Dear Mr Nevin,
It was good to catch up with you by telephone the other day and I certainly enjoyed our conversation; even though some parts puzzled me. Although I am the show’s executive producer, we do need to get Greg and John onside, so don’t start planning too far ahead.
As I pointed out Greg Wallace and John Torode have been in heated discussions regarding your suggestions with myself and the production team. You can probably imagine decisions of this magnitude are not taken lightly. I’m not sure that Greg and John would agree with the idea of you becoming a permanent additional judge; maybe we can table that for now. They were definite that we cannot re-brand the series MaterChef: A taste of Nevin. It’s also a little early for you to plan your introductory segment; although I do agree that: “We’re looking for the chef who has the best designed apron and enjoys singing.” Is certainly novel, I’m not sure what it will demonstrate about their cooking ability.
I have summarized the main points which you raised in your letter and we chatted about, along with our response below:
1/ “I don’t really like fishy things. So let the prawns, crabs, lobsters, muscles, scallops, oysters and other sea life, live out their lives in the ocean, in peace. That includes all fish unless it’s battered and deep fried with a plate of chips.”
John felt that the exclusion of fish, other than battered and fried from the MasterChef menu may cause problems. Whilst this in itself may not be insurmountable, he was not happy. An unhappy John Torode is not a good start. It’s not as bad as an unhappy Greg, but it is an issue that needs addressing at some point before we include you on the team.
2/ “Deer can stay in the forest; I don’t really want Bambi on my plate. You don’t fool me by calling it venison.”
John and Greg both felt that the emotive reference to “Bambi” was unhelpful. Greg loves Disney films and would not like you to think he encourages any attacks on Disney characters. John felt that you had missed the point; but he didn’t really expand on that.
3/ “Partridges look great but not next to a potato. Leave them in a pear tree ready for Christmas.”
Whilst agreeing in principle about Christmas; everyone at MasterChef loves Christmas. There is a need to have partridges on the menu. (This was an emphatic point made by them both)
4/ “Pidgeon’s are a nuisance in Trafalgar square it’s true; but is eating them the best solution? Couldn’t you just put-up anti-Pidgeon devices?”
John and Greg spent a while looking blankly at each other after reading this point. I did explain what you were trying to say. They would not be swayed. Perhaps you could just smell the pigeons? Clever cuts on film could avoid you eating them. I know that you said on the phone this could be a ‘deal breaker.’ However, I don’t think you should dig your heels in over this. After all you did say that you were keen on joining the MasterChef team and from what I gathered you have already started printing T shirts with “I’m a MasterChef judge” on them. I did explain that was a little premature.
5/ “Quails and their eggs; They sound a bit fancy for me. Stick with chicken.”
You may be in luck on this point. With the current economy drive at the BBC, we may have to cut back on such expensive ingredients.
6/ “Sweet meats; when I looked this up my decision was a definite no to eating it. I really couldn’t believe anyone would want to.”
I have never been a great fan of this either, but John and Greg tutted at both my and your disapproval. This needs further discussion; I have made a note for a future meeting.
7/ “Caviar and Champagne; just the later please. I like my eggs from a chicken, not a fish.”
I’m afraid given my earlier answer to point 5, both may have to go. Although I agree with the point you made on the phone, yes far too much goes on.
8/ “Foie Gras, never had it, don’t want it.”
The cruelty of its production has led to a widespread ban.
9/ “Puddings; I try to avoid processed sugar. I will watch others eat them though.”
Greg went into shock and didn’t recover for quite some time. You know what a sweet tooth he has. I pointed out that he could still eat them. This placated him. I did point out to you on the phone that we could try Avocado Ice Cream; I wasn’t sure if we got cut off at that point? The phone seemed to go silent.
10/ “Cooking times; can you please make sure my meat is cooked before serving it. Granny said, if it’s red that means it’s not cooked. Granny knows best.”
I’m sorry to tell you and your granny that she’s wrong. It was a bit unnecessary to be quite so rude about this on the phone. Granny’s can be wrong. I realise that was news to you, but you will have to monitor what you say on live TV.
11/ “There are many things that come from inside an animal; please dispose of them somewhere other than my plate. I know many people enjoy kidneys, liver etc. I’m not in that happy bunch.”
You are unlikely to convince Greg or John on this. Perhaps you could just taste the gravy and push the offal to one side? It does make delicious gravy.
12/ “I do love a good gravy or sauce, while we are on that subject, please call it gravy or sauce not ‘jus’ or ‘roux’. If you do put any on my plate, can you pour a good portion over my meat, not decorate the plate with little dots, draw lines or smear it everywhere.”
I have to be careful here. As a producer of a current food show, I wanted to cheer you on. But, I did it quietly. I’m sure Greg and John nodded slightly. But that could be my imagination. I know we both shared a laugh about this on the phone.
13/ “I would like a nice meat and two veg please. None of this tiny slice of meat balanced on top of a small pile of veg. I want to eat the food not admire its balancing skills. In fact, I prefer my food ladled onto my plate, not delicately placed with tweezers.”
A similar reaction to point 12 here. I sometimes feel like shouting, ‘The King is in his altogether.’ Food has become a fashion statement rather than something to eat. I was particularly shocked at what looked like a tyre skid, or something worse on a plate in this year’s show.
14/ “I love ducks; swimming on a pond. Not swimming in gravy on my plate.”
Let’s not get carried away. Everyone likes a nice bit of duck. Even if it’s just crispy Chinese Duck. You need to put up with this.
“Other than the above minor limitations, I will eat absolutely anything. I am really looking forward to the chefs cooking up a treat for us.”
Don’t jump the gun here. We have a lot of things to discuss and plan first. It’s not a definite yes or no.We are still coming to an agreement. Although it is looking positive; so you have reason to be positive.
“On a practical note, our house is not very large. The kitchen isn’t huge. You may want to budget in buying us a bigger house. I’m sure that won’t break your budget, which I assume is large. Perhaps you should include a large garden and swimming pool. That way it will have plenty of room for the outside broadcast trucks and your staff can have a swim while relaxing. Perhaps you should include a double garage and very wide driveway. I don’t want to put ideas in your head, but a stately home might work well?”
I did mention budgetary constraints. We may hire a village hall or setup in a studio. Is there anywhere near you that’s suitable? If we were to look at a stately home it would only be a short-term lease; perhaps 6 months, maybe 12 to 18. If the series is a success, we could look at extending it.
The only other things to discuss are:
Screen tests, do you film and photograph well? You mentioned that you are in a wheelchair; can I ask is the wheelchair a fancy one? Will it film well? Do you have an agent to negotiate your fee? We will need to look into a photo shoot for the cover of the Radio Times. Then there’s newspaper coverage, interviews with the national newspapers, TV and radio. The possibility of tie in book deals, recipe books, autobiographies etc.
One last thing, a gullibility test would seem in order. Do you believe everything you’re told?
Arthur Harrington-Smythe BA, HB, MA, JL, HH
Executive Producer – BBC Food Programmes
BBC Television Centre