MasterChef: The Professionals is returning to BBC Two - and the hunt is on for a chef who wants to make it to the top of the culinary world. Promising a memorable run, veteran judges Monica Galetti and Marcus Wareing tell Gemma Dunn what to expect from the tenth series
The knives are sharpened, the ingredients are primed, and there's plenty of reason to celebrate as Bafta-winning hit MasterChef: The Professionals returns for the 10th year of the prestigious cooking competition.
As ambitious chefs from around the UK are put through more gruelling cooking challenges, the dream team of presenter Gregg Wallace and esteemed judges Monica Galetti and Marcus Wareing reunite to award the candidate with the most skill, commitment and creative talent the revered "champion" title.
"I can't believe we're now celebrating the 10th anniversary of the series," observes Samoan-born New Zealand chef Galetti, 42. "I'm proud to be a part of something that promotes such high-quality and aspirational cooking amongst chefs from all types of kitchens. I can't wait to see what this year has in store."
From the infamous Skills Test to Knockout Week and the last hurdle, a daunting two-course menu in Finals Week, the culinary stakes - and expectations - are higher than ever, adds two Michelin-starred Wareing.
"We're looking for someone really special," remarks the Merseyside-born chef, 47. "I want to see the sky-high standard this competition demands. For someone to take away this trophy is no mean feat and I'm expecting the chefs to stop at nothing to get it."
So just what can viewers expect in the run-up to gastronomic glory? Another winning dose of high-spec cooking, kitchen drama and bad jokes, it seems...
:: PLENTY OF YOUNG, TALENTED CHEFS
Galetti: This year has been exciting because we put a lot of young talent through. In terms of the cooking, it has been getting very healthy, which is interesting to see. We all want to be a bit better with what we eat and our lifestyles and the younger chefs are clocking onto that.
Wareing: I think there's a little bit of a different challenge on MasterChef now. It's changed its course; it's looking at future cooks, rather than looking at traditional cookery. Traditional cookery is still important as its how we're trained, but the (chefs) are coming into the show with a completely different view from what I've seen in the last couple of years. It's challenging, inventive, creative, different, weird, wacky, but very, very good.
:: A NEW TWIST ON THE SKILLS TEST
Galetti: The skills test very much depends on the chefs' nerves. It's not easy walking into a studio, not knowing what the skills are going to be. The twist we put on it this year is we gave them a key ingredient and we let them be creative with it in their 20 minutes. They should be less nervous, because we're letting them make what they want. We aren't telling them what to make.
Wareing: It's a creative skills test, so there will be a duck breast there on the bench and then a selection of ingredients they can choose from. We will see them think on their feet and there will be a certain skill we want to see in that.
:: MORE 'WEIRD' DISHES
Wareing: We had some smoked sheep dung. Dried sheep's dung (put) into a smoker to burn to give the aroma to something on the bone. It tasted like shit. There was lots of healthy stuff: a lot of vegan ideas, a big push on vegan food, which was interesting and challenging - in a good way. There was deliberately burnt cauliflowers, deliberately charred.
Galetti: It takes lots of skill to get that one. It's amazing to see what the chefs get out of the placements we send them on and, even when we take them abroad, it's amazing to see how much they grow.
:: NERVES IN THE KITCHEN
Wareing: Professional chefs don't cook in (TV) studios.
Galetti: They cook in kitchens, usually, and they never come into the studio until their first test. They don't know there are four or five cameras and 10 people just watching every move they make. It's dead quiet when they walk in - we don't speak to them. Normally Gregg (Wallace) makes a joke to help them relax but that can go the wrong way and we have to say 'Gregg, that's enough!' We always have huge expectations, so when there's a car crash we get very upset about it. When they come back with their signature round and they're more confident and relaxed, you see a completely different chef.
:: 'BAD' JOKES FROM GREGG WALLACE
Wareing: They are the same jokes every series and we all have to laugh. We are in all of it and Gregg is in about 50% (of it) so there's a lot of time we are on our own, and the thing Gregg does for me is bring a whole new level of energy. Sometimes he helps me, he helps both of us.
Galetti: Especially if we have been at it for three or four weeks and we've been out with the chefs the night before. We're standing there not giving the looks we are supposed to, then Gregg walks in loud and full of energy and we relax and have a bit of a laugh. It's not so bad, it's pretty good. That's the energy he brings to it as well as a great palate - he never stops eating.
:: A HEATED FINAL
Galetti: There can be twists and turns right up to the final. Normally you pick your strong ones from the beginning; in the first two rounds from the skills you've got your measure of them and how they work as a chef. Also how they first walk into the kitchen, how they present themselves, is very important. Normally by the end of the second cook-off we start picking and placing bets.
Wareing: You look at the final eight chefs though and could you choose a winner from them? That could change during the next few days and weeks going forward. It's the ones who rise to the scary challenges in front of them and how they adapt accordingly. In my opinion, the (winner is the) one who has developed throughout the show the most and that's the one who takes their cookery to a completely different place every single time. This year, when it came to the final eight, it was difficult to choose who should go home.
:: A MOMENTOUS 10TH SERIES
Galetti: Ten years on I'm still surprised how it continues and how much people love the show, so it must be doing something right. As long as we still enjoy ourselves, we will always be a part of that.
Wareing: It's testament that it does work, it's not broken. But I think the future is even more exciting for MasterChef: The Professionals, but it's down to us to make sure we push it. We want to take it to a new level and that's the exciting part that I like. You have to because it's television. You put ideas forward and forget there's a massive knock-on effect and you think 'Yeah, I should get back in my box and say nothing!' But will it carry on? Only if people tune in. That's the key, but I hope they will. It's a great run-up to Christmas.
:: MasterChef: The Professionals returns to BBC Two on Tuesday November 7