Thursday, 3 March 2011

One too many ingredients on the plate.

I was determined to do a non food-related blog this time, but have been sadly lacking in inspiration. I did go and see an 'interesting' interpretation of Carmen by Opera North lately, but, though I like opera, I'm certainly no expert so that's a bit too far out of my comfort zone. Not that I'm a food expert either, but I've eaten more food than I've seen operas, so that's good enough for me.

Alas, since our wonderful visit to Hibiscus we've not been lucky enough to sample any more food of that quality. A trip to the local curry house after Carmen, while nice, was not worthy of its own blog. So, instead of a food blog, this is a food TV blog. It's about MasterChef.

I first stumbled across MasterChef quite by accident a few years ago. Actually, that's not quite right. I knew of the Loyd Grossman hosted programme that used to be on Sunday afternoons and was all very stuffy and formal. The new version was different however. Although it was, technically, reality TV (of which I am the sworn enemy) it was different to that too. For a start, the competitors wouldn't be clogging the music charts with bilge for years to come. There were no telephone numbers to save our favourites, nor pantomime-villain judges. There wasn't even any prize (apart from a trophy) - just ordinary people trying to use their passion for food and cooking to launch a career.

The format has remained pretty much the same since I really took interest: an invention test to wheedle out the unimaginative, tests on ingredient knowledge and a series of challenges before we finally get our winner. All presented by top chef John Torode and ingredients expert Gregg Wallace, and delivered for the main in punchy, half-hour episodes.

Earlier this year, trailers for the new series started to appear. 'New format' they said. 'See the auditions' they declared. Naturally this had me intrigued. Surely this would make an already great programme into even more compulsive viewing. Well..... no, not really. We're three weeks in now and what have we had?

Week 1 was the aforementioned auditions. Clare and I settled down to watch with eager anticipation. But what was this? Cook whatever you like? Where was the invention test? Where were the no-hopers who grate butter thinking it's cheese? WHY ARE THEIR FRIENDS AND FAMILIES WATCHING? We don't want to see close-ups of them blubbing, or hear about their deceased relatives. THIS IS MASTERCHEF!

Week 2, in fairness, was better. Down to the last 20 contestants, an invention test (hurrah!) got rid of some more, before a task involving cooking a three-course meal for previous winners and runners-up knocked a couple more out, leaving us with the final 10.

Then this week, the contestants were split into two teams, given some of the finest Scottish ingredients and told to design and cook a two-course lunch for contenders in the Highland Games. The winning team would get to cook at a banquet under the watchful eye of Michelin-starred chef Tom Kitchin. The losers would be sent back to MasterChef HQ to cook for their survival. And in the losing team, one of you will get fired. Oops, wrong programme.

But that's entirely my point. In trying to change and evolve, MasterChef seems to have taken a leaf out of the books of other successful reality TV shows. The emotion, the loved-ones looking on with anxiety, the drawn-out process of losing one contestant in one show a week. In doing this, the makers of the programme are, in my opinion, doing the old format a disservice. It didn't need the added glitz - it worked and viewers loved it.

I'll continue to watch of course because, well, it's MasterChef! But I really hope that the programme goes back to its roots again next year. After all, cooking doesn't get tougher than that.