Weâ€™re only four episodes into this yearâ€™s series and MasterChef has already reaffirmed itself as the King of Win, of greater cultural significance to food than that place which invested Pork Pies. And hereâ€™s why…
1. Greggâ€™s limitless greed
The legend that is Mr. Wallace loves a good pudding. Turns out he loves a good starter and main course too. And canapÃ©s. Utensils will never be big enough for the former costermonger (heâ€™s done little else) and he is in his element whether levering a brick of Dauphinoise into his cheeky chubby mouth, or berating John Torode over the latterâ€™s conservative tasting methods. Mr. Wallace is indeed, a man I have no quibbles in relating to.
Aside from the inevitable â€œThereâ€™s-no-way-this-tray-which-has-come-straight-out-of-the-oven-can-be-hot-so-Iâ€™ll-pick-it-up-with-my-bare-handsâ€ mentality that plagues amateur cooks with lesser-developed asbestos fingers, the producers donâ€™t exactly make life easy for the contestants. The poor bastards have to contend with a pretty sticky-looking set of double-doors when serving food to critics – the BBC may as well go all out and merge MasterChef with Total Wipeout.
3. The music
Ambient House, Classical, Electro, Lounge, Dub – aside from Grime, there really isnâ€™t much that MasterChef doesnâ€™t serve up. A few yearsâ€™ ago, the music had gotten so banginâ€™ that the BBC was compelled to reveal the whole damn playlist. A special mention must go to the producers who every now and then play a track, before muting it, causing the beat to momentarily be replaced with an in-time â€˜chopâ€™ of the knife or the â€˜clickâ€™ of a blender. Sublime. Gregg was even dancing on the show last night.
Greggâ€™s fondness for food belies a discerning gourmand. If certain types of food (especially those with â€˜fondantâ€™, â€˜pieâ€™, â€˜tartâ€™ or â€˜crumbleâ€™ in the name) are cooked to a relative degree of perfection, the viewers know about it. Not because of words (remember that Greggâ€™s mouth is usually full) but through weak knees, eyes rolled back, shut, or crossed, with the spoon lingering in the mouth, like the gift that keeps on giving. Over the years, Gregg has perfected culinary cumface.
5. Monica Galettiâ€™s angryface
Not so much a fixture on the regular series, Galetti is Michel Roux Jr.â€™s right hand lady on the Professional shows. She can clearly cook, which helps, but at least she ainâ€™t playing poker to earn a crust. Galettiâ€™s comical facial expressions, gurned out as a misguided contestant moves one step away from open hand surgery using a paring knife the wrong way, or when a poor unfortunate splits his/her bÃ©arnaise, are genius. She is like the culinary equivalent of Jim Carrey.
Letâ€™s face it, even though MasterChef does uncover the occasional superstar, the show is by-and-large a misfitâ€™s parade of Sunday cooks, misguided food bloggers (I love food but but at least I know I canâ€™t cook for shit) and other people who can only really be described as â€˜tossersâ€™. Some have read one-too-many books by Ferran AdriÃ , thinking that there is a way to combine Haribo and halibut, while others have culinary temperaments and talent akin to Rain Man. Iâ€™ll never forget the woman a few seriesâ€™ ago who aced something like venison, caramel foam and posh sauce, before making a right c**tâ€™s mess of pancakes. Two questions: how and why?
Some people cannot see the point of critics – I love â€˜em to pieces. My favourite MasterChef episodes are the ones where John and Gregg are joined by Guy Fawkes lookalike Jay Rayner, the fearsome Kate Spicer and Peter Griffin. My issue is with people pretending to be critics, such as the current seriesâ€™ approach of having previous MasterChef winners judge the food. Cue comments such as â€œthe peach enhances the peachy flavourâ€ and that a pear tarte tatin â€œtastes like pearâ€
8. Cooking for unreasonable numbers of people
How can you screw up Shepherdâ€™s Pie? Well, give a MasterChef contestant a gas stove, tent in the woods and a brief to cook for forty people and theyâ€™ll show you how. Yep, the cooking en masse test (usually thrown up in the semi finals) is an amusing insight into how three or four very competitive people a) cannot work together b) cannot manage time and c) can become flummoxed by cooking for more than ten people. Simplicity is the key, hence Shepherds Pie etcetera, but past performance suggests the need for further dumbing down. Maybe a trough of Corn Flakes served with a milk jus.
9. Restaurant Recommendations
I have MasterChef to thank for opening my eyes to a world (by â€˜worldâ€™ I mean London) beyond McDonalds and Pizza Hut. The professional kitchen heats are great fun and have enabled me to discover many amazing haunts. The first one was the legendary Goodman (coming to TFT soon, when I can afford it), where, even as I was watching a contestant murder a piece of steak before being pulled off the broiler by the irate head chef, I was thinking â€œI will eat there, and it will be goodâ€. Even the absolutely shocking Mango Tree looks alright on TV.
Forget Dodgeball, MasterChef is the true underdog story. My favourite cooks on the show are the ones that donâ€™t try, donâ€™t care and as a result, churn out honest, unpretentious cooking. Every series fields a few such contestants who shine brightly before getting stumped out in the semis. Such stereotypes include â€˜The overweight taxi driver who never takes his cap off and cooks an unattractive but mouthwatering beef casseroleâ€™, â€˜The innocent and slightly-attractive student who has never cooked more than beans on toast but give her a Dover Sole and sheâ€™ll show you whoâ€™s bossâ€™ or â€˜The housewife who hasnâ€™t got a clue what she is doing or why sheâ€™s on the show but her hubby thinks it is a good idea and she loves lamb and lamb loves her and they all lived happily ever afterâ€™
What will Gregg go weak-at-the-knees for next? Well, MasterChef is currently digging up the current crop of cooks on BBC1 most evenings, so take a look for yourself! I recommend watching it on a full stomach.