Susie Rushton: The raw truth about TV chefs in the flesh

Urban Notebook
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The Independent Online

Its catchline was, inevitably, "Days out don't get bigger than this!" and in one sense this was true. Olympia's Grand Hall, once you get inside and look up at its Victorian glass-and-iron barrel-vaulted roof, is indeed grand.

I walk along the perimeter of Olympia every day, but had never been through its doors until Saturday. The outside of the 124-year-old building never gives much away. Although there are shows on every weekend, advertising is surprisingly low-key, and the passer-by has only a title to go by, and these always sound preposterous: "The Fertility Show"; "The Airline Purchasing and Maintenance Expo". Or, from today, for all you lovers of red plastic lingerie: "Erotica 09: For Your Imagination".

When I read that MasterChef was to transform itself into an Olympian "experience", I had to go. (And if you live near Birmingham, you can visit almost the same thing at the BBC Good Food Show on 25 November). I'd imagined a fully-interactive MasterChef-themed eating and entertainment fayre, with giant inflatables in the shape of Gregg Wallace's head, and the chance to try dishes made by past contestants. Indeed, there was a corner where ordinary folk could submit to the "Invention Test", although the judges weren't Michel Roux Jr or John Torode and Wallace, so I didn't get a chance to determine, finally, whether Gregg just parrots his co-presenter's views all the time or only whenever I am watching. No – for the most part, the show was a posh farmers' market with hundreds of stalls offering minuscule samples of just three (or so it seemed) specialities: chilli sauce; Cheddar cheese; fudge.

Eventually we drifted to the main attraction, the Cookery Experience Theatre, where chefs gave demos. On stage, James Martin wrapped a piece of beef in cling film and told what appeared to be side-splitting jokes (without hearing anything, it was impossible to know). You'd get a better view in the cheap seats at a U2 gig.

Mouths burning with chilli, pockets divested of more than £50 (cheese; an Italian sausage; one recipe book) we turned to what we guessed might be the exit, and charged the crowd. Sometimes TV is better than reality.

Mariah's support act

Westfield are spoilsports. The colossal west London shopping mall has turned down Mariah Carey's request for 20 kittens and 100 white doves to accompany her when she switches on their Christmas lights. In Mariahworld, that's nothing, a small favour.

A friend who works at MTV reports that MC "doesn't do stairs". The provision of pink loo roll is non-negotiable. Westfield say they can't allow Mariah's menagerie on the grounds that no pets are allowed in the mall. But her creatures aren't pets, they're accessories, part of the campest brand in pop. If you want a sensible, health-and-safety abiding celeb to pull the switch, you don't call Mariah Carey.