Britain's Best Home Cook
A brand new cookery competition celebrating truly exceptional home cooks coming soon to BBC One
Q&A on set with Mary, Chris, Dan and Claudia
Britain is a hugely multicultural place - the food and the flavours that inspire people show that - so there’s going to be all sorts of inspirationsChris Bavin
What are you looking for in Britain’s Best Home Cook?
Chris: It’s about enjoying what you cook. Cooking for your family and feeding people at home is one of the greatest joys and I want to see that coming into the competition. They have to be prepared to be inventive and change things, and come out of their comfort zone. We all have a repertoire of meals we like to cook, but for Britain’s Best Home Cook we want to see people that will try new flavours and ingredients and take themselves out of their comfort zone.
Dan: As a chef I’m looking at how they get there and which techniques they apply, whether it’s from their heritage or a spin on a classic. Britain is a diverse country and I want to see that in the food.
Chris: He’s like a teacher you see, it’s not good enough to have the end product, Dan wants to see how you came to that, he wants to see the workings out!
Mary: We’re looking for someone who makes the most of our wonderful British ingredients with variations on the classics. Things that their own family are going to go oo and ahh about when they eat them! When people are watching we want to make that at home, so when they switch off they get the ingredients and have a go – I think that would be very satisfying for us. But we don’t want fancy food or a lot of complicated stuff, no trickles of glaze on a plate or lots of piping, just simple really well cooked food with a great style.
Do you think home cooking is surprisingly competitive?
Claudia: I think one of the best things somebody can ever ask you if they’ve been at your house is do you have the recipe, you punch the air quietly and say oh it’s a Bolognese let me get it for you.
Chris: I think feeding your family is one of the most important things you can do. It’s happening up and down the country in every single household and it’s a real responsibility.
Mary: Mind you here our cooks are going to be competitive, they’re going to want to show their very best!
Chris: There’s a huge amount of pride at stake, if people think they’re the best cook in the country to have the opportunity to come here and prove that is a fabulous opportunity. But the kitchen can be an unforgiving place. Things will go wrong in a kitchen. Dan’s an incredible chef and Mary’s as good a cook as it gets, but even the best chefs make mistakes and can have a bad day or even a bad five minutes, so it is an unforgiving place.
Are we a nation of home cooks with hidden talents?
Dan: I actually think home cooking has so much more worth than restaurant cooking. Obviously I’m a chef and I work in a restaurant but at home, to nourish your family is an emotional thing. It all ties back to nostalgia, the things you grew up on and things you loved, it all comes back to that and so you always judge other people against your mum’s roast or your dad’s pie.
Chris: Fine dining is absolutely fabulous but for every plate of Michelin star food being eaten there are millions of home meals being tucked into and I think that’s what people look forward to, home cooking has got a huge nostalgia to it. We want to see people cooking things from their past and their childhood, things that they can really relate to and be passionate about.
Mary: We’re also going to see lots of varying cultures. 50 years ago we didn’t have such wonderful ingredients we’ve got now. People hadn’t travelled. Now we’re going to get all sorts of exciting things, Indian, Chinese, and of course British, it will be all different kinds of food.
Dan: As diverse as Britain is, you’ll see that in the contestants and in their food.
Chris: Britain is a hugely multicultural place - the food and the flavours that inspire people show that - so there’s going to be all sorts of inspirations.
Mary: We’re setting the challenges and our cooks are going to have to be versatile. They’re going to have to do all sorts of different cooking so there’s no sticking to what they’ve always done.
Chris: Absolutely. The meals you cook every day and your signature dishes will only get you so far – if you want to be Britain’s Best Home Cook you’re going to have to adapt and be able to cook things you’re not necessarily familiar with. If you want to be noticed and remembered and get beyond that I think you’re going to have to try some new things and experiment with flavours. I think we’re going to see some humble pies and some classics first of all, but as the competition goes on it will change.
Mary: We’re the lucky judges and so we are the ones that taste it, so when the food arrives it’s got to look tempting, it’s got to taste good and they must be very creative. But what we’re not looking for long complicated recipes with too many ingredients, we just want to have gorgeous recipes that the family are going to love.
Claudia, as a presenter what have you seen of the contestants behind the scenes, what their nerves are like and how their creativity is coming through?
Claudia: Yes, I think I have two jobs here. One is to be as orange as humanly possible and two is to make sure the contestants have a fantastic time. It is nerve wracking. These are home cooks, these are not people who have worked in kitchens or highly pressured scenarios. They’ve been making the most delicious spaghetti Bolognese in their street for years, and they come here where there are cameras and lights, there’s Mary and the brilliant boys, so they’re daunted and scared. My job is to look after them and take the edge off. I tickle them sometimes and tell jokes – I’ve been known to do anything that makes it better.
Are you a home cook yourself Claudia?
Claudia: Not a very good one. These three lovely judges can come over my house but I would have to get somebody else to make it and then I would pretend it was mine.
Are you learning tips from the cooks?
Claudia: I’m learning an enormous amount, every time. Somebody made a fingerling potato the other day in garlic oil and I almost cried.
Mary: I’m learning all the time. They’re a wonderful bunch of cooks. We’re getting all different recipes. Some are sticking to their particular sort of food they’ve always done, but we’re at the stage where they’ll have to change that, our challenge is to stretch them.
Dan: It starts off with them being quite nervous, perhaps in the mind-set of ‘I can’t do that’, but as they get more comfortable and find more confidence they’re going to start playing around with stuff, and it’s good because it’s opening our eyes to lots of different things. For example, I’ve never had prosecco and blue cheese in so many various forms as we’ve had, which is interesting!
Mary: They’ve become very close, because they live together so when we set them a challenge they go home and they think about it, they’re all helping each other which is lovely, then they come back and they borrow from each other. They’re an absolute team and they get very upset if things don’t go right for each other.
Chris: We’ve already seen the group of cooks grow enormously together, there is a real camaraderie and real friendship. We’re going to see how that’s tested by the competition as it goes on because at the moment they’re all together, but they’ve all come here with one goal and one ambition, so eventually the friendship is going to have to be put on hold.
Claudia: No! Don’t you try and make this scary. You went a bit Alan Sugar. They’re all best friends.
Living in a house together must bring a completely different dynamic and make them really close?
Claudia: From the first moment they walked in they are a proper unit, they link arms, they finish each other’s sentences, they ask each other for advice. They are a lovely group of people and it’s horrible when somebody goes.
Mary: As judges we cannot tell them or correct them, and Claudia encourages them, but they help each other. If they make something like a difficult sauce, such as a hollandaise in week one, we see them help each other which is enchanting I think.
What about the dynamic between you judges? What have you learned from one another?
Mary: I’ve learnt an awful lot. I’ve been cooking for yonks and I learn from both of the boys. It’s lovely to know the origin of all the ingredients that Chris helps me with, and from Dan I see a chef’s way of doing things. They can take the shortcuts where they need to, for example they have the lengthy process of something like stock and they haven’t got time here, so they have to compromise.
Chris: How could you not learn in such amazing company.To have Queen of the kitchen Mary Berry and an incredible chef like Dan in your corner is absolutely fabulous, and obviously with the first lady of television Claudia alongside it is super exciting. We’re all learning from each other.
Dan: Whether it’s technique, opinions, you’re always going to absorb. Obviously Mary Berry, there’s not a lot you can’t say about her level of detail but also the simple approach to things it has to be tasting great. Chris as well, he knows a lot more about food produce. It does get you thinking when you listen to what they have to say about food, it makes you think again. It has been a phenomenal experience.
Claudia: I taste some stuff but I don’t think I’m really allowed because I might eat it all before it’s time for judging. So I’m trying to be well behaved, let’s see.
Mary: Claudia nips round as they’re cooking and dips her finger in when we’re not looking!
How do your different culinary backgrounds shape what you’re looking for in the dishes?
Chris: For me it’s really interesting seeing which ingredients they use and how they make the most of them. And respect for the ingredients – that’s what I’m about as a home cook and somebody who has worked in fresh produce it’s about understanding, respecting and using your ingredients wisely and that’s what I want to see. All three of us would like to see people using ingredients that are readily available and actually make the most of those. Because I think that’s what home cooks are doing – whether you’re cooking on a budget or feeding a family of 3,4,5,6, whatever it is. To use maybe more humble basic ingredients, to turn that into something wonderful is certainly what I’m looking for as a judge.
Dan: We’ve all agreed and disagreed on different things because food is such a subjective thing, it’s always going to divide opinion. I’m looking at it as a balance approach, sweet and savoury, the acidity, whether it’s heat and spicing, whether things go together.
What can viewers expect from Britain’s Best Home Cook?
Claudia: I hope that people watch and will be inspired by some of the brilliant food our cooks have made. The quality is insane.
Mary: And they don’t have time to think. In one of the challenges they’ve got to get going and cook in a limited time while we’re watching them. Also we want to see how they cook, how they do their preparation, not just the end result. Are they terribly messy? We have an eye on them at all times. There’s no point being a brilliant cook if you can’t get things done in time, we can only judge what’s on the plate at the end.
Chris: I think as a viewer you’re going to get everything you want from a cooking show and lots more. There’s all the drama of a cooking competition, it’s an elimination so there’s going to be tears, laughter, love, happiness. But I think the viewers will also have something to take away from it, watching this programme you will get some tips and learn to make some interesting recipes. You’ll see some things you know and love, and you’re going to see some very unusual flavour combinations and takes on recipes, whether that be regional, whether that be the most gregarious ingredients thrown together you’re going to see it all. There’s going to be lots to take home for the viewers that hopefully take some of the dishes they’ve seen in the competition and cook them for their families.
What have the contestants personalised their kitchen stations with?
Mary: They’ve got a lot of equipment here, and they can bring all their things from home. They bring things they like, their own potato peeler or maybe their own whisk, that really gives them great comfort and adds their personal touches. There isn’t a lot of time, so because they haven’t got four hours to get something really tender so they’ve been using pressure cookers, some of them have never seen one before!
Claudia: One of them brought a statue, a life-size head of Mozart on a plinth, it’s quite something! He’s a farmer who loves classical music.
Chris: We’ve also got a lucky cat waving at us. It goes all day! It’s lovely because they’ve got pictures of their families on their fridges, we’re making them feel at home. But it makes it even harder when you have to send them home because you get to know them, their families, their stories, everything about them.
Mary: Do you know what’s different about this show, there is nobody running about clearing up after them or wiping the surfaces. You see nobody there but the actual cooks and they’re responsible for everything, just as they would be at home.
What sets this apart from other food competitions?
Mary: I think the simplicity of it, because all we want are the best home cooks. We don’t want complicated recipes or too many ingredients because they’re not achievable. If you think of your friends who cook, the people that cook the most amazing meals are not necessarily frightfully complicated, they are often very simple things beautifully done, and every texture, flavour and sauce is just sheer perfection.
Dan: It’s a case of putting their personality on the plate.
What would your favourite home cooked dish be?
Dan: I love roast chicken, stuffing and bread sauce, lots of gravy, roast potatoes, and different vegetables to go with it depending on the time of year. If you have two people having a roast I would do veg for two, meat for four and potatoes for eight!
Chris: Maybe a beef and ale pie with a fabulously creamy roast potato, loads of cabbage and different veg.
Claudia: Chicken curry! I like one pot, A fluffy rice, a stringent lime pickle, a beer and somebody stroking my hair. It’s my winning Thursday night.
Mary: I like one dish things, like a wonderful fish pie. Smoked fish, unsmoked fish, perhaps some shrimps in it or some scallops, always hardboiled egg, a little bit of spinach, scallop potatoes on top with a bit of good old cheddar coarsely grated. The family just love it and you can make it ahead!
What things from home would you bring if you were competing in the competition?
Claudia: My three children and Yoshi my tortoise.
Chris: I’d bring Mary and Dan because then I think I’d be absolutely nailed on to win!
Mary: I’d bring Darcy my working cocker, she would sit on a chair alongside me while I’m cooking
Dan: I’d bring a brigade of chefs and also my dog Miso, do you think he’d get on with Darcy?
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