Uninhibited celebration of food

Uninhibited celebration of food

Telly Overview

Tickling Imagination : Food critic Matt Preston is one of the judges on ‘MasterChef Australia’.

The way we cook it, consume it, think about it, defines in a large measure just how we live, what we think of ourselves and who we are. There is a human sub text to this show that makes us connect with its teachers and students. Something that makes us take a fresh look at our spice cabinet and screw up our noses in disgust. That makes us want to plate our food beautifully, pat pies lovingly in shape and savour life in slow mouthfuls.

Culinary TV shows like Top Chef also make for compelling viewing as you watch contestants throwing each other under the bus while a restrained Tom Colicchio watches on. But MasterChef Australia is more satisfying because of its complete and uninhibited celebration of food and because of the diverse but seamlessly harmonious energies of restaurateur and chef Gary Mehigan, chef George Calombaris and food critic Matt Preston. Preston,  with his long locks, occasionally pink trousers, dramatic grimaces and jutting prow demeanour is already being called the Australian food world’s Lady Gaga. In a broad sense of course.

Yes, the vegetarians watching the show often wonder at how much culinary self indulgence is too much when a sheep brain ends up sizzling in a frying pan or when a recipe uses pig’s blood and contestants are advised to deep freeze live sea creatures because it is kinder to kill them once they slow down.

But a lot more in the second season of the show is about the pure joy of cooking as amateurs pit their skills, their instincts and their life stories against each other every week to create food that speaks of who they are and where they come from.

The undersung Jake Bujayer, cement renderer, sea food lover and eternal underdog, trying to stay afloat even with an injured foot. Mario Grasby who smiles beatifically through multiple wins and slays even a master chef at his own creative turf. The baby faced Callum Hann, the articulate and charming Alvin Quah, Joanne Zalm who inspired lunatic hate groups in Australia.

Because the second season is already over in Australia, most Indian viewers are aware of the result but that does not stop them from watching it because the main story is told by the food as it travels from heart to imagination to platters where it looks like a lyric, a song, a painting. And inspires 11 year-olds many continents away to measure dry yeast and oil and roll out their own version of the perfect pizza dough made by Harry in the Master Class.

The success of the show is that it is not ego driven. Even the judges and the masters who are invited have the humility to acknowledge, mentor and nurture talent rather than stifling or stamping on it. For instance Maggie Beer, the legendary, self-taught, one woman food empire, displayed nothing except a grandmotherly warmth when she went head to head with Aaron in a cook-off.

She helped him rescue his dish and still managed to beat him by a mile and not just because she was the better cook but because as a person, she is beyond success and failure. Her personality and life values are like the pies she bakes. Honest to goodness and bursting with joy.

 There is sharing, co-creation and mutual respect in the MasterChef classes. Something that MasterChef India could learn where at the moment, the mood varies from heavy duty hugging to unsparing tongue lashing. Also, the focus on food has been diluted by the gimmicks surrounding Akshay Kumar’s persona. Hopefully in time, food will becomes central to the proceedings. It remains however to be seen if the show will mentor amateur cooks the way MasterChef Australia does because if it does, it will inspire many people to dream more and cook better.

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