Once again, the Masterchef season is upon us. John Torode and Greg Wallace preside over a crowd of aspiring chefs, who battle eachother in the brutal arena of a converted warehouse somewhere in Islington. It’s like the Game of Thrones of cuisine… An hour of clanging metal, of knives cutting through gristle and bone, of charred meat and pouring sweat… and at the end of the hour, four out of six main characters are eliminated.
‘Cooking does not get tougher than this’, Greg growls, and every few minutes or so we hear another rousing oneliner -probably from the same bunch of writers- from either John or Greg. The message behind it all: cooking is not for pussies. It’s a blood sport.
The contestants do their best to fit in, and say tough things like: ‘I am hugely competitive’ or ‘I’ll be gutted if I don’t make the next round’. If an alien from a distant planet visited Earth and watched tv for a week, he’d be forgiven if he thought Masterchef is a spectator sport.
What always saddens me, is how Masterchef tries to squeeze all these individual amateur chefs into pretty much the same mold. Good presentation, for instance, in Masterchef-world, invariably means placing items of food (with tweezers preferably) on a vast expanse of slate or white porcelain, accompanied by a rustic smear of a reduction of some kind, and one or two types of baby-food. (Those English and their mashes, purees and emulsions!). Preferably with a bit of height added, and a few random leaves chucked in for good measure. Oh, and make sure to add something sweet, because Greg has a childish palate and will give you extra points for that. And do, by all means, overcook your steak.
Of course, lots of candidates make mistakes of the ‘what were they thinking’-type. Like a chef who made a Vietnamese pho-soup, completely disregarding the fact that the thing that makes pho so delicious and unforgettable is a really strong stock, that has simmered for days. Not minutes. The resulting dish had all the exciting flavour of hot water, so consequently the guy got the boot.
But sometimes Masterchef has its moments of true genius. And it’s those moments, however rare and fleeting, that make me watch it every year. Yesterday, a candidate went out on not one, but two heroic failures. A main course that consisted of beans and bangers on soggy toast, covered under a mound of greasy onions. And a dessert that involved potato-dough and plums that looked utterly grotesque. Judging from the faces of the jury, it tasted even worse than it looked. Maybe it was mean of me but I really enjoyed watching John and Greg chew through those two absolutely vile dishes.