I have always regarded cooking as one of those activities which is about pleasure, relaxation and enjoyment, which is why the prospect of going on a TV programme like Masterchef, even if I was good enough (which I’m not), is something I would avoid like the plague.

If you have been following this year’s competition, you will know that the past month has seen nearly 50 amateur cooks put themselves through the stress of cooking in front of the cameras, just so that their culinary creations can be pulled apart by chef John Torode, greengrocer Gregg Wallace, and a succession of chefs and critics.

You would think that the experience would be enough to put anyone off going near the kitchen for life, but apparently not.  This week is ‘Comeback Week’ on Masterchef, with last night’s episode seeing five former contestants who had experienced the pain and humiliation of being booted off the programme in previous years coming back to have another go, with another five returning to the kitchen in tomorrow night’s show.

So what is it that makes so many people who love cooking put themselves through this particular mill?  Well, this weekend I had the chance to find out, when I hosted the cookery theatre at the East Anglian Game and Country Fair at Euston Hall near Thetford.

Alongside the local chefs who were doing their thing on the stage were three former Masterchef contestants: 2022 semi-finalist Olayemi Adelekan, and 2023 quarter-finalists Nick Rapson and Thuy Hoang.

I have met enough people who have been on TV during my career not to have too high expectations; they always say ‘never meet your heroes’.  Too often appearing on the box can lead to a sense of self-importance and arrogance, and a disconnect with the real world.

So I was delighted to find that the three Masterchef stars who were demonstrating at Euston this weekend were the warmest, most down-to-earth people, who just wanted to share their enthusiasm for food with everybody there.

On reflection, I shouldn’t have been surprised.  The food and drink community – and it is a close community – is mostly one where the passion for the subject is more important than the egos of the people involved.

Whilst Nick Rapson has gone on to become a successful professional chef, Olayemi Adelekan has stayed on at her day job at BT Openreach, and Thuy Hoang is as likely to be seen in her kitchen at home cooking for family and friends as she is catering for London supper clubs.

For all of them, the passion for food is the main thing; all three of them clearly get a great deal of pleasure out of simply feeding people.

And this is what makes foodie communities unique.  While there may be more than a few egos among celebrity and Michelin-starred chefs, at anything other than that rarefied level you will find people who simply love to share: their food, their expertise and their experiences.

When Thuy found out that I hadn’t had the chance to grab lunch during a hectic day on stage on Sunday, she disappeared backstage and quietly knocked me up a delicious mango salad with prawns so that I wouldn’t go hungry.  It is only in the food world where celebrities behave with such generosity and lack of ego.

There is a lesson for us here, in a world where so many people pay little attention to what they are eating and don’t take the time to think about sitting down at the table with other people.  

If we want to restore that real sense of community in our society, we could do a lot worse than concentrate on what and how we eat.  People who are passionate about food do genuinely seem less individualistic and more inclined to think at a societal level.  As long as you turn your phones off, it is practically impossible to sit around a dining table with others and not feel you belong.

The three Masterchef contestants all said that despite its competitive nature, the programme has a sense of family, with contestants (and judges) encouraging each other, and little of the back-biting which is a feature of so many reality TV shows.

Many of the issues facing our country are borne out of putting the individual before society.

The world of food shows us that it doesn’t have to be that way, and we can all start to be a force for good around our kitchen tables.