They changed the MasterChef recipe – and somehow made it even more bland

They changed the rules on Chef (BBC One), which is back for what looks like its 3,000th series. John Torode and Gregg Wallace no longer hang around competitor workstations in the first lap, making faces or yelling, “You have three minutes!” Undoubtedly, this is good for the stress level of the contestants, but makes television boring. Torode and Wallace are reduced to pacing menus and commentating from afar, while we watch amateur chefs cook their signature dishes without interference.

The producers clearly feel like the show is getting tired, but they’ve made it even more boring. There have been several minor attempts to freshen it up over the years, including a slide into X Factor territory. So in this episode we’ve had contestants dedicating dishes to their grandma (RIP), telling us they want to make their kids proud, or saying “it’s now or never, I have to give 100 %”. “I am very competitive. Win or lose? No, it’s a winner every time,” said one woman, who has watched too many episodes of The Apprentice.

A montage of the upcoming highlights promised to Gordon Ramsay later in the series, the only time I’ve ever looked forward to his appearance in anything. There was no danger – even the worst cooks were reasonably competent, including the man who had never turned sugar in his life but decided to test it on his MasterChef debut, after watching a online tutorial the night before. There was no disaster either, unless you count a basket of cognac that was a bit soggy under the weight of a fruit salad.

Torode gave a dozen variations on his “Will it work?” It could. This may not be the case. We’ll have to wait and see,” the statements, while adjective generator Gregg Wallace praised the “pepper smoke” and “smooth, comforting creaminess” of the dishes. Thank goodness, then, for Pookie, a contestant who delivered more personality than the rest of the show combined.

Pookie spent 70 hours preparing a nine-course Valentine’s Day menu for her husband. His tasty MasterChef offering was titled “Shallow Sea-Bed Life” and looked like a painting. Her dessert was a pina-cotta-lada – see what she did there? – and was equally impressive. She tried not to cry at the end as she was worried her false eyelashes would fall out and “I’ll look like a steamed bun”. “Pookie has landed in MasterChef’s kitchen. Happy hour!” she was beaming. Cocktail Time with Pookie is my favorite show to watch.