OPINION: Gregg's right - a barbecue doesn't make a man a Masterchef

Gregg Wallace. Photo: Charlotte Knee

Gregg Wallace - Credit: Archant

For anyone with a remote interest in food, one of the TV highlights of the year is Masterchef – not the professional or celebrity versions, but the original where 40 or so amateur home cooks are put through a ruthless examination of their culinary prowess, before just one emerges as champion.

We will find out this year’s winner tomorrow night, the culmination of a series which has deftly embraced coronavirus and the closure of the world’s restaurants – usually a big part of the final couple of weeks – to produce six weeks of compelling viewing.

Masterchef is a big deal for the BBC, which is why the corporation’s PR department spends a great deal of effort coming up with media stories to promote the show.

Because they can’t give away in advance which contestants are successful, inevitably this PR deluge focusses on the show’s longstanding presenters, knowledgeable Australian chef John Torode, and gurning ex-greengrocer Gregg Wallace.

The pair popped up in last week’s Radio Times to talk about an enduring food trend which is extremely topical right now, given that we are finally allowed to have our friends round for dinner, but only in the garden.

Wallace in particular laid into that staunch British tradition, the barbecue.

In comments which will inevitably make socially-distancing easier for him (he is likely to be ostracised by his friends when they read the interview), Wallace told the magazine that every barbecue he has ever been to has been ‘rubbish’.

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“I turn up and find the same lump of uncooked meat on a paper plate, and I have to try and cut it with a plastic fork in one hand and a drink in the other,” said the follicly-challenged presenter. “Men who only ever go into a kitchen to throw beer cans away suddenly seek to perfect one of the most difficult techniques known to man.”

Middle aged man burning food on a barbecue

“Men who only ever go into a kitchen to throw beer cans away suddenly seek to perfect one of the most difficult techniques known to man," says TV presenter Gregg Wallace - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Torode – a chef who is respected by his peers – agrees. “Suddenly, the sun comes out and men try to undertake possibly the most difficult culinary process ever – namely cooking over an open flame to produce something delicious.”

These may be deliberately provocative comments designed to grab column inches as the TV programme enters finals week, but the thing is, both Wallace and Torode are right: the way we do barbecues in Britain is truly terrible.

Great lumps of dried-out, unmarinated meat, burnt to a cinder on the outside, but still listeria-raw in the middle; nasty cheap burgers which are less prime beef and more grime beef, with gristle, mechanically-recovered pap and you-don’t-want-to-ask-what-else in them; food which is imbued with the heady combination of lighter fuel and ash – these are the delights which await the unwary barbecue attendee.

I’m impatient to meet my friends in the flesh after all these months of lockdown, but having successfully dodged the Covid bullet by obeying the rules and shutting myself away from the world, why would I want food poisoning to be my reward? Or simply unpleasant, simultaneously overdone and raw food on my plate?

Other countries do this so much better, mainly because they have the climate to be doing it all year round.

In other words they have got the hang of it, so your Greek grill or your Argentinian steak is the result of generations of barbecue experience.

Your British burger is the result of a half-cut man whose sole contribution to feeding the family is to get out a rusty - and usually filthy, as it’s unlikely to have been cleaned since the final barbecue of last year - grill the first time the sun comes out.

Given that al fresco is the only option for the time being if we want to eat with those outside our own bubble, the temptation to get out the barbecue must be strong. But every house has a fully-equipped kitchen inside it, and even if your guests aren’t allowed in, that doesn’t stop the host preparing the food inside, and then bringing it out to eat.

If you insist on using cave-man technology to heat up your food, then at least heed this advice from Gregg Wallace: “What you are cooking needs to be small, it needs to be marinated, and you need to be in control of it. Don’t just cook one dish and never try it again. Do it over and over again and perfect it – it will taste much better that way.”

And if you value your friends, don’t invite them over until you have reached that happy state of perfection. Or you may find that they suddenly find socially distancing from you is actually a much better option

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