TV: Gregg Wallace on his love of travel

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Gregg Wallace is one of the most recognisable faces on British telly.

From shows such as MasterChef, Inside The Factory and Eat Well For Less?, we know the Londoner, 56, for his enthusiastic, expressive presenting style, and an almost-constant cheeky grin.

But now that the star has turned his hand to hosting a travel series – in which he showcases his interest in history, art, and architecture (as well as food) – it’s a chance to “get closer to the real Gregg”, he says.

In the four episodes of Channel 5’s Big Weekends With Gregg Wallace, the former greengrocer experiences Barcelona, Rome, Berlin and Amsterdam, immersing himself in the local culture.

And, especially with lockdown continuing to keep us on home soil, it’s a lot of fun to live vicariously through his adventures.

Here, the father of three reveals what viewers can expect from the show.

BIG WEEKENDS WITH GREGG WALLACE WAS FILMED BEFORE THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC. DO YOU FEEL NOSTALGIC WATCHING IT BACK?

Very! And it’s made me realise how much we took for granted – the simple things of just wandering streets without any real plan.

The thing I’m really, really keen to do is the cheapest thing; it’s sitting down in a cafe, in a square or a piazza, having a drink and a bowl of nibbles, and people-watching. Early evening, have a shave, put some aftershave on, clean shirt, and go out into a town. I’m really missing it.

THERE ARE A LOT OF TRAVEL SHOWS AROUND. WHAT DO YOU THINK SETS THIS ONE APART?

I really hope people are watching it and making notes on their phone, or with a pad and pen, because we’ve deliberately not hit the five-star experience – and, if you do that, you properly submerge yourself in the culture.

If you go to a five-star hotel, they’re going to be international hotels, and you actually could be anywhere in the world. I’m not saying that’s a bad experience, but that’s not an authentic experience. So, we’ve deliberately not eaten at Michelin-star restaurants, and we’ve stayed at places that are reasonable.

I think I’ve got an approachable style. I don’t do anything particularly posh or smart, I’m just obviously enjoying myself as I’m roaming the streets of these cities. It’s a happy, positive experience.

IN THE OPENING EPISODE, YOU’RE IN BARCELONA. TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR TIME THERE…

I think it may be the food capital of Europe. And I don’t judge a city or a country by how good its high-end food is – and Barcelona most certainly has that – I judge a food culture by how good its cheapest food is. That’s when a country or a city has a food culture, when its cheapest food is brilliant. Wandering around with a paper cone with ham – that’s lovely.

YOU VISIT FOUR DIFFERENT COUNTRIES IN THE SERIES. IN TERMS OF FOOD, WHAT WAS THE STAND-OUT MOMENT FOR YOU?

Funnily enough, it was Berlin, and it was a Black Forest gateau. You think you know it… You have no idea how it really should be. It is light as a feather, it’s absolutely beautiful. I was really surprised. It was almost like you got the flavour of it without actually eating it, it was just dissolving on my tongue.

YOU GET STUCK INTO SOME TRADITIONAL DISHES IN AMSTERDAM, TOO. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF DUTCH CUISINE?

It is, without a doubt, the worst food in Europe. It really is. But there’s a couple of things that stand out; a stroopwafel is a marvellous thing. That is like two waffles with syrup in the middle. You’ve got to get hold of one of them if you’ve got a sweet tooth. The smoked fish is lovely. And stamppot is good as well; it’s like mashed potato and roasted meats and some veg on it.

DID YOU GET TO TICK OFF SOMEWHERE THAT YOU’D BEEN DESPERATE TO GO TO?

I’d never been to Berlin, so that was fascinating. I did a Cold War tour, in a 1970s campervan, with a guy who lived through it and that was great, to get that experience.

The best kebab I’ve ever, ever had is in Berlin. Did you know they originated in Berlin? Neither did I! A lot of Turkish people came over to Germany, and so they set up stalls and cheap shops selling their kebabs, but they served them with rice. No-one in Europe had much of a clue about rice, so they put the kebabs inside their pitta breads. That was it – the perfect, after-beer meal was born! And you ain’t had a kebab until you’ve had a proper, proper Berlin kebab.

MEANWHILE, THE ROME EPISODE SEES YOU TRAIN AS A GLADIATOR..

Although I knew I wasn’t going to get killed, I found it exhausting, exhilarating, and really scary because the guy I fight is built like Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’s as fit as a butcher’s dog, and he’s coming at me with a net and a trident. He did that in a public park, in the blazing heat.

THE SERIES WAS PUSHED BACK AT FIRST BECAUSE OF THE PANDEMIC, WASN’T IT?

Yeah, the channel – rightly – thought it was inappropriate to show a travel show. But now we’ve been living with it for a while… I think it’s quite harmless to have a middle-aged, bald bloke running about with a glass of wine, and ham in a cone. It’s quite light-hearted. And I’m hoping it will give us a taste for what’s around the corner because it can’t last forever.

IS THERE A DESTINATION YOU’VE GOT IN MIND FOR WHEN WE ARE ALLOWED TO TRAVEL AGAIN?

I spent January [2020] in South Africa [for his ITV series, South Africa With Gregg Wallace]. I really want to go there with my wife Anna, who’s never been. I want to go on safari, and I want to go to the Winelands.

Big Weekends With Gregg Wallace, Channel 5, Friday’s, 9pm

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