On air since April, the show replaced daily 'chop and chat' format Great Food Live! Presented by the enigmatic Jeni Barnett, GFL had been on the channel since UKTV launched in 2001. I say 'replaced', but that is not strictly true as Market Kitchen airs in the evenings, whereas GFL was a live lunchtime programme. While GFL certainly pulled in the viewers, with a good few of them dedicated fans of the divine Ms Barnett, the channel felt that a change was due, and so up stepped production company Optomen with a new format. Following on from the success of last year's Local Food Heroes strand, Market Kitchen celebrates locally purchased food, cooked by food enthusiasts, not just celebrity chefs.
So here I am at Optomen's north London studios, next door to the F Word set , (which must make it nice for Market Kitchen presenter Tana Ramsay when Gordon's recording his show!) So as I say, as I rock up to the studio I envisage a day of sitting on the sidelines, observing the operations of a TV production team, and watching today's presenters, Matthew Fort and Tom Parker-Bowles. Not so. "Oh good, you're wearing a bright colour," says my contact at UKTV. I was in fact wearing a red cardigan, which would certainly not have been my first choice had I known I was going to spend the day on camera.
Perhaps this was a little naive of me, as having seen a preview of the show, the 'audience' (a small group, made up of members of the public) are very much part of the set up, and also get to enthuse alongside the presenters about the food featured in the show. The cynic in me decided this could appear a little contrived and pre-rehearsed, as if the 'public' in the studio had been 'fed' (sorry about the pun) their lines.
The show being recorded on the day has an Italian theme, with guest chef Angela Hartnett - one of Ramsay's former protégés and chef patron of Menu at The Connaught - making a traditional Italian dish to start us off. We sit very near to the cooking station, right next to presenters Matthew Fort (who is also The Guardian's food and drink editor) and the stepbrother of 'Wills and Harry', Tom Parker-Bowles; we're encouraged to make comments and ask questions as we go. Angela seems really relaxed in front of the cameras - she's certainly not a show-off like some other celebrity chefs one could mention. One of the invited members of the public asks a question about the region of Italy the food had come from. I quiz someone on the team later: "she was fed that line, right?" "No," comes the reply, "the people who come to visit the set really know their food," they say.
After a stint as a 'background artiste', sitting at a bar being fed cappuccinos by a gorgeous Italian-looking waiter (it REALLY is done out like a proper café!), it's my turn to be in front of the camera. You can't be shy if you go on-set here. Not only are the audience part of the show, but the team are so friendly and laid back towards them that you'd look more out of place if tried to hide in a corner. "Would you like a ham and cheese croissant or panini?" asks Emily, another of the show's 'waiting staff', as I wait for the shot to be set up. I was expecting something pre-prepared and pre-packed, but in-keeping with the ethos of the programme, she brings me a freshly made snack. It's delicious.
Anyway, back to my moment of stardom. So there's me, Tom Parker-Bowles, another audience member and Angela Hartnett, standing at a counter as Angela makes some antipasto. With four cameras on us I suddenly feel very conscious that I did my make up in less than five minutes this morning. But fear not, the lovely make-up lady is on hand to give me a touch up with some lip gloss and powder!
Back to the food: as Angela makes the dish, we are told to ask questions and 'be enthusiastic'. It's difficult - you want ask things that viewers might want to know - but you don't want to look like an idiot either. Tom asks me on camera whether I eat a lot of antipasto at home, and I start rambling on that, yes I do, and that, "it's all about the different textures and the flavours," (what do I sound like?) But they seem to like that, as the floor manager wants us to go again with that bit, so I think I've pulled it off.
In between filming, I talk to Tom (who is incredibly affable and down to earth) about whether he is enjoying making the show: "Yeah it's great, and working with someone as knowledgeable as Matthew is brilliant," he says. The pair clearly have a lot of on-screen chemistry, and their enthusiasm spills over onto the rest of the team. It's not that the other television studio sets I have been on are less friendly, it's just that…well…it's a bit more of a military operation, rather than the laid back 'everyone's welcome as long as you like food' atmosphere on Market Kitchen.
That's not to say that the show is any less of a 'well-oiled-pasta-making-machine'. Even though it's only been on air for a few weeks at this point, everyone knows what they're supposed to be doing, where they're supposed to be and when they're supposed to be doing it, so you're never made to feel like you are in the way.
Tom and Matthew may be the 'stars' of the show, but they are certainly not 'starry', and both of them chat away to the crew and audience in the same way they talk to each other. The same is true of Angela, and the show's guests: Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi, from the Caldesi Italian restaurant and cooking school of the same name.
Before my morning on set is out, I get to do another piece to camera with Matthew Fort, where both myself and another chap taste Angela's hake with a Romesco crust. With my pre-prepared (but not fictitious) comment of, "hmm, I wouldn't have thought of putting rosemary with fish…" I try to interject, but Angela's pots are bubbling away so loudly that I have to shout. The way it comes out isn't all that 'natural' in the end, so whether my musing will end up in the final cut - who knows. All I know is that the hake tastes, and is possibly the best dish of the day. Tough call though: everything being made today is delicious.
So now it's lunchtime and yes, more food arrives for the crew, presenters and those visiting the set. It's a very nice lamb and sausage stew, accompanied by the most gorgeous rosemary bread. I've been grazing on the four or five meals that have been cooked throughout the recording, but I've got just enough room to squeeze in some more.
You certainly feel pampered on Market Kitchen. As I leave, the crew are getting ready to start the next recording. They sometimes work an 11 or 13 hour day. But I don't feel too sorry for them - it's not exactly like they're going to starve.
To see how I got on, or to find out how to take part in the show yourself, watch Market Kitchen on Monday June 4 at 8pm. The show airs weekdays at 8pm on UKTV Food.