On the 20th anniversary of MasterChef, judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace reminisce on the cooking show’s history

​Now on its 20th series, MasterChef has established itself as one of Britain’s favourite cooking programmes. It has had successful spin offs – Celebrity MasterChef, MasterChef: The Professionals, and Junior MasterChef – but the original series is held close to the hearts of foodies across the country.
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​That’s true for no one more than judges John Torode, 58, and Gregg Wallace, 59. They’ve worked together on MasterChef since 2005, but knew each other long before that – and even after two decades of judging, they show no signs, or intention, of stopping.

Ahead of series 20 of MasterChef starting on BBC One, let’s reflect on the last 20 years with Torode and Wallace.

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What do you most look forward to when you start a new series of Masterchef?

MasterChef's John Torode and Gregg WallaceMasterChef's John Torode and Gregg Wallace
MasterChef's John Torode and Gregg Wallace

GW: It’s people. I like people. I just want to meet and learn about the people. That is the thing that I most look forward to.

And then it’s hoping the ones I like stay in, and then it’s watching everybody develop. That’s what I look forward to.

But more than anything else, it’s getting to know the people. You can’t get to know everybody, because they keep exiting the competition! But I love getting to know them, and I love watching them develop.

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JT: An amazing thing about MasterChef is that we’re not scripted. We make the decisions. And we’re very, very fortunate in a television programme of this day and age that we are (unscripted). Of course we’re directed to a certain extent, but we don’t know what’s going to happen on the day we walk in the door…

Marking 20 years of Masterchef are judges John Torode and Gregg WallaceMarking 20 years of Masterchef are judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace
Marking 20 years of Masterchef are judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace

We have no idea what they’re going to cook, we don’t know who these people are… We don’t get big briefing sheets or anything like that.

We just get told: ‘Here you go, you find out as much as you possibly can about them, what are they going to cook, OK, explain it to us in your words, and tell the viewer what they’re going to cook, because we don’t understand what they’re making, so you’re gonna have to help us out’.

There’s something really exciting about (how) you don’t know, I mean, how amazing (that) you don’t know what’s going to happen on the day you’re in your job, that you have no idea. You know you’re going to eat, and you hope it’s going to be really good, you hope something is not going to be too nasty!

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But it’s amazing. It’s a bloody brilliant thing to do. It’s an extraordinary privilege to do it.

Happy 20th to Masterchef: Judges John Torode and Gregg WallaceHappy 20th to Masterchef: Judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace
Happy 20th to Masterchef: Judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace

You’ve been friends for decades, not least through 20 years of Masterchef – how has your friendship blossomed over the years?

JT: I think we have great respect for each other. I think that’s it really.

We don’t hang out with each other – we go out and have a drink occasionally, when we go on location and stuff, but we both have our own lives, and we live in very different parts of the world. And I think one of the joys of MasterChef is that we’ve kept our identities and our opinions, because we haven’t morphed into each other. We dress differently, our taste in music is different, the way in which we approach many things and tasks is completely different, and we’ve always respected each other’s want to do that. And so that friendship has stayed because of that reason. It’s an equilibrium…

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GW: You know what I’ve just realised, and I think I’m right… I think with me and John, there has always been an incredible level of professionalism – to get the job done, and to do it as well as we both can, without our egos ever getting in the way.

Jerome, Rana, Sidney, Louise, Peter and OliviaJerome, Rana, Sidney, Louise, Peter and Olivia
Jerome, Rana, Sidney, Louise, Peter and Olivia

And I think what that’s done over the years, most certainly, is it’s developed a trust in each other, and a confidence in each other. But I think listening to John there and thinking back 20 years, I think it actually comes out of real professionalism. I think that’s what you get with John and I.

We turn up on time. We do as we’re told, we follow direction… We are both the same in our attitudes towards work. I think that’s a lot of what this is built on.

And out of that has come respect and trust.

JT: That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun on set, because we do…, but you know what, there’s times and places for it.

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GW: You need to see that set to see just how happy that set is. Because you’ve got to remember: John and I have also worked with directors and crews now – the same core people – for 20 years. That is one happy place.

And we bring happiness, energy, giggles and silly songs into that workspace. Don’t misunderstand me, I think our approach is professional, but it’s a happy profession…

People say that John and I don’t get on… We’ve been working together face to face for 20 years. We knew each other for 10 years before that – John bought fruit and veg off me – and he was best man at my wedding… He wasn’t best man at every wedding, but he was at the last one!

You make your mind up what’s going on there between me and Mr Torode.

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Are you happy to carry on working on Masterchef? Is there a part of you that thinks: There’s a certain amount we can do, and leave it at that?

JT: Who would we leave it to? Don’t be ridiculous! No!

That’s too much responsibility for anybody – to take over from me and him, there’s no way in the world.

Where are you going to find two attractive people, one with hair, one without, anywhere like that? There’s no way! No!

I think to get me out of the place, they’re gonna have to push me out the door, or get to the stage where they’re gonna have to blend my food to get me to taste it. That’s when I’ll be leaving.

MasterChef returns to BBC One at 6.30pm on Monday, April 1.

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