Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The virtue of cooking....

Have you been watching Masterchef Australia?

Go on, admit it, you have been, or at least so the ratings would suggest!

Well, just a few episodes in my case is all I'm admitting to.

But actually, I think this is a program that one can justify watching (although perhaps not in the full on six days a week intensity that Channel Ten is dolling out!).

Why this is watchable reality tv

Masterchef is basically a cooking competition, with some competitors being eliminated each week. Cooking shows are always a winner of course, and this one includes masterclasses and lots of hints for anyone who likes the idea of cooking.

But actually, the real charm of this show is that although it seems to have some of the trappings of other reality shows (and you really wish they'd drop some of these!), it generally treats the contestants with respect.

The judges are kind in their comments, supportive, and try to help - no Ramsay style bullying here!

And the challenges seem genuinely about trying to teach the contestants how to become better cooks and more importantly, better people.

Perseverence, resilience and team work

One of the most attractive elements of the show is the virtues it is trying to instill, such as:
  • perseverance;
  • resilience in the face of disaster;
  • preparedness to have a go at tasks that seem foreign to you, to work hard;
  • how to lead and how to work in a team;
  • how to cope with pressure;
  • a love of learning new things;
  • enjoying yourself while working;
  • and above all, the desire to achieve perfection in even the smallest of tasks.

The show has obviously looked at what virtues real chefs need, and selected for them. But it also actually tries to teach them as well. When cooking disasters happen, for example - and they frequently do - the contenders are prodded by the judges and their peers to pick themselves up and keep going, and given an opportunity to dig themselves out of the hole they have dug themselves through the dreaded 'pressure test' (cooking a new dish to a recipe in a very tight timeframe).

When people don't pull their weight, or make unilateral decisions that the team don't agree with, they get voted out. And while this is clearly a contest, the behind the scenes angst is clearly edited down to a minimum: the demands of prime time and the need for drama are there, but tempered by a decision to present the contestants as inherently attractive personalities (whatever the reality may be!).

I don't want to overstate the case - there are some contestants who come across as childish and immature, or overly critical of others. But still, this is definitely not Big Brother or something of that ilk (thank goodness)!

It makes you want to cook!

The great part of the show though, I think, is that it actually makes you want to get up and try cooking, not just sit there watching as many cooking shows do. It teaches how to taste dishes and appreciate the elements that went into them. To think about presentation. It makes you eye off those exotic and not so exotic ingredients the next time you see them in the supermarket (oh temptation!).

And it emphasises that it is normal to make mistakes, even bad ones! The trick is to recover from them.

I've mostly watched the Sunday night episodes and one or two pressure tests (you can catch up online!), which are based around a 'mystery box' and an 'invention test', challenging the cooks to come up with a dish based around one or two key ingredients. The dishes the contestants come up with may not necessarily be something that you feel like tackling, but it does make you start thinking, well, what could I make with prawns and nuts? Or oranges, chocolate and coconut? It's fun.

The judges

The really nice part of the show though is seeing the judge's reactions to the food (and the contestants' faux pas!). It is one thing to watch someone cook a dish - but good to see that counterbalanced by an assessment from the consumer's point of view! Food critic Matt Preston is a wonderful presence on this show, and it seems very unbalanced when he isn't there. But I really like the two chefs, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris as well, the first for his obvious knowledge, skills, strength with tact, the second particularly for his infectious enthusiasm. The hostess, I'd have to say, seems pretty redundant.

I'd have to confess that, not being up with the gourmet scene, the guess celebrity chefs and restaurants they visit are pretty much all news to me, but from the commentary, regular readers of the Sydney Morning Herald's (or Age's equivalent) Good Food guide would be in foody-fan heaven.

All up, good to see a tv show that actually has something positive going for it!

PS I want Julie to win. Although I quite like Chris too....

1 comment:

Aussie Therese said...

Julie is one of my favourites too. I find Chris a little annoying personally.

I have watched quite a few of the shows. I really like Team challenges. Tonight is a 90 minute one. I don't know if I could sit through a team challenge that goes that long.

I really would have liked Tom or Genni to get through and was quite disappointed that they were eliminated.