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February 24, 2021

Rylan Clark-Neal is back for a second bite of Ready Steady Cook

Sports

P
Pa
February 24, 2021

Rylan Clark-Neal is back fronting another series of Ready Steady Cook, but this time he is missing out on what should be a perk of the job. The presenter is banned from tasting the culinary magic created by the show’s contestants.

It is all part of efforts to make the BBC One series Covid safe. “We’ve got very, very good chefs. We’ve got brilliant food. I’m just so annoyed I can’t taste it no more. I’m not allowed to,” he says. “We’re Covid secure so maintain social distancing. Obviously the chefs are allowed to handle the food and so are the contestants. But it’s only the contestants that are allowed to eat their own food. So I’m very jealous.” The East London-born presenter isn’t going hungry though as soaking up the “tips and tricks” on the revived BBC show has boosted his cooking skills at home. “The amount of things that I learn from just standing and watching,” Clark-Neal, who is married to former police officer and Big Brother contestant Dan, says.

He cites everything from how to peel an onion to “making flatbread in five minutes”. “Next thing you know you’ve got this beautiful flatbread or a gyros or whatever, and we’re talking minutes (to make). It’s just crazy, the stuff I’ve learned”.

Clark-Neal has had a meteoric rise since shooting to fame as the X Factor “reject”, as he calls himself, nine years ago. He is back for a second bite of daytime reboot Ready Steady Cook, which was previously hosted by Ainsley Harriott and Fern Britton.

Other credits along the way have included Big Brother’s Bit On The Side, Supermarket Sweep, Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two and his own Radio 2 slot, as well as winning Celebrity Big Brother. But Ready Steady Cook feels different.

“It’s quite relaxing that it’s all quite light-hearted, unlike Big Brother”, he says. On that reality show “you’re worried you’re gonna come into work and someone’s punched someone in the face and tried to drown them in a hot tub”, the former part-time model says.

“You know you’re not going to get that” on Ready Steady Cook. “It’s just been really, really nice. It’s a real family-orientated show where it’s just giving people ideas for bits and bobs that they can do. We’re all so bored of cooking the same old thing every week, especially now we’re all living in our pyjamas 24/7.

“It feels lovely, and it’s actually quite nice for me to feel a bit more grown-up,” the 32-year-old adds. The pandemic has made him recalibrate his “ambitions”. “My answer to this always used to be, ‘Any ambitions?’ It would be a day off.’ But after the year that we’ve just had, I don’t think I should say that anymore.” Looking back at his TV success, he adds: “It’s been a long nine years, and a quick nine years. “And I’ve been really lucky. I’m an X Factor reject so I never expected to have the career that I’ve got.” But he is keen to point out it’s not just luck behind his move from X Factor joke act to in-demand presenter.

“I have worked for it and I’ve been nice to everyone. I don’t care if you’re my runner or the commissioner, I will speak to you exactly the same and I want to make everyone’s life easy,” he says. And he might be ubiquitous on-screen, but he’s turned down plenty of job offers.

“For every show I host, I’ve said no to about 10. So I don’t just sit there and go ‘yeah, I’ll do it’, he says. “It’s actually the reason why I’m still going nine years, because of what I said no to, rather than what I said yes to.”

A hallmark of Ready Steady Cook, which first appeared on TV screens in 1994, is the audience deciding on the best dishes using the familiar red tomato and green pepper voting cards. This series has no studio audience because of coronavirus safety rules, although the cards remain.

“As much as we miss the audience… it’s actually been really lovely because we have changed the format this year,” Clark-Neal says. The changes, which include a revamped kitchen, have meant he has got to know the chefs — regulars as well as new name Jeremy Pang — better.

“We’ve brought the remaining chefs that aren’t cooking on to set, and they’re sat at a chef’s table and they’re watching everything that’s going on and actually it’s the three remaining chefs that end up voting for their favourite dish, and that decides the winner,” he explains.

“So it’s lovely for me because we’ve got all of our chefs involved in every single show now. It gives me a bit more time to have a laugh with them as well because when they’re not actually cooking they’re more at ease to have a bit of banter. Don’t get me wrong, even when they are cooking we do that but they’ve also got 28 pans on the go and they’re trying to make a soup out of a cardigan.”

Clark-Neal feels “fortunate” to be working, even if it is in an environment far from normal. “People working on make-up are looking like they’re just come out of a war zone in PPE and bio hazmat suits, it’s crazy,” he says of the crew on the new, six-week series. “And it’s sad but we’re lucky to be doing it”.

Just like Clark-Neal himself, there are no airs and graces on Ready Steady Cook. “It doesn’t matter what age you are, what background you come from, where you live or even how much money you’ve got because all the food we do is on a budget,” the star says.

“We’re not sitting there cooking a full lobster with a bottle of champagne. We’re genuinely sitting there with some lentils we found in the back of the cupboard and a butternut squash.” Ready Steady Cook starts on weekdays on BBC One on March 1 at 3.45pm and is available on iPlayer.