The celebration of multiculturalism and a winning triad of judges makes MasterChef Australia a hit, but is this Australia love story now stretching it a bit?
I’m neither a food junkie nor an aspiring chef. I cook in order to survive. So why do I get withdrawal symptoms when a MasterChef Australia season gets over?
Figures show I’m not the only one. There are around 3 million viewers from 37 countries who salivate over a programme that is all sugar, spice and everything NICE. No grandstanding, dragon-slaying judges, no back-stabbing contestant, and no rolling pins flying in the air. Just tears shed for departing contestants, bear hugs all around and the sheer love of cooking under pressure. Too good to be true?
Let’s pull out a checklist to analyse why MasterChef Australia has us all hopping on our toes a la judge George Calombaris come primetime.
The first tick: the celebration of multiculturalism. Look at the contestants: you have Egyptian, Moroccan, Thai, Chinese, Lebanese, Sri Lankan, Indian, Greek, Italian and French blood mingling with Australia’s plasma to make it a melting pot of immigrant flavours.
Amateur cooks — when challenged to serve up dishes with time-a-ticking and exacting judges to please — fall back on the basics: their mother’s cooking. And guess what? The programme is sponsored by Tourism Australia, and the judges (two British, one Greek-born) know their brief. So you have portly George saying: “I used to be a Greek god, now I’ve got a body like a goddamn Greek,” adding a dollop of humour to the tense proceedings.
Not a jarring note
The second winning ingredient is the triad of Matt Preston, George and Gary Mehigan, the judges of the show. Theirs is a mellifluous orchestra with not a jarring note. Toss in Matt’s poetic discourse when a dish pleases him; Gary’s spot-on critique; and the warmth that George portrays despite his dip-and-duck rugby stance and you have a winning dish. It makes you wonder at the number of rehearsals before a take, the slick editing and the unobtrusive backdoor staff…and the frequent absence of judge Matt Moran, who belies the theory that men don’t look sexy in an apron.
The thrill factor is next. It starts with a fleeting view of a pantry stocked with the most benign ingredients and the slap-on-your-cheek sight of a pig’s carcass laid out as inspiration for a challenge. For all reality shows, viewers have their favourite contestants and you join them in that adrenaline rush to the elimination round. As long as there’s no YouTube watcher in your midst, the excitement lasts to the very end.
Last on the list: fashion on the plate. Men’s fashion needs no greater ambassador than Matt Preston. However smartly turned out Gary and George may be, it’s Matt’s cravat and his pink, green or yellow trousers that tell you a thing or two about style.
But is this Australia love story stretching it a bit? A new season of Junior MasterChef is already on air just as the MasterChef All Stars bows out. Will it go the way of cricket — from the classy Test matches to one-dayers to the slapdash T-20?