Cooking good . . . despite the scary looks
The latest series of the show is at the semi-finals stage and heading towards its climax next week.
During the three semis Monica and Michelin-starred Marcus Wareing will pick those who will face nail-biting Finals Week, concluding on Christmas Eve.
“We’ve seen some phenomenal talent coming through,” said Monica.
“It’s been really exciting and Marcus and I have had a fantastic time with them.
“It’s been great to see and I just hope the standards keep rising.”
But while, by the time we reach the latter stages, the cream has very much risen to the top, the earlier rounds always see a mixed bag.
Super-confident chefs collapse like a mistimed soufflé when they step into the most famous – and intimidating – kitchen on telly.
And even simple things such as making sure a spud is properly cooked is beyond them.
“I’m always very surprised when that happens,” admits Monica, whose husband David is a head sommelier. “A lot of it is just to do with nerves.
“They’re walking into a very weird atmosphere to cook in front of us and the cameras. They’ve obviously never prepared for that.
“It does frustrate me but they don’t realise how tough the tests are until they get there.
“It’s all right sitting at home yelling at the TV, but then they realise how real it is and the pressure gets to a lot of them.
“They just forget their basic skills.
“The thing that really upsets me, though, is when a chef has a total lack of respect for the ingredients.
“If they have a lovely fish and they damage it when filleting, that’s not right. It’s a beautiful thing and you need to respect it.
“That’s the main thing that gets to me. But it’s also frustrating when they don’t pay attention to the task.
“You explain it and they nod, but they’re just not taking it in.”
Monica has become one of TV’s most familiar foodie faces since first making her debut on MasterChef six years ago.
She was previous judge Michel Roux Jr’s sous chef and put the contestants through their paces before selecting the ones who’d go forward to cook for her perfectionist boss.
Her no-nonsense approach, withering comments and expressively horrified face made her a viewers’ favourite – and a faltering chef’s worst nightmare.
But after a lifetime in professional kitchens, Samoan-born Monica knows they’re no place for shrinking violets.
“Every chef has a scary side,” she insists. “When you’re in that environment you have to be strong.
“Being a soft female chef is not going to get things done. When you’re used to running a brigade of 17 chefs you have to step up to it.
“There’s a time to have a laugh and a joke and people know that about me.
“But there’s a time when you have to get your head down and work.
“I expect them to give their best and then relax at the end of it.”
But what about those scary looks?
“I try not to be so scary anymore,” she laughs.
“When I’m in that role I take it very seriously.
“In saying that, I’m also very chilled and I’d like to think I’m great to have a laugh with.
“A lot of people I meet say I’m much nicer in person. But then I’m not going to yell at a complete stranger!”
While Monica would love to see more female chefs on the programme – she just thinks they are more naturally cautious – she is a personal inspiration to her daughter Anais.
“She has been born into the world my husband and I are in and I think she’s blessed because of that,” she adds.
“It’s great when you’re young to learn about etiquette and dining out so she’s growing up enjoying the things she needs to understand.”
MasterChef: The Professionals Tue, Wed, Thurs, BBC2 8pm.