Back to the MasterChef kitchen

Telly talk

MasterChef Australia is a very creative and well-planned show that is a sure-fire entertainer, at least with most women and children.

There is just something about amateur cooks striving for perfection, whether it is in cooking elaborate dishes or displaying them to their advantage. Add a lot of weird obstacles that have to be overcome, and a lot of strange problems that come up and have to be solved in the given limited time frame, and you have a perfect viewing experience. It appears to be true that we eat with our eyes too, and MasterChef Australia has given us a feast each and every time. And there is also a strange compulsion we all have, to watch food being cooked on TV. That is why a Hindu vegetarian like me knows how to cook yabby tails theoretically, having never seen, smelt or eaten a yabby ever.

Now the show is back: this time as an All Star Challenge. The format is that four contestants who performed very well and, let us admit it, are cute, from the previous three series have been picked to compete in this competition. Contestants returning from the 2009 show form the Blue Team, those from 2010 form the Red Team, while those from last year form the Yellow Team. When we see contestants from previous shows, it feels like we are seeing old friends again, and remembering old experiences. The initial challenges are team challenges, but later on the contestants compete individually for the title ‘MasterChef All Star’.

Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan are back again, but Matt Moran, the charismatic, talented, and sharp-looking, award-winning chef has left the show. Chefs George and Gary and food critic Matt Preston are still as entertaining as ever, encouraging and mentoring the amateurs. They make Masterchef seem like a family affair, giving criticism where due, but not going all out for the jugular like Gordon Ramsay.

There is a wonderful spirit of camaraderie among the contestants. However, the sharp edge of competitiveness that used to exist in the previous MasterChef seasons is absent. The monetary challenge in this competition is to raise money for the contestants’ favourite charities, so there is really no ‘zing’ to the competition. All the competitors are ‘very nice’ to each other, and sometimes, this gets on the nerves. To be totally honest, we all watch car races in the hope of seeing a car wreck, and we are used to watching MasterChef hoping to see a contestant we didn’t like crash and burn.

Therefore, the absence of a keen sense of competition does takes away from the value of the show, especially in the initial team challenges. Poh Ling seems to be the most competitive person, with Kate Bracks following. But it appears as though Dani Venn and Kumar Pereira are there just to make up the numbers, and they kind of act that way too.

But later, when they start competing individually for the title of ‘All Star’, things hot up.

The unusual contests of the previous MasterChef seasons are all still there. There is the mystery box round, where items selected by eight world famous chefs are given, and the contestants have to choose from those items and cook something special. There is the Fix-That-Dish Challenge, where the teams work in relay, with each following team member unaware of what the dish is. There is a cake challenge and a dessert challenge, as well as immunity challenges and pressure tests for elimination, and also a Worst Nightmare Challenge, where the contestants get to relive three of their failed desserts from Series 1. The insistence on perfection of technique, taste and presentation is at once a bit tedious and interesting to the run-of-the-mill amateur watching the show, but it is this quality that keeps drawing us back to the show.

All in all, the show is a blander version of the previous contests that we have seen. But it may be the last time we get to watch these three judges, because there are chances that they could be side-lined from the next MasterChef Australia, and replaced with bigger names. Well, big names may be more interesting, but Matt, Gary and George are irreplaceable in our minds, for, their qualities of friendliness, caring, and passion for their calling have endeared them to us.

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