I have a strange confession to make. MasterChef UK is one of my favourite shows, and I religiously watch every episode be it “normal”, celebrity, professional or junior. I watched MasterChef USA with Ramsay at the helm. But I have yet to see a single episode of MasterChef Australia.
My usual excuse is that I get TV from Foxtel or the Internet, and there just isn’t enough on free-to-air to warrant the cost and effort of getting an aerial. But the reality is that the snob in me hates the fact that MasterChef has become such a phenomenon in Australia, bringing with it a plethora of new cooking shows like My Kitchen Rules, Iron Chef Australia (which thankfully was better than the pitiful UK edition) and the odd-sounding Conviction Kitchen. I feel cheated that so many Australians love this “bastardised” version of MasterChef with its different set and format, without having watched the original blossom and grow. It’s like when the indie band you’ve loved for years puts out a crappy song that’s played on commercial radio umpteen times a day.
It’s hard to go shopping these days without bumping into something with a MasterChef logo on it. Australia’s Channel Ten has reportedly paid $150 million to secure the rights for the next three years, and other countries are getting on board too. I will watch MasterChef Australia season 3, mainly because I’ve become a fan of judge Gary Mehigan through watching “Good Chef Bad Chef” and “Boy’s Weekend” on Foxtel.
I’m an unashamed fan of Gordon Ramsay so I had to watch MasterChef USA, but I wasn’t convinced by the format and was nervous to hear that it was being adopted by MasterChef UK. At the very least, the new format almost halves the amount of viewing to 15 one hour episodes over 11 weeks. I can understand dispensing with the early rounds and getting down to business with the crazy challenges, but so much of the appeal of MasterChef UK is the chemistry (carpentry?) between John and Gregg. And what about the cliches? Like Gregg’s love of puddings (did you know his Twitter nickname is @puddingface ?) . The music. The voice-over lady. And just when you think John and Gregg’s deliberations are completely staged (why is it never a case of “bloody hell they’re all crap”?), you learn that once they got so drunk trying to resolve a dispute that filming had to be postponed.
The series starts with two audition shows, where an unknown number of contestants (apparently short-listed from 20,000 applicants) compete for 20 places in the show proper. Each contestant has 45 minutes to cook a dish of their choosing, and then 10 minutes to finish and plate in front of John and Gregg.
First up we meet “Paul”, who presents a blatant rip-off of Kenny Atkinson’s winning Great British Menu fish course of breaded mackerel with gooseberries. John and Gregg agree that his food is great, and John tells Paul that he has a place in the competition – but wait! – Gregg reminds John that the decision has to be unanimous. Naughty John for forgetting! Gregg was only teasing, of course, and hands Paul a coveted apron with the same enthusiasm as if he was presenting third prize in a primary school raffle.
Side rant: Gregg commented that he’d never seen fish cooked like that before, yet I recognised it in an instant. I can understand that Gregg may not have seen Great British Menu, but surely someone at the BBC should have picked that up?
Contestants are accompanied by family members who anxiously wait for the result of the judging, a la Idol and X-Factor. Thankfully we didn’t see any tantrums, which is lucky given the amount of hot food and knives close to hand.
Just so we know how the system works, the first three contestants were given a yes, a no and a split decision. The four contestants receiving a split decision were invited to cook again – their “shoot out” was a welcome return to familiar MasterChef territory, and you could even feel it in John’s dialogue. I’m used to John and Gregg’s deliberations feeling wooden and rehearsed, but to extend it to the tastings really messed with the balance. At times I felt like I was watching the Muppets.
I know that only one episode of the new series has screened, but it all just felt a bit weird. Like when one of my friends started dating one of my work colleagues after they met at my 21st birthday party – some worlds just aren’t meant to collide.
Let’s hope things loosen up as we move forward. Bring on the crazy challenges.