Sunday, August 1, 2010

On Masterchef

For those of you who may be unaware, Masterchef is the newest televised cooking competition, starring celebrity chef and reality television veteran, Gordon Ramsay. The competition features amateur home cooks like you and me battling out for the title of Masterchef. There will be challenges and cookoffs and skill-tests, all designed to determine who should be the best candidate to go from cook to insta-chef. The winner gets $250K and their own cookbook.

This summer, I have felt my interest in Hell's Kitchen starting to wane, so I was excited to see a new Ramsay option, a new format, a new idea in cooking competitions! Turns out, it's not new at all. The show debuted in the UK and has spun-off to Australia and New Zealand already. In fact, the show seems to have been so successful in Australia as to warrant Celebrity and Junior editions. So, Ramsay has brought the format to the USA.

The first episode last Tuesday featured the first half of a process to reduce the roughly 100 lucky folks gleaned from the thousands and thousands who applied for the show down to 30 spots reserved for those deemed to cook good enough signature dishes to warrant moving on. The top 30 get fancy Masterchef aprons.

These were my first impressions of the show:

Anytime your show features Joe Public, there is a real risk of treacly personal stories distracting from the show's purpose. Masterchef falls victim to this risk with absolutely no apologies, applying liberal doses of stories about sacrifice, loss, illness and seemingly-insurmoutable challenges. YAWN. The one story that did inspire the hint of a tear for me was the contestant who was cooking from the family recipes documented by her mother shortly before her sudden death. And the reason I was moved by this story is that it actually related to the theme of the show, that being the relationship between ordinary folks and cooking.

But that was really the only downside for me. The show featured a delightful selection of missteps (beer cheese soup) and successes (pan-seared duck breast), a wonderful range of personalities and a healthy dose of drama.

I agree with the reviewer from EW who stated that the very best thing about the new show is the judging panel, of which Ramsay is only 1/3. The other two judges are Graham Elliot Bowles and Joe Bastianich, who may be my new favourite reality television personality, delivering absolutely bone-chilling stares to all the contestants, good and bad. The three judges have good chemistry, though Bowles seems a little bit unsure of himself and his feedback occasionally came across as artificial. But otherwise, I think that these three have great potential to be both entertaining and insightful!

So the show entertained me enough to warrant the highly-sought after PVR series recording. I don't intend to review every episode, but watch for future commentary as the show develops!

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