food. They have messed with the main series of MasterChef and its professional sibling, relying on X Factor-style sob stories and introducing a feature in which the judges watch the cooking from afar and yell at a screen.
Mercifully, Celebrity MasterChef hasn’t changed much at all, which is good because the format is bomb-proof. Torode and Wallace continue their enduring double-act: ie, responsible dog owner (Torode) hoping that his over-excitable bulldog doesn’t career into someone’s picnic and make off with the pork pies.
The other contestants were Marcus Brigstocke, the comedian; and Richie Anderson, the Radio 2 travel presenter who clearly believes he is destined for bigger things. Dyer (daughter of Danny) is a passable cook, Brigstocke is very good, and Anderson? “What’s a bit of pink chicken when your sauce is good?” he asked, after serving the judges some chicken that was raw in the middle. It’s a bus ride home, pal. We won’t be seeing him tomorrow.