Gregg Wallace, ingredients expert and Masterchef presenter, knows his fruit and veg and he’s as cunning as a fox when it comes to getting kids to eat their 5-a-day. He’s passionate about food, makes a great strawberry pavlova and thinks barbecues are an evil Antipodean plot.
You’re helping Walls publicise the world’s first probiotic lolly. Why did you get involved in that?
Walls just sent me the lolly and asked if I wanted to get involved. I ate it and thought, it’s really delicious – it tastes like wild strawberries. I looked at the GDA – it’s really low in fat, sugar and salt. It’s only 30p and I thought, for crying out loud, I’m a dad, if your kids are going to snack on anything, then this is really good.
Has the trend to put things like probiotics into food come about because parents want their kids to eat healthily?
Yes. It is a battle. As much as we try, the kids go to school and there’s a tuck shop. Or they’ll buy chocolate and crisps on their way home. It’s just trying to readdress the balance.
Who does the cooking in your house?
I do. I’m a single dad. Tom’s 14 and Libby’s 11.
Do your kids eat their greens?
Yeah they do. Libby’s really good. Tom’s very much a meat and potatoes man and you have to force the veg down him, but then he helps me out in the kitchen more than Libby.
How can you get kids interested in vegetables?
If you get them to cook in the kitchen with you, they’re more likely to want to eat vegetables. Try playing little games in the supermarket with them. See how many veg they can identify, and then let them bring one home and cook it with you.
hat’s the best way to get kids to have their 5-a-day?
Take all the chocolate and crisps out of the house and replace it with fruit. And try making your own juices. If you juice up a load of blackberries and strawberries and raspberries to make something really sweet, then you can get your celery in without it tasting of celery. Or add some beetroot. They wouldn’t notice the beetroot in the colour among all the strawberries. Just get them to snack on fruit and juice. Who came up with the theory that children have to finish everything on their plate? What a terrible way of introducing young palates to food… Eat it all or you’re in trouble… Terrible.
Do you have a great dish that has hidden veg in it?
Shepherd’s pie. You can just chop up anything. Who knows what goodies may be hiding under that layer of mashed potato. Put swede in it, put everything in it. Add an Oxo cube and a bit of tomato, they’ll never pick it up. They’d need to be Sherlock Holmes himself to pick that up.
If you’re bored of boiling veg, can you make it more exciting?
Put some butter and a little bit of water, just enough to cover the bottom, in a pan. Then put your veg in there, turn the heat up high, then stick the lid on for three or four minutes, depending on what veg you’ve got.
What veg would you recommend?
Those stubby little chantenay carrots. They’re so lovely. If you cook them then turn the heat off and keep the lid on, they’ll just keep getting softer and softer. Little bit of butter, bit of salt… Then you haven’t boiled the living daylights out of them.
What about steaming?
I’d be wary of steaming. People say steaming is much more healthy, but it’s pretty harsh. If you stuck your fingers in boiling water, then stuck your fingers under the steam, you wouldn’t notice the difference in the blisters. All this steaming is cobblers.
Sprouts are so unpopular. How would you get more people to eat them?
Puree them and mix them with other flavours. I’m not a great lover of sprouts. They have that iron flavour. I don’t mind them served with bacon and chestnuts, then you get the saltiness of the bacon and the sweetness of the chestnut.
What’s the best dish you cook?
I make a really good sweetcorn and haddock chowder and I make a really, really good strawberry pavlova. It’s so good that if you didn’t want to eat it you could just take it home and snog it. It’s just the best thing. Strawberries and cream – my favourite combination.
Do you like cooking outside in summer?
I hate barbecues. I hate them with a passion. We weren’t brought up with them. We’re English! They’re an Antipodean plot to destroy culinary heritage in Northern Europe. Men who only ever used to go in the kitchen to throw their empty beer cans away suddenly think they can master one of the most difficult cooking techniques known to man.
Tell me how this works – You have a piece of meat that needs cutting up and a paper plate, you have a plastic knife and fork, you have a stupid napkin as thin as a teabag, and you have a drink in your hand. How does that work? How do you do that? It doesn’t work.
And what are those forks for that you stick in the end of corn cobs? If they’re there to stop you burning your fingers, what are they going to do to your lips?! Stupid things…
But I’m all for eating al fresco. Do you know what that translates as? It’s in the fresh. Isn’t that lovely? We have perfectly good kitchens three yards away. Cook in the kitchen and then bring it out into the garden.
What are your favourite seasonal foods for July?
Berries! We have the best soft fruit in the world. Arguably the Scots have better raspberries than us, which as a passionate Englishman I hate to admit. And you’ll soon have bobby beans. I love bobby beans. We get all those French beans flown over from Nairobi. Get yourself an English bobby bean.
What else do we have to look forward to?
It’s time to forget asparagus. You’ll get all your baby bunches now. Young carrots, baby leeks, little baby turnips, bunches of beetroot. That’s what you want. Oh and sweetcorn soon! I like sweetcorn, but I hate baby corn. The only use I’ve found for it is getting the wax out of your ears.
Why should people buy seasonally?
Because you’ll eat better and cheaper food. It’s as easy as that. Let’s get this right – you can’t be too evangelical. If it has no option at all of growing in this country, then by all means enjoy whatever you want. I love a mango and I also enjoy a lemon in my G&T. If it has a season, buy it in its season, it’ll taste much much better. It’s likely to have travelled a lot less as well.
Is organic worth the extra money?
I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know about the health benefits. I’m into flavour and taste. And it’s ridiculous to say that an organic carrot tastes better than a non-organic carrot. I’ve done the Pepsi challenge with half a dozen chefs and it proves inconclusive every time. What impairs the flavour of fruit or veg more than anything else is the time that has elapsed between picking it and eating it.
What’s your favourite vegetable?
potato. It is the most versatile vegetable in the whole world. You know, chips, mash, boiled,roast.. It’s the perfect food.
Apart from baby corn, what vegetable do you hate?
Mange tout. Silly thing. It’s rubber. Why would you want that? Who wants food that bounces? All it’s good for is flick it between your fingers and thumbs and see who can get nearest the wall.
If you could change the British climate and grow anything, what would it be?
Mangos. I love mangos. They’re just brilliant. I once did a really hot elephant ride up to the Red Fort in Jaipur. At the end of it they get mangos, squeeze them in their hands, knead them, being careful not to split the skin, until you get a sackful of pulp with a stone in it. Then they refrigerate them, slit the top off and give you a little cup. And you can either squeeze it straight into your mouth or into the cup. It is just delishville!
What do you think the next big food trend is going to be?
Without a doubt, food preservation. What we’ve done is gone seasonal and local. We are following the very good culinary traditions of rural Europe. We’re eating like they do in France, Spain and Italy. So the next logical step is to do what they do with food preservation. The way to get the taste of a tomato in winter is to have jars of passata, which is tomatoes in oil or vinegar. I go to Italy at different times of year. They don’t have tomatoes in the winter, they have jars of passata.
What’s the best thing about being on Masterchef?
My favourite days are the days where we have six new contestants. I like people. We have six completely different characters and I like finding out about them. When you get down to the final three they are just phenomenal cooks.