Michael Hogan reviews the first episode of the new series of Celebrity MasterChef on BBC One.
The contestants: Katy Brand, Heidi Range, Jo Wood and Janet Street Porter.Photo: BBC/Shine TV
By Michael Hogan
9:59PM BST 31 Jul 2013
The MasterChef franchise rarely seems off the air, what with all its various incarnations, but tonight a new run of Celebrity MasterChef (BBC One) got underway. After a spell banished to the teatime schedules, it was back to primetime. And already a star, possibly even a potential winner, has emerged.
Toothy pensioner Janet Street-Porter seems less of a kitchen Porter and more of a bona fide chef. The former newspaper editor has the skills (“She knows how to bone a duck,” murmured John Torode approvingly) and certainly has the temperament. Bossy, feisty and argumentative, she had judges Torode and shouty greengrocer Gregg Wallace looking terrified.
The first batch of apron-clad celebrities was an all-female affair: joining Street-Porter were comedian Katy Brand, former Sugababe Heidi Range and former wife-of-a-Rolling-Stone Jo Wood. There was a great deal of dentistry, lip gloss and Botox in that kitchen.
Their first challenge was a “mystery box” of ingredients, centred around a spider crab – still in its shell, of course, for extra difficulty. “It’s an alien!” squeaked Brand, before transforming it into an accomplished ravioli.
Wood’s crabcakes got good reviews, especially from Wallace, who seemed to be flirting with the glamorous granny. Range, despite a surname like a stove, looked terrified, all trembly-handed as she chopped onions.
Certainly not lacking in confidence was Street-Porter, who got stuck into the crab with gusto. “I eat roadkill,” she explained proudly. “If I see a pheasant or a rabbit that’s been hit by a car, I’ll pick it up, pluck or skin it, and eat it.” When Wallace dared suggest she shouldn’t use the crab shell for presentation, she looked like she was about to shove his shiny head in it.
The quartet’s next task was a fiendishly tricky palate test. Torode cooked a complicated duck soup with dumplings, which the amateurs had to taste and recreate without a recipe. Range mistook poultry for pork and brought Torode to tears with her liberal use of chilli. “I love the softness of your dumplings,” cooed Wallace, lasciviously. Street-Porter made more of a stew than a soup but was still stubborn enough to insist her way was right.
Finally, they headed to the Royal Albert Hall to make a high-pressure, 100-head lunch for Cirque De Soleil. Brand and Street-Porter again impressed, while Wood and Range struggled. They ran out of mashed potato topping for their shepherd’s pie and “cooked” a fruit salad for dessert – attempting to “posh it up” with Amaretto, despite Torode pointing out the folly of serving alcohol to acrobats about to swing from high wires. The sweet but hapless blondes look doomed to depart later this week.
Criticisms of this opener? Well, as the new face of WeightWatchers, co-host Wallace has lost several stone but at times looked downright peaky. This hour-long show sagged in parts and with no elimination at the end, it lacked jeopardy. The opening montage of stars to expect elsewhere in the series also left a little to be desired, with household names few and far between.
However, this format remained as slickly hypnotic as ever. Brand showed promise but Street-Porter already appears the one to beat – with her gob as much as her grill pan.