Celebrity MasterChef, episode 1 review: a rather flavourless starter course

Ed Power
Neil Ruddock, Zandra Rhodes, Joey Essex, Oti Mabuse, Andy Grant took part in the first of a new series of Celebrity MasterChef - BBC
Neil Ruddock, Zandra Rhodes, Joey Essex, Oti Mabuse, Andy Grant took part in the first of a new series of Celebrity MasterChef - BBC

Wonky sausages and crazy gravy replaced the standard reality TV fare of tears and tantrums as Celebrity MasterChef (BBC One) returned with a fresh line-up of kitchen confident A-listers. 

“Celebrity” is always a nebulous concept with these endeavours. Ex-football hard-man Neil Ruddock, Strictly pro-dancer Oti Mabuse, fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, athlete Andy Grant and reality star Joey Essex were into the frying pan in episode one. You’ve probably heard of a few of them. But all five? 

Stumbling at the first hurdle was long-distance runner Grant. His over-cooked lamb with a flavour-free sauce went straight in the bin – along with his MasterChef prospects. It wasn’t an especially tense denouement. The amiable former marine had struggled throughout. John Torode and Gregg Wallace, back as presenters/judges, will have felt they had little option but can the lamb, and Grant with it.  

In fact, there was no official winner but bragging rights for the evening went to Joey Essex, if only because he reckoned his cooking deserved a “Michigan Star”. The Chigwell cheeky chappy went into the competition not knowing thyme was a herb or that sausages could be made by hand. By closing credits he was knocking out a zesty recreation of his nan’s bread pudding (based on what little he could remember of the recipe). 

The other stand-out was Ruddock. Torode and Wallace applauded his signature dish: a pasta bake the size of a five-a-side pitch and as uncompromising as the tasty sliding tackles Ruddock used to serve up in his playing days. 

Joey Essex - Credit: BBC
Joey Essex Credit: BBC

As with Essex, Ruddock’s cooking came with generous garnishings of banter. “This isn’t pressure,” he laughed. “Pressure is telling your missus you’ll be at home at 10 o’clock and you’re still in the pub at half four.” 

Three rounds of kitchen derring-do put the contestants through their paces. The starting challenge involved assembling bangers and mash from scratch. Andy’s gravy was crazy (not in a good way). And Dame Rhodes’s zig-zagging creations were anything but catwalk ready. 

Ruddock won praise for his sausages, as did Mabuse for her sweet potato mash. The joker in the pack was Essex. It seemed he could barely fry an egg without burning down the house. Yet at the taste test he was deemed to have done “pretty well”.

Neil Ruddock - Credit: BBC
Neil Ruddock Credit: BBC

Reality television cannot survive on studio antics alone, however. So it was out into the real world for a segment in which the contestants helped out at a professional kitchen. Ruddock, Grant and Mabuse were off to the Coal Shed in Southwark, London to toil over chargrilled octopus. Rhodes and Essex (sounding like a Seventies comedy duo) negotiated high-end naan bread at “posh Indian” Kahani in Chelsea. 

And then it was back to the MasterChef mothership for the final challenge in which the competitors presented their signature recipes. Grant had struggled throughout and his elimination came as little surprise. Josie Long, Vicky Pattison and Judge Jules are among the celebs to be introduced in future episodes. The hope must be that they add spice after this rather flavourless starter course.