MasterChef judge Gregg Wallace offers top tips from BBC’s Eat Well for Less during visit to Finchingfield pub

Gregg Wallace and Abigail Weaving

Gregg Wallace and Abigail Weaving - Credit: Archant

MasterChef judge Gregg Wallace played host to over 40 guests at The Fox Inn in Finchingfield on Thursday, introducing a four-course dinner, holding a quiz, and ending with a question and answer session as part of his nationwide tour. Catching up with him between courses, ABIGAIL WEAVING sat down with the TV chef to talk saving pennies, meal plans and pumpkins.

Gregg Wallace is no stranger to sampling the very best of food.

From parfait to puree, sponges to sushi, he knows great food, but is now on the hunt for great prices too.

His recent show, Eat Well for Less, helps families cut their weekly food bills, often saving them thousands of pounds each year.

We sat down to chat at Gregg’s touring event at The Fox Inn in Finchingfield, owned by Keith Johnson and John MacClinton.

The guests enjoyed a four-course dinner, prepared by the pub’s chefs, before the TV chef held a quiz and question and answer session.

Chatting about modern-day food shopping, he said: “The biggest issue is that nobody approaches their shopping in the same manner they would approach buying their holiday or their mortgage.”

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“There seems to be a real haphazard, sloppy approach to what it is actually turning into an enormous monthly expenditure,” he tells me.

“People never say they don’t care about how much they’re spending on their holiday because they’re paying for that in one great big lump, but because food is 50p, two quid, three quid, four quid, nobody is really concentrating and adding them all up.”

The trick, he says, is to plan out meals and only buy what you need, although the convenience of buying pre-cut vegetables is not something Gregg recommends.

“Why would anybody buy a chopped carrot?” he asks, looking bewildered.

“It seems ludicrous to me and it’s hideously expensive,” he adds.

This is the problem, though. Convenience comes at a cost because cooking has become another household chore; a task we bemoan doing.

What’s more, cooking is made to look difficult, says Gregg, something which he is determined to change.

“Cooking is looked on as a job and a chore and I don’t see it as a job,” he tells me.

“I think there is some really subtle language in shops and it’s made us think that cooking is a hard thing to do. When I talk to the mums and dads and they say ‘I don’t have time to cook,’ to me that translates as ‘I don’t know how to cook’.

“It is so easy, and there is no reason to fear it. It could be much more enjoyable.”

Showing just how easy it is, Gregg whittles off meal ideas in seconds.

Fish drizzled in oil takes just eight minutes to cook, and boiled couscous is ready in five.

“There is no reason not to cook,” he adds.

In fact, quick and healthy meals are something Gregg takes advantage of at home.

“A staple in our house is pasta because we can make it within 10 minutes,” he says.

“Open a tin of tomatoes, add onions and maybe an anchovy or some fried bacon and you’ve got a sauce.

“We could also easily make gnocchi. We boil potatoes, put them through a potato ricer and then add flour, and when we make pancakes we stuff them with savoury things.”

He does admit though, that his cooking routine is not typical. He often cooks with fiancée Anne-Marie.

“She’s Italian and they were born cooking. As soon as they can walk they are holding frying pans.

“We play music, open a bottle of wine, and cook together. You’re talking about me, whose livelihood is food, and my fiancée where the centre of her family’s world is food.”

His favourite dish is not quite so typical either; veal in a tuna sauce, otherwise known as vitello tonnato.

He may be a TV chef but this does not stop Gregg’s mother-in-law-to-be supervising his larder. He adds: “Anna’s mum is a frugal Italian, and she says ‘Right, we’re going to have an Eat Well for Less day’ and she goes through our cupboards. She just wants to use it all up.”

Despite helping families to cut their food bills, he has one exception; Christmas pudding.

“A year ago, I sampled about 20 to 30 Christmas puddings, and in my opinion the most expensive rarely equal the best,” he says.

“We only eat it once a year and are normally half-tipsy by the time we eat it, so get whatever you want. Pour hot brandy sauce over it, pour custard, it doesn’t really matter.”

The same cannot be said for the rest of the festive shop though. Often the most expensive supermarket trip of the year. Frugality is key.

“Don’t buy all the things you want to buy because they are not going to get eaten,” Gregg says.

“Do you really need 27 tins of chocolates? Do you need all those cheeses?

“What is going to make your Christmas special is the people and having enough to eat. You don’t need an enormous surplus of things you wouldn’t normally buy.”

With Hallowe’en up next though, Gregg reveals an easy way to introduce pumpkins into mealtimes.

What’s more, they are great value for money.

“The pumpkins that you use to carve are no good for eating. They’re bred to be carved,” he explains.

“Take a pumpkin, cut it in half and then cut it into slices. Take the seeds out and then cut it into chunks. Drizzle oil over it and put it in the oven until it’s soft, roast it and have with your dinner.”

Gregg has been visiting other restaurants and hotels in Essex as part of his nationwide tour, including The Pheasant Restaurant and Bar in Halstead on September 3.

Owner James Donoghue told the Broadcast: “We were fully-booked; about 50 people were there. Gregg was very personable. Everyone enjoyed it and got to have a good chat with him, which was nice.”

“We served a three-course lunch, with food from local suppliers and the garden. He’s a dessert man and he loved our black elderflower cordial.”