TEESSIDE'S signature dish, the Chicken Parmo, could be "the next big thing", according to a top food expert.

The dish was a surprise choice for one of the contestants on Thursday night's episode of Masterchef on BBC1.

Gateshead ambulance call operator Anthony O’Shaughnessy introduced hosts Gregg Wallace and John Torode to the delicacy and it's fair to say they weren't convinced.

"A parmo is a deep fried breaded chicken cutlet," said Anthony. "And then you cover it in bechamel sauce, really strong Cheddar cheese on top and then you grill it.

"It's from an Italian chef who came here in World War Two and opened a restaurant on Linthorpe Road.

"Many people in the North-East and on Teesside and will be thinking 'Oh God, he's made a chicken parmo on Masterchef', it's bit risky.

"Making it glamourous, that's going to be a bit of a challenge, but really it's all about the flavour and that's what I want to get across."

Torode and Wallace looked far from impressed.

"It's a chicken burger without a bun," said Torode.

While Wallace said he wanted to "run away and hide".

However, when it was served up with pickled cabbage and a spicy beetroot ketchup it went down a storm with the critics.

Steven Wallis, who won Masterchef in 2007, said: "This is the most original plate of food we have had the whole day. Who knows, this could be the next big thing #chickenparmo."

Afterwards, Torode had to eat his words.

"The problem is, it just looks really bad," he said. "But also it tastes quite good. The chicken is really moist and lovely."

Wallace added: "It tastes a lot better than I thought it would, I am pleased to say."

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, who is campaigning to secure protected status for the parmo, said: "Well done Anthony for selling Teesside culture and food on national TV.

"The parmo is a product that our region is rightly very proud of.

"While my proposal for protected status is obviously playful, it nonetheless represents a chance to celebrate our local culture and highlight our produce on the world stage.

"People may say the matter of the parmo is not serious, but I can assure them we are serious about the parmo, after all… It could be the next big thing."