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John Torode: "Finally the British are not ashamed of their food"

MasterChef’s John Torode talks "amazing" Malaysian food, Britain's multicultural diet - and why you shouldn't knock a pot noodle

As our waistlines recover from festive feasting, spare a thought for John Torode. It must feel like Christmas every day being a judge on MasterChef. “In the last two days I’ve eaten quite a quantity of food,” he groans. “My stomach would be like some kind of geological dig. If you did a cross-section after every series of MasterChef, you’d be able to work out where all the food came from.”

Before filming started on the latest series of the prolific cookery show, Torode was travelling all over Malaysia, scoffing the best food the country has to offer.

“To understand any country’s food, I think you’ve got to understand the culture,” he says. “Great food is born out of that culture, especially celebrations and ceremony. I was fascinated by the tri-cultural society in Malaysia – these three extraordinary different cultures and religions from India, China and Malaysia that coexist quite peacefully and harmoniously.

“They haven’t really merged into each other. You’ve got a Chinese market trader selling next to an Indian market trader selling next to a Malaysian market trader. I think that’s important. So many countries have become homogenised and they don’t have any identity – but Malaysia does.”

Perhaps the secret of different cultures and religions coexisting harmoniously is the power of food to connect and bring people together. But increasingly big supermarket chains, including Tesco, are moving in. Does that threaten to change the country’s food culture? “Evolution and revolution is always inevitable and I don’t think you can stop that clock from ticking,” Torode says.

“But the street markets have got everything. They’re clean, they’re beautiful and the food is amazing… so why would you want to go to a supermarket? It’s a nice way of making sure your food is always fresh. Very few people there think the way we do, that you store food for a very long period of time.

“As far as Malaysians are concerned, you go and buy the food, you cook it, then you serve it. Plus, each vendor will cook only one thing. Because they specialise and they look after each other, they’re not trying to be big conglomerates, they’re just trying to survive.”

Closer to home, our increasingly multicultural society has impacted upon our diet. “We have embraced world culture,” Torode says. “We all eat pasta. A staple these days is a chorizo sausage or soy sauce or cumin or coriander because people are cooking Indian or Asian or whatever it might be.

“We’re also influenced by fast food. Pizza restaurants and burger restaurants have had a huge impact. I know people laugh about pot noodles but a posh pot noodle is a bloody good thing.”

Eating in Britain has never been better, and Torode believes this is thanks, in part, to shows like MasterChef (and himself) raising the profile of good cooking.

“I’m the bloke who told you guys how good your beef was. I opened a beef restaurant 15 years ago before anybody was talking about cuts of meat. I had a meat list like a wine list. You’ve got the best beef in the whole world, you’ve got the best asparagus in the whole world, the best raspberries in the whole world, the best smoked salmon in the whole world – but nobody screams about it.

“I think the British have always been quite ashamed of their food but over the last two decades, because of television like MasterChef, or Jamie or Nigella or Delia, people aren’t ashamed any more. Finally the British are being a bit more confident about who they are and what they are.”

John Torode’s Malaysian Adventure is new and exclusive to Good Food, week nights at 8pm

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