June 09, 2016

Masterchef 2016: A Primer


There was a time when restaurant food was pretty much the same food you could make at home, but unhealthier, tastier and involving more effort. Now, of course, it's not a good restaurant unless every item on the menu has a two-line description and half the items are molecular or deconstructed something.

Which brings us to why I once booked a table (for lunch) three weeks in advance and spent an obscene amount of money to eat beetroot salad and some stir fry vegetables at a three hatted restaurant - Masterchef. 

In its sixth/seventh/eighth? season now, Masterchef's probably the most popular thing on TV in Australia. (This sentence was a Captain Obvious opener that is normal for every episode). 

For those of you who've never watched it (hah, losers) and would like to get into it, here's a quick primer on what the show's all about.

1. Format
Every year, a bunch of amateur cooks try to become Australia's next Masterchef, a title that's only slightly more relevant than every new American Idol. They're judged by these guys:


L to R: Gary, Matt, George. Also pictured: the first and last time Matt wore a grey suit.
If you're going to create a season that plays five days a week for about three months, you're going to have to fill it up with a lot of pointless drivel. How do you do this? You create advantages ("immunity pins" that are won by someone like this:

First you compete in a team event. If your team wins the event, you cook off against everyone in your team for an "advantage". If you win the advantage, you get to choose what everyone cooks with (again). Whoever wins the second cook-off, goes into yet another cook-off with a professional chef and more complicated rules. If you win that cook-off, you have an immunity pin. 

What does an immunity pin give you? It's basically a get out of jail free card if you find yourself with five other people in an elimination. What's interesting is, if you're good enough to win the pin you can probably get along just fine without it, but of course everyone wants one badly because fuck logic.

With these contestants cooking every day, you may wonder how they can keep it interesting. The answer to that is...

I keel you. 
2. Celebrity chefs
Occasionally a celebrity chef shows up - mostly because there's only so much you can take of George saying "MORE TAYSTE! MORE TEXCHA! MORE FLAYYYVAR!" 

The usual suspects are people like Marco Pierre White, who enjoys terrifying amateurs while also telling them about his own life, non-stop, as if there are valuable lessons to be learnt (spoiler alert: there aren't. All stories begin with how he too has faced failure - as if to say "Look, I too was human once" - and end with how he overcame failure by working hard.)

Irrespective, watching him repeatedly scream "Where's my kingfish? Where's my kingfish? Where's MY KINGFISH? WHERESMYKINGFISH?!" at hapless twenty-somethings can give you the opposite of FOMO





3. Gluttony
What I said about suits - case in point. 
On average, the judges will eat at least ten dishes per episode. This happens after everyone cooks, their food cools down, is continuously re-heated, brought to the judges one by one and shot lovingly from about seven angles by a cameraman whose wildest fantasies involve a melting chocolate ball of some kind. 

For some reason, George C is in charge of cutting up all the food and serving it, while Matt is in charge of making skeptical faces at it. Gary's forte is to be excited about anything with sugar in it. All three of course excel at needlessly wordy descriptions of how their mouth feels at any point of time. 

Unfortunately this means that you can come home, cook yourself dinner (or in my case, make a sandwich), eat it while watching the show and be hungry again. 

4. Drama
It's possible to devise entire drinking games around TV show drama, like contestants crying while saying "I'm not ready to go home", or people who are "just missing my kids so much", or anyone who wants to tell everyone why they "quit everything to pursue my food dream". 

I haven't yet seen an episode where every contestant did not say "hero of my dish" at least once. On average, 50% will realise in their last ten minutes that they've done something horribly wrong and "could be in real trouble today" (everyday). At least three people will use "heart and soul" or "sweat and blood".

From having (really civilised) disagreements in team challenges to crying about the burden of having an immunity pin (to use to get out of an elimination) - you'd think that these must be literally the best human beings you've ever come across.

5. Seriously weird food
Whether you understand a cuisine or not, there are ideas that everyone can unanimously agree on and call weird. 

Examples include things like adding salt, lemon and chilli to a dessert (and having the judges exclaim at "how balanced" it is), blowing smoke from a pipe onto your food to "give it flavour", using a blowtorch on your food, spraying liquid nitrogen on anything, cooking food in lukewarm oil for an hour, cooking food in a vacuum-sealed bag in hot water, and basically turning your kitchen into a laboratory. What's even more amazing is that the channel is constantly trying to get you to check "all these recipes on our website", as if my shoebox apartment came fitted with a blast chiller, smoke gun and sous-vide machine. 

Doesn't come as a surprise to anyone anymore that these are the dishes that are loved by the judges for some reason. Maybe blowing green-tea flavoured smoke for half on hour on a piece of fish does give it an intense green tea flavour - those of us ordering a burger and fries at bars will never know. 

And that's what makes it so exciting.

No comments: