Interview extra

Michael Winner, Michael Winner's Dining StarsFebruary 12, 2010

Food critic Michael Winner passes judgment on ordinary home cooks in his new ITV1 show

What was the most common mistake when you went for dinner?
These people have cooked regular meals for their families for years and they’re very good at it. The minute I turn up they throw all that out the window and start to do something that, they think, is posh or grand — things they’re not really capable of.

You get emotional in episode one of Michael Winner's Dining Stars when you have to deliver your verdict to contestant Justine Forest. Did that take you by surprise?
I wasn’t prepared, but the togetherness of the family hit me very strongly. It was just so moving. Her son has a heart condition and her daughter has cerebral palsy. I was in hospital for seven months, so I know the tragedy of ill health, and this lady has put up with it throughout the lives of two of her children with enormous fortitude.

Will you stay in touch with Justine?
She lives a long way away, but I’m sure we’ll keep in touch. She came for tea just last week.

Do you hope Michael Winner’s Dining Stars encourages people to eat more as a family?
The six families I went to visit were all families and it was very lovely for me. There’s no way I’d be invited to these homes normally. It was wonderful to touch base with people and learn from just being with them.

Do you have a signature dish?
My signature dish is incompetence. No, you can’t be a bachelor of my age without cooking occasionally. I can grill steaks and do fry-ups. My mother was a very good home cook, until she became a gambling addict.

How do you feel about being compared to other TV judges like Simon Cowell and Alan Sugar?
No one likes to be compared to anybody because we all think we’re unique, but I’d love to be as rich as Simon.

What’s been your best meal ever?
It was 20 years ago, at a Women’s Institute fete in Betws Y Coed in Wales. The food was incredible, done with love and care. We ate pates, griddle cake and normal cakes, dished out by little white haired old ladies, and it was better than anything I’ve had in a restaurant. It’s rubbish that Gordon Ramsay is the only person who can cook.

Are you a food snob?
Definitely not. I think the Fifties were the best time for food in this country. You got meat and two veg, and meat looked like meat and the veg looked like veg. Today it’s all so ponced about you don’t know what half of it is.

Would you like to be a judge on any other TV shows?
I like judging people in general. I wouldn’t mind doing an X Factor of people.

How do you take criticism yourself?
Everyone in showbusiness has to put up with criticism. I know very famous people who have to go to bed for a week, but you just have to do your best. You may face criticism, but it’s not life threatening.

By Marie-Anne Hamilton

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