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Whitstable Pearl: Masterchef presenter Gregg Wallace

By This is Kent  |  Posted: March 18, 2009

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MASTERCHEF presenter Gregg Wallace, 44, is a familiar face around Whitstable.

When he is not on the sidelines at Whitstable Rugby Club in Chestfield cheering on his son Tom's under 15s team , he can be spotted tucking into a chicken vindaloo at his favourite local restaurant Spices curry house in Canterbury Road.

Born in Peckham, London, Mr Wallace's career began at Covent Garden market selling vegetables. He set up George Allan's greengrocers in 1989, a company which supplied top London restaurants.

His media career started with a slot on BBC Radio 4's food programme before presenting the first series of Saturday Kitchen. He has co-presented Masterchef since 2005 and is the director of two mail-order greengrocer businesses Gregg's Veg and Secretts Direct.

When he is not filming, he likes to spend time with his two children, Tom, 15, and Libby, 11.

He moved to Whitstable, three years ago after his second divorce. Any women who go weak at the knees at the sound of his gruff-voice will be pleased to hear he is still single.

Who are your parents and what did they do?

Dad Alan was an electrician and mum Mary was a computer operator - in the days when they used to fill an entire room.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to join the navy. I actually went to naval school but left because I was a bit of a tearaway.

I left school without any qualifications.

What was your first job and how much were you paid?

I was completely unschooled but I answered a job advert for a warehouseman at Covent Garden market.

I loved it and was paid about £140 a week, which was quite good for back then.

How did you get into TV?

I did an interview for a food magazine - I think I was banging on about English fruit and veg and how more people should buy local produce.

The freelance journalist who wrote the article also worked for BBC Radio 4 and recommended me for their food programme.

I got nervous so I asked if I could bring along my friend Charlie Hicks.

A year later they gave us our own show called Veg Talk - we did the first two shows drunk.

I did that slot for seven years.

Then I made the move to TV by becoming the first presenter of the Saturday Kitchen, which I did for 18 months.

Doing TV was actually a lot easier than radio because on live radio you can't have any pauses. You always have to describe what is going on.

When did you get involved with Masterchef?

I was asked to do it in 2005. I had seen it before when it was presented by Loyd Grossman and Gary Rhodes but it was obvious to me it was going to become a completely different show. The new format was a real move away from what it was. The producer chose two blue-collar boys as presenters for a start.

Do you enjoy it?

Yeah, it's great. The one place I love to be is the Masterchef studio. It was weird at first and people on the street would recognise me but they weren't sure where from. One woman stopped me at an airport and thought I was a taxi driver from Stockport.

What was it like being recognised in the street?

It's still weird when people come up to you. I do like it though. I'm a personable bloke and I like having a chat with people. It's hard when you're out with your mates. I was at the supermarket with my friend Clive Packham, a teacher at Canterbury High School, and he found it strange that people kept coming up to me and talking to me as if they knew me.

Are you really a rugby coach?

Yes, I'm a level two qualified rugby coach. I have been coaching for nearly 10 years. I played at London Welsh when I was younger. I'm one of four coaches for Whitstable under-15s - but one of the least involved.

My son Tom, who goes to Chatham House, is the scrum half and the smallest player on the pitch. He plays for Whitstable and East Kent. I took him to his first match when he was four. He wanted to get out there and join in, he didn't understand why he wasn't allowed to run out onto the pitch. I've created a monster.

My daughter Libby is sporty too - she's a hockey goalie and plays netball at Kent College.

Why did you move to Whitstable?

I got custody of the children and I needed as much help as I could get. I moved to be near my mum who has lived in Joy Lane for the past 20 years. Boy does she help me. My work life is not routine and I work weekends so I need lots of cover. I also have a nanny, Sue, who used to be Ruby Wax's nanny. I love it here. It's proved to have been a very good move and it's been a great home for the children. People are surprised when they see how bare my flat in London is. They ask why I don't make it more homely but I don't want it to be my home, it's purely functional.

What is your favourite holiday destination?

I'm in love with Italy. I try to go at least once a year. In Italy good food is a birth rite. I like food, rugby and history so they're accomplished at two of those. I'm a huge history buff.

What is your favourite restaurant locally?

The one I go to the most is Spices the curry house - I was there last night!

I don't even have to order any more. They just bring it out. I always have chicken vindaloo.

I have a Spices T-shirt as well. I think he's building up a reputation around me.

I quite like Samphire. It's a bit London shabby-chic, but that's what I like about it.

Oh and I forgot about the Sportsman at Seasalter, what a place. I so admire him (Stephen Harris). The food that comes out of there is the equal to anything in London. It is frill-free, quality food by someone with a great palate and knowledge of flavours. There should be one of those in every high street.

Do you cook at home?

Not as much as I would like. I like the kids to join in as well but there is one rule when they help me in the kitchen and that is we can only listen to music by dead people - so anything by Elvis, Barry White or Frank Sinatra. The kids love me to do steak and chips or my smoked haddock and sweetcorn chowder.

What are you up to at the moment?

I'm filming Masterchef: The Professionals now with Michel Roux. It's quite weird without having John Torode around. We're actually really good friends and I spend a lot of time in his restaurant Smiths of Smithfield. Me and Libby were in there for breakfast, lunch and dinner the other day.

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