Speaking about Celebrity Masterchef, judge Gregg Wallace is known to have declared: “Cooking doesn’t get any tougher than this,” and many famous faces have been left dejected and deflated by sunken souffles, burnt buns and pathetic pasta.
But 2012 contender, Northampton-born Michael Underwood, has already proven he does not shy away from a challenge in his career, earning a name for himself as a TV presenter and even braving the terrifying Dancing on Ice (although he sadly broke his ankle during the show’s run).
This week, Celebrity Masterchef fans have been tuning in to BBC 2 (Monday to Friday at 6.30pm) to watch Michael in action as he battles it out as one of the last eight contestants.
Michael, who is married to TV presenter Angellica Bell, now lives in Kingston, Surrey, although he regularly visits family in Northampton. He said: “The thing that has been the hardest has been going into the professional kitchen at Criterion Restaurant in Piccadilly. When you go to a restaurant as a diner it is so calm but there is so much going on behind the scenes. They are dealing with the intricate details of the food. It is a huge amount of pressure and stress.
“My time at Criterion was the most fun in terms of learning, although the most stressful and difficult.”
Michael has also been coping well with producing brilliant food under the watchful and ultra critical eyes of judges Gregg Wallace and John Torode.
“You are under so much pressure as you know you have to produce your meal in 50 minutes or an hour and then you have Gregg and John walking around too. What you don’t see on TV is them coming up behind you and saying ‘don’t mess this up,’ or ‘are you putting that in there?’ You constantly question yourself. Then you start chopping something and the camera is right there at the chopping board.”
He continued: “Before doing Masterchef I was all about following recipes. Actually I did an Italian course on which I learned to make my own pasta, which I used in the show, and, with my experience on Masterchef, I started to do different things with recipes. I make changes and think I have to take risks more.”
When it comes to inspiration, Michael says one of his biggest culinary influences has been his own grandmother.
He said: “My nan was great at cooking desserts, cakes, crumbles and anything with sugar or cream. At home they were a treat but at Nan’s they were on tap. I remember watching Nan make cakes and crumbles and thinking ‘wow, that is amazing’.”
Nowadays, Italian food is one of Michael’s favourite things to make.
And, as father to eight-month-old Elijah, he also has to conjure up some dishes suitable for a somewhat younger palate. Michael said: “Today I made him cod with butternut squash and cheese sauce. Angellica and I laugh that he often eats better than we do.”
With actress and former Celebrity Masterchef contestant Lisa Faulkner recently releasing her own cookery book, does Michael have any ambitions to add a culinary branch to his TV career?
Michael said: “It is a dream I have to run my own gastro pub and produce good quality, local food.
“Maybe that dream could be a bit closer after Masterchef, I would love that.”