It’s Masterchef time, not the professionals, not the celebrities, but people like me… ordinary cooks… except the contestants aren’t at all like me because they are super-cooks! I love cooking and love food, but I’m nowhere near the talents and skill of these contestants. They come from every walk of life and every corner of the UK; I watch every year and every year I’m as intrigued, excited – disappointed when a favourite of mine leaves, and in general amazed… and actually fairly often gob-smacked!
This year, i do have to say, a long with a lot of other viewers, i think the standard has been higher than ever! Yes, there have been some strange and not very good dishes – but I believe the people who cooked them who say it’s not up to their usual standard, because of the nerves and the tension and the excitement. However – disappointed as I am by some of my favourites leaving, I’m sure that we are left with the best three cooks for tonight’s final.
I’m not going to talk about them, however, or about their amazing food, but just a little about the real reason I watch. Yes, as I said, I love everything about food, buying it, cooking it, talking about it reading about it (I have far too many cook books) watching programmes about it and of course eating it and sharing it with family and friends!
I’m going to talk about one of the premises of the programme – that it’s a competition, in rounds, where the best cooks from each round are chosen by two judges, the same two judges all the way through. Now unless we, the viewers trust the judges then there is no point at all in watching the programme. If we think the judges are not impartial or have favourites who they put through even though they didn’t seem to do as well as others, then we might as well not watch the programme.
The programme lasts half an hour or an hour. The challenges the contestants face can last anything up to five hours, as they did last night. We only see edited highlights of what happened, we only see what the programme makers want us to see. To make the programme more exciting they probably highlight certain aspects – all the disasters of one contestant, all the clever skills of another; to add drama they may show a series of mishaps from one person but none of the disasters from another..
We the viewers engage with the constants, so again the producers show us their take on the personality of the person – maybe someone always seems nervous, or too cocky, or strange, or boring – but just as in a drama we have ‘characters’ so in the cookery programme we are watching we are shown ‘characters’ – Mr Ice Cool, Mr Cute and Lovable, Miss Hiding-Nerves-Behind-An-Impassive-Face, Mr I-Can’t-Believe-You-Are-Really-Going-To-Cook-That-Weird-Combination-Of-Strange-Ingredients.
Above all, we viewers cannot taste or even smell the dishes. We have no idea what the food tastes like – the most beautiful dish might taste awful, the messiest plate of grub might taste divine. We have to trust the judges. There are two of them, a renowned chef who has world-famous restaurants, and a man who has worked in the food trade (he was a green-grocer) and has come through to become a TV personality with an enormous experience of everything to do with food, from growing and production, through process, cooking, marketing, selling, buying and of course, eating!
When I watch the programme, I can’t say I disagree with a judge about the food or how it was cooked – I didn’t see that, and obviously I didn’t taste it! I might think I know lots about food, but I don’t know as much as the judges do. I might ‘like’ a contestant – but really I know nothing about them whether they are nice or not, whether they are cold and unfeeling or warm, engaging and empathetic… I’m imagining their characters, and imagining how I think their food might taste.
It makes me really mad, really fuming, really absolutely furious when people on social media say somebody’s food is rubbish – it might not to be to their taste, but we viewers can’t say it’s rubbish (or worse words) because we don’t taste it.
It makes me equally mad if not more so, when viewers criticise the contestants for how they perceive their characters and personalities – we don’t know, we have never met them!
It makes steam just about come out of my ears when they say the judges have favourites or want a particular person to win or discriminate against someone else. No they don’t otherwise there would be no programme! If you really think that, then the whole programme in your mind is a con – SO DON’T WATCH IT!
And last of all… contestants, as I said, come from all over the place, and being the sort of country Britain is, many of the cook have different heritages and family connections. This will obviously influence what they cook – so the lady from Portugal cooks a many Portuguese dishes, the guy from Thailand cooks mostly Thai dishes. There is a lot of criticism about this and I think much of it has a racist element – and I find that abhorrent and disgusting… and again, if you think that the cooks should all cook ‘British’ food (whatever that is!) well, that is never going to happen, so DON’T WATCH MASTERCHEF!!
PS Good luck to all three contestants tonight, you are amazing and I love you all!!