Remember when Masterchef was a tedious oh-so-Delia-middle-class Sunday afternoon pursuit in which genteel folk would rustle up a three course meal that wouldn’t shock the vicar? Remember how when it came back and dared to suggest that food could be more exciting they had to add “Goes Large” just to make sure people understood that the rules had changed. Well, we can now lay that awful past to rest. Welcome to Masterchef present and future.
If it wasn’t for Facebook and Twitter I wouldn’t know that Masterchef Australia was something of an underground hit, I would have assumed it was just me. That I – and by extension “the wife” – was the only person who was not only vaguely interested in watching a cookery contest from Down Under but actually had the thing on Sky+. I even carried on watching once I knew the result.
The logo and title were the same. This was Masterchef. It was about cooking. But there was a lot more to it than that. Easy to deride as some X Factor, reality cock-up – certainly if all you did was watch it once – it quickly became apparent that this was about food, cooking, style and passion in a way that even the Goes Large format was not. Gone was subjective judgement based on potential – in its stead a process that rewarded quality but could be brutal to losers. Give or take the return of contestants late in the series if you had one bad day that could be it even if you were brilliant at all other times. Add to that a personal approach of talking heads – and add to that two chefs who could pass as human beings and Matt Preston who could pass as Toad of Toad Hall and this was simply great television. And it was honest – good food well cooked was at its heart. Julie won series one, Adam won series two and without too much thinking I could run through who they beat. I did watch the last series of Masterchef on the BBC but I’d struggle to tell you anything about it. It needed to change and following the Australian example was the best way.
Well, rejoice! It has.
There’s still the India Fisher voiceover and random character descriptions: “travelled all the way from Kent”, “carpenter”, “lived for two years in Japan”. There’s still the growing bromance between bulging grocer Gregg Wallace and cardigan wearing aussie John Torode. And there is still the logo and the title. For the rest we’re into auditions, cook-offs and a final twenty. I live in hope of funky titles, mystery boxes and pressure tests. I want them running on the streets of Hong Kong. I want them facing the Australian Countrywomen’s Assocation and I want Matt Preston dropping a plate in glee. I want suffering, triumph and every so often a chocolate fondant that actually works.
There will be complaints. There will be accusations of dumbing down. They are easily dismissed. Nobody got through with a sob story – the broke guy who joined the army because his parents couldn’t afford the knives is out, the woman with a winning smile, three children and a determination to succceed for them is out. The people who are through can cook. And they can cook a lot more than three polite courses served with just the right wine.
Masterchef is back.