GREGG Wallace has, in the past, joking referred to himself as "just the fat, bald bloke on MasterChef who likes pudding.”

But the 53-year-old is probably one of cookery TV’s most instantly recognisable chaps.

Having starred on BBC's MasterChef, Inside the Factory, Supermarket Secrets and Eat Well For Less, he’s not done bad for someone who left school at 14 to work on a fruit and veg stall.

And, ahead of his new live show, Gregg on Food, which comes to Westcliff’s Palace Theatre next month, he’s on fine form when we chat, ranting about barbecues (he hates them), food intolerances (where did they COME from?) and chef shortages (chronic.)

So, what’s this show all about?

“What I want to do is answer all the questions I always get asked,” he explains, with palpable enthusiasm.

“What’s the most disgusting thing you ever ate? Is the food cold when you eat it? Do you ever want to say something is disgusting and spit it out? Are you and John Cherode really friends? Do restaurants get nervous when you go in? And also, people want to know how it is that I’m a judge on MasterChef when I’m not a chef. I also want to talk the things that I find a little bit unusual with restaurants - wine waiters with their arms up their back, four-foot-long pepper pots in Italian restaurants (my wife’s Italian and I’ve never seen one of those in Italy!)

“Because I was a greengrocer I want a section on veg. I might get people up on the stage to taste. I might put on organic, frozen and tined and fresh and see if anybody can tell the difference.

“I want to have a rant about foods, about different foods. I want to talk about sandwiches, cold sandwiches. Phones in restaurants. About barbecues…”

Hang on, what have barbecues done to so offend him?

“You used to get invited round to people’s houses on a Sunday and the worst thing you’d have to put up with was a buffet. Not anymore,” he exclaims.

“Men, who only ever go into the kitchen, to throw empty beer cans away, suddenly think they can master one of the most difficult cookery techniques known to man. And it doesn’t work. You’re given a chop or a piece of meat that needs cutting up, you have to stand up, you’ve got a paper plate, a knife and fork, a drink and a serviette. It doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work. And everybody says the same thing to me. They say, ‘come round to my house for a barbecue.’ I say, ‘no thank you I don’t like them.’ Then you get that, ‘Oo no you’ll like ours, ours are different.’

“No, they’re there not. They’re just the same as everybody else’s.

“In Africa they do it brilliantly. In Australia, they do it brilliantly. They’ve got sunshine all year round. They were brought up with it. We weren’t. We get three hot days and a thunderstorm. It’s not going to work.”

Okay, so barbecues are out. What’s are we doing in the kitchen that he likes?

“What I think has completely changed beyond belief in the landscape of British cuisine, is the introduction of Asian food.

“My kids don’t go to burger bars any more. They go to noodle bars. People are more likely to have a wok in this country now than before they’ve got a frying pan. It’s such an easy and healthy and varied cuisine. Asian style food is just everywhere, absolutely everywhere – and I’m not surprised. As I say, healthy, tasty, quick and easy.”

What other changes has he noticed over the years?

“There’s also been an explosion in eating out, hasn’t there. Go down any high street and look at the amount of eateries, look at how many. What that’s caused unfortunately is severe chef shortage.”


“Oh my god there’s a chronic shortage of chefs. Chronic. People outside of the industry don’t realise it. But you can’t keep opening restaurants and not do anything about training people. And it’s not an industry that a lot of people want to go into, because it’s hard work and unsociable hours and it’s not necessarily the best paid job either.”

Gregg’s really hitting his stride now. Fully animated, I can’t even get another question out, before he’s off again.

“I tell you something that’s crept up since I was a kid. No one had allergies. Nobody had any. Nobody ever said I can’t eat this. Now everyone’s got one. That never happened when I was a kid and I don’t remember anyone dying. There was no Oh my god she’s just had bread. Or she’s had milk in her coffee. It must be a serious issue, it can’t just be attention seeking, but where has it come from? It’s like a pestilence on the land.”

Lots of Gregg’s life has been lived in the spotlight. But what may be people surprised to know about him, I wonder?

“They don’t know I’m a single dad. They don’t I brought my children up on my own. They also don’t know I’ve got two rugby coaching badges either.

“I brought my kids up on my own for 12 years. They were like eight and ten when I got full custody of them.

“It’s my most proudest boast. Well that and showing people a photograph of my beautiful wife. The things I’m most proud of are my wife and my children.”

Gregg married Anne-Marie Sterpini in 2016. It’s his fourth marriage, with his third lasting less than a year. His children are from his second marriage, which ended in 2004. But it seems he’s not finished yet on the family front.

“We’re looking forward to starting another family, even at my age. I’m 53 now and my wife’s 31. I think she should have a baby because it’ll be someone at home more her own age to talk to,” he quips.

Wow, back to the sleepless nights and the teething then?

“Welllll…” he confesses. “We’ve had this chat. I’m not sure at my age I can do sleepless nights, we’ve got to get help in here. So, my mother-in-law now lives with us, my Italian mother-in-law. Because I just can’t. As much as I want to, I’ve got to be in front of a camera.

“I can’t earn a living, in my fifties, half dead trying to be lively. It just won’t happen. I’ll be in a state of mental collapse. Followed by a state of financial collapse.”

That is best avoided, I guess. But back to the tour, what can we all expect, in a nutshell?

“It’s informative and it’ll answer the questions I always get asked. I want it to be fun. I do want people to have fun.

“The problem I’ve got though is I’m supposed to be doing two 40 minutes with a gap in middle and I reckon I’ve got two hour and a halves with no gap in the middle.”

Too much to say? I can’t say that comes as a surprise…

Gregg on Tour is at the Palace Theatre, London Road, on Saturday, February 3. Tickets from £18.50. To book, call 01702 351135.

Gregg on Tour is at The Corn Exchange, St. Helens Street, Ipswich, on Saturday, January 27. Tickets from £18.50. To book, call 01473 433100..