FT Foodies: John Torode

Chef John Torode is co-presenter of the BBC’s MasterChef series, and also runs Smiths of Smithfield and Luxe restaurants in London.

What were your school dinners like?

I went to school in a little country town called Maitland, in New South Wales. We had packed lunch – sandwich and fruit – and on Fridays we got money to go to the tuck shop and get a sausage roll. My childhood was one of fairly ordinary food, things like roast chicken, which remains one of my favourites.

Who taught you to cook?

My grandmother, who I lived with. We’re talking about 1970s Australia, so it was things like mashed potato and gravy and grilled lamb chops, lovely scones and cakes, but we weren’t a gourmand family. I was fortunate to grow up in an environment where you learnt the basics first – it’s like maths; you’ve got to know your times tables.

Has Australian food changed too?

Australia moved a lot faster than Britain. By the time I was an apprentice at 17, you could buy things like hand-rolled mozzarella, really good cured hams, German salamis and incredible Turkish desserts. Aussies are quite sociable, and the sun makes a big difference – people are outside and suddenly someone has lit the barbecue … and it’s not just sausages and burgers.

How do you see the future of the aspiring chefs you meet?

If you truly want to do something and you love it, then it’s not that difficult. It’s that great old phase, “Find a job you like and you’ll never have to do a day’s work in your life.” Anybody who’s doing MasterChef is doing it because they love it with all their heart.

How do you feel about the way MasterChef has evolved as a series?

The great thing is that Greg [Wallace, co-host] and I are not scripted at all, we make the absolute decisions. There’s a number of cameras about the place, but it’s simple, we’re just capturing the moment.

Is the customer always right?

If someone’s paying, they can have whatever they like. We’re subservient – we’re house staff, we’re cooks, that’s what we do.

What do you consider bad manners at the table?

I’m not judgmental of other people, and never would be.

What would you choose for your last meal?

Chargrilled fish with a decent chilli sauce, a bowl of curry, a cold beer, my feet in the water and as I’m about to be shot in the head, can I walk into the water and die there please?

John Torode is appearing at the BBC ‘Good Food Show Summer’, June 13-17, NEC, Birmingham, 0844 581 1341; bbcgoodfoodshow.com

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