What did Ready Steady Cook mean to you?
They say all good things must come to an end, and Ready Steady Cook is no exception. Ainsley and the team have finally bowed out after 15 years on air, 21 series and more than 2000 shows. We asked some of the chefs, presenters and behind-the-scenes team to dish the dirt on each other, relive their on-screen rivalries – and romances – and share fond memories of the programme.
Antony Worrall Thompson (RSC chef 1994-2007)
"I was in the show for 13 years and it was great fun. I loved beating Brian Turner the best – he was an old, classically trained chef fixed in his northern ways. Not that any of us were counting of course…
"I remember once I whacked Fern across the face with a squid. She hates fish and squid particularly. This one had very long tentacles and I didn’t see her behind me... I don’t think she ever forgave me for that!"
Brian Turner (RSC chef 1994-2010)
"My great rival was Antony Worrall Thompson – I always liked playing against half-sized people. I remember Antony would try every way to get the audience on his side. Once on the roadshow he brought his newborn child on stage just before they counted up the votes – and of course he won hands down.
"At the old studio and at the live shows we would all march up and down backstage singing along as loud as we could to the classical music they played before the show, to get rid of our nerves. It was lovely and I’ll never forget it."
Fern Britton (RSC presenter 1994-2000)
"Up until Ready Steady Cook came along I had been a current affairs person and was very surprised to be given the job. There were two other younger and more attractive female presenters auditioned for the job. As I had little interest in cooking I had ruled myself out!
"However fate stepped in and I got a job that I grew to love very quickly. Without it I would not have had a new lease of life both professionally and personally in the shape of my dear husband Phil Vickery. We would never have met if it hadn't been for the show and I am very, very happy that we did."
James Winter (RSC researcher 1994-1997, now series producer of Saturday Kitchen)
"RSC was my first job in TV; I was a contestant researcher. Our job was to audition the people who would like to be on the show, and we also came up with the titles for the dishes – apart from Ainsley’s recipes, which he insisted on naming himself. Some have stuck with me, such as ‘Goosey goosey gammon traffic lights 123’ – I still don’t know where he got that one from or what it means!
"James was the bandana-wearing, sports car-driving man he is now. He always won with the spun sugar strands – unless he was against Ainsley. When he heard the minute count, that’s when he put his sugar in the pan. He knew he could always finish with a flourish of spun sugar on the top and win."
James Martin (RSC chef 1996-2005)
"Ready Steady Cook was my first regular TV slot, with the old bandana and the old spun sugar. The bandana was never a gimmick – I’m 6’3’’ and I couldn’t wear a chefs’ hat because they made me too tall. I ended up painting my own bandanas and designing my own jackets for the show – I had one with green peppers on one sleeve and red tomatoes on the other that I got people to sign.
"I built up my knowledge of TV from RSC so I owe it a lot. In its heyday – with the roadshows – it was like a rock-and-roll tour. The chefs took it really seriously; you didn’t want to lose. You could tell whether you had a good chance of winning by the age of the audience – if the audience was into bingo then Brian or Antony had a chance!"
Ainsley Harriott (RSC chef 1994-2000; presenter 2000-2010)
"The great thing about RSC was that it came along at a time when we were still a bit naïve about cooking in this country. It changed people’s attitudes towards food. Suddenly we were looking at these professional guys doing something very spontaneous that only cost a certain amount of money. Viewers could see products that they had never seen before and understand what was a 'reduction' or a 'jus' or a 'mirepoix' – all those culinary terms.
"I just loved it – as a chef it was a real discipline for me. Even when I was presenter, every time they tipped the contents out of the bag I was thinking, ‘What would I do with that?’ I was thrilled to become the presenter, but nervous as anything. It’s almost like being a football player and then becoming the manager of the football team!
"I remember the faces of the chefs when they got liver or anything remotely offal. ‘Awful offal’ they used to call it. I think me and James Martin were the few who were able to win with liver or kidneys. Similarly when squid was in the bag and the chef was cleaning it in front of everybody, I’m watching the audience’s faces and I’m thinking to myself, ‘You’ve got no chance!’"
Nick Nairn (RSC chef 1995-2010)
"For me RSC was a life-changing experience: it was where I met my wife, Holly [who worked on the show].
"In the early days they went through a phase of giving us bags with one thing in them. Antony got a bar of chocolate; I had a tin of ham. There was always enough in the larder, so the secret was to know the larder. From flour and eggs you could make pasta or pastry, and there was always something you could use to make a soup.
"I’ll always remember the social aspect of it. There was a huge amount of mutual respect between us and a real sense of camaraderie. I think at one point they stopped me and Paul Rankin from cooking together because we were never quite as competitive on the second day of filming! Antony was über competitive – we all were. If you had a bad run, it really affected you. I lost seven in a row once and I was about to chuck it all in! But I absolutely loved it and was proud to be part of it."
Did Ready Steady Cook spark your interest in cooking? Has it left you with any favourite memories or fail-safe dishes? Who was your favourite RSC personality?
Read another blog post reminiscing about some of RSC’s most "out-there" recipes.
Nicky Evans works on the BBC Food website.