Cold Call: Louise France rings Ainsley Harriott

TELEVISION CHEFS have been in the news this week with the announcement that Delia Smith's cookery programme has boosted sales of eggs by 1.3 million a day. Ainsley Harriott, who fronts Can't Cook, Won't Cook and competes in Ready, Steady, Cook, has recently launched a new range of ready-made foods for Marks & Spencer. He lives in South London with his wife Clare and their two children.

Commentators claimed this week that Delia Smith is one of the most influential women in Britain. What is her secret?

Twenty-five years of experience. She has built up a following which you just can't knock. This is a bugger of a job and anyone who can make a career out of it gets my respect.

Critics have accused Delia of patronising viewers for telling them how to boil eggs. What advice would you give on the Great Egg Debate?

The trick is to put the egg into just-simmering water and not to leave it longer than 12 minutes. Any longer and the whites go grey. However hard you like your eggs, don't leave them for longer than 12 minutes.

Most chefs would be embarrassed to admit that they owned a Delia Smith cook book. Do you?

I've got her Winter Collection. Although I must admit it was a present. I didn't buy it myself.

You were in the news this week, for doing a `Full Monty' strip for Children in Need. Were you nervous?

I'm a bit of an exhibitionist, if you must know. I was quite excited.

But you're not exactly built like

Linford Christie, are you?

I think that's for other people to decide. Let's put it this way - I'm not 28 with a six- pack. I'm 41 with two kids. But I like to think my chest isn't that bad.

There are some who say that Ainsley Harriott is incapable of chopping an onion without behaving like a backing singer for The Temptations. What do you say?

(Loud rumblings of laughter)

Too right. That's just the way I am - enthusiastic and energetic. I can't think of anything better than cooking with a nice bit of soul music in the background. Anything too fast, though, and you run the risk of cutting your finger off.

Are you as over the top as you always seem to be on television? Is it an act?

People presume that I'm the kind of person who walks around Sainsbury tossing a wok. And most of the time I am. I'm a buzzy, impetuous type. My father was a professional pianist so even when I was growing up, I was around showbiz people. You pick up that kind of vibe.

Would you agree with the proverb: "Too many cooks have their own TV shows"?

Cookery programmes are always going to be popular because they're cheap. All you need is a basic set and a few recipes and you're off. And you must remember that people are obsessed by food in the same way as they think about sex all the time. They never get bored of it.

The people on your programmes always say the food is the most delicious they've ever tasted. Can they really be telling the truth?

You can always tell how good the food is by how quickly the crew descend on the set afterwards. Remember, I've been cooking for over 20 years and I know what I'm doing. And when I'm not on camera, I always have a quick taste to check that it's going well.

When was the last time you did the washing-up?

Last night.

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