We’re only four episodes into this year’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 here’s why…
1. Gregg’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 canapés. Utensils will never be big enough for the former costermonger (he’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 latter’s conservative tasting methods. Mr. Wallace is indeed, a man I have no quibbles in relating to.
Aside from the inevitable “There’s-no-way-this-tray-which-has-come-straight-out-of-the-oven-can-be-hot-so-I’ll-pick-it-up-with-my-bare-hands” mentality that plagues amateur cooks with lesser-developed asbestos fingers, the producers don’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 isn’t much that MasterChef doesn’t serve up. A few years’ ago, the music had gotten so bangin’ 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 ‘chop’ of the knife or the ‘click’ of a blender. Sublime. Gregg was even dancing on the show last night.
Gregg’s fondness for food belies a discerning gourmand. If certain types of food (especially those with ‘fondant’, ‘pie’, ‘tart’ or ‘crumble’ in the name) are cooked to a relative degree of perfection, the viewers know about it. Not because of words (remember that Gregg’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 Galetti’s angryface
Not so much a fixture on the regular series, Galetti is Michel Roux Jr.’s right hand lady on the Professional shows. She can clearly cook, which helps, but at least she ain’t playing poker to earn a crust. Galetti’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 béarnaise, are genius. She is like the culinary equivalent of Jim Carrey.
Let’s face it, even though MasterChef does uncover the occasional superstar, the show is by-and-large a misfit’s parade of Sunday cooks, misguided food bloggers (I love food but but at least I know I can’t cook for shit) and other people who can only really be described as ‘tossers’. Some have read one-too-many books by Ferran Adrià, thinking that there is a way to combine Haribo and halibut, while others have culinary temperaments and talent akin to Rain Man. I’ll never forget the woman a few series’ ago who aced something like venison, caramel foam and posh sauce, before making a right c**t’s mess of pancakes. Two questions: how and why?
Some people cannot see the point of critics – I love ‘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 series’ approach of having previous MasterChef winners judge the food. Cue comments such as “the peach enhances the peachy flavour” and that a pear tarte tatin “tastes like pear”
8. Cooking for unreasonable numbers of people
How can you screw up Shepherd’s Pie? Well, give a MasterChef contestant a gas stove, tent in the woods and a brief to cook for forty people and they’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 ‘world’ 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 “I will eat there, and it will be good”. 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 don’t try, don’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 ‘The overweight taxi driver who never takes his cap off and cooks an unattractive but mouthwatering beef casserole’, ‘The innocent and slightly-attractive student who has never cooked more than beans on toast but give her a Dover Sole and she’ll show you who’s boss’ or ‘The housewife who hasn’t got a clue what she is doing or why she’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 after’
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.