MasterChef: The Professionals is back next week and with 48 chefs competing for the title, the show is tougher than ever, say judges Marcus Wareing and Monica Galetti.

Back on BBC Two for its 12th series, the pair - along with regular presenter Gregg Wallace - will watch 48 expert chefs, hailing from pubs and pop-ups, Michelin-starred kitchens and catering in the armed forces, battle it out to be crowned this year’s champion.

Cumbria has a rich history of chefs taking part in the TV contest - with sweet and sour views on the show.

Oli Martin was one of three finalists in last year’s competition.

Darren Comish was a finalist on the series in 2014 and went on to be named Cumbria Life chef of the year the following year.

Michelin-starred Ryan Blackburn made it into the quarter finals in 2017. Talented personal chef Matt Campbell, from Kendal, appeared in the same series and made it to the semi-finals with his adventurous food.

Matt sadly died after collapsing in the London Marathon in April 2018.

Oli Martin is head chef at Hipping Hall, Kirkby Lonsdale and loved his time in the TV kitchens: “It was a phenomenal experience, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

“More than anything, it helped put us on the map - we are still getting customers through now who remember the show.”

As well as the publicity, the programme made Oli reassess his work: “You never really look at a dish from start to finish with every element in it.

“More than anything, it reassured me that what I do is the right thingand to carry on with that.”

“I’m glad I did it, 100%.

While Oli is looking forward to watching the new series, Ryan Blackburn won’t bother.

The chef patron of The Old Stamp House, Ambleside, didn’t enjoy it at all.

He admitted: “I wish I had never done it. It is the one thing I regret more than any thing else in my career.

“That is not a reflection on the show. It is a reflection on me.

“It was an experience, but it was not for me.”

The TV show’s judges take time out from their restaurants to run the rule over the professional competitors.

Wareing’s one-Michelin-starred restaurant Marcus, set within The Berkeley, is deemed one of London’s finest restaurants, while Samoan-born New Zealand chef Galetti has turned industry heads as chef proprietor of her first solo restaurant, Mere, also in the capital.

Launching the season are the heats, where over four weeks 12 chefs compete in the first two programmes each week, with the aim of making the quarter final in the third programme at the end of the week.

It’s a daunting seven-week process - from start to finish - for the chefs and the judges, including the skills test, showcasing their own style with their choice of signature dish, the invention test, cooking for the food critics and then a final “pop-up challenge to go”, a trip to Portugal to cook with legendary chef Jose Avillez,

“There’s very high levels of anxiety for us, [but] a lot of excitement too,” says Galetti. “We always expect the best to come through, and, of course, invariably there’s bound to be some disappointment.”

“You see Marcus and I, at certain points, we tend to get upset,” she explains. “That’s just our sheer disappointment because we’re expecting great chefs, we’re wanting them to do well.”

“If they make it to the final three, the world is their oyster,” she reasons. “I’m very anxious for them. It is the professional series, it is what we do for a living, and we don’t want it to be a mockery.

“The chefs who walk through that door have to know their craft, otherwise don’t put yourself up for it!”

“It’s a really weird environment for them - it’s not a kitchen, it’s a studio, and they’re making a TV show that’s based around cookery,” Wareing empathises. “So you’re taking them out of their comfort zone.”

“A lot of our younger generations may not have stepped into that particular world, because kitchens have moved on,” he notes.

“If they can get over that hurdle, which is a very high hurdle right at the very beginning, then the other stuff comes to play.

“I find the youth quite interesting, they’re great, because they’re just so naive to what they’re walking into - but yet get through it better than anyone else. Like Teflon, it just slides off them.

“It’s sort of a ‘they’ve got nothing to lose’ attitude, which makes them stand out,” continues the father-of-three.

“For me, I see some people come through the door and I’m thinking, ‘They’re like 18 or 19’. I picture my own children standing in front of me, doing exactly the same thing, and [think], ‘How I would feel as a father, watching my son or daughter on television?’

“What an intimidating place to go to for a young person, to showcase their skill at that age,” he continues.

“So I feel really quite proud about what they’re doing and feel part of their experience.”

Have the judges softened?

“You could say I’m getting a little bit lighter as I get older...” he teases.

“They’ve broken us down, they’ve worn us out!” Galetti adds with a smile. “Sometimes we’re even giving them hugs - I mean, that’s a really bad day!”

“It’s such an in-depth competition with so many turns,” Wareing concludes.

“I just feel at the beginning that we are on the start of a very long, hard, tough journey - not just for the guys in front of us, but for us as well.

“It’s a brutal competition and we have to deliver it every step of the way.”

Ryan, who has never watched the programme, even when he appeared on it, said: “I’m happier in the kitchen, cooking my style now.

“A lot of Cumbrian recipes are slow-cooked and I never go the chance to show who I am or where I’m from.

“Oli got into the final last year and it has really kicked him on. It has made him a different person and good luck to him.”

Although he didn’t enjoy his time on the show, the chef can now boast that he has the same amount of Michelin stars as Marcus Wareing has for his restaurant and one more than Monica has for her eaterie.

And he is also proud that the Old Stamp House was named seventh best restaurant in the UK by Tripadvisor users.

He is happy to stay in his kitchen, away from the studios and TV cameras and added: “I did get offered to appear on another TV show but turned it down.

MasterChef: The Professionals returns to BBC Two on Tuesday.