Stephen Jardine: Masterchef whets the nation's palate again

Like millions of dieters Stephen Jardine tried to give up the cookery show but was tempted by yet another helping
Mastercher will be back on our screens again soon. Picture: PAMastercher will be back on our screens again soon. Picture: PA
Mastercher will be back on our screens again soon. Picture: PA

Not this year, I promised myself. Ten years after the rebooted format hit TV screens, Masterchef is back on TV screens for 12 weeks and this time I was prepared.

In the run up, I made a swift calculation. With hour long episodes running three times a week until mid May, dedicated viewing would involve giving at least 24 hours of my life to Masterchef. That is time that could be spent ironing, gardening or volunteering to help charities.

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My mind was made up, until I caught sight of John Torode’s smirk and Greg Wallace’s new spectacles in a trailer. Like millions of others, once again I was hooked.

With occasional small tweaks, the format is always the same. An assorted bunch of amateur cooks try to impress the judges with their basic skills before being thrown into professional kitchens where we watch them sink or swim.

At least in the early episodes, the fascination is with the people who have filled in the application forms, taken time off work and travelled all the way to London just to burn a pork chop or undercook a chicken breast.

Have these people ever actually watched the series they are hoping to win ? If so they should know that a double helping of optimism and a sprinkling of arrogance is not enough to compensate for an inability to cook a steak.

Despite that, they soldier on. Both John and Gregg seem to be mellowing with age so it’s usually left to professional critics or chefs to deliver the body blows before they are eventually sent home to inflict more crimes against food.

Then we can concentrate on the potential winners. If the start of the series is about worrying about the self delusion of some people in the kitchen, the final stages are an impressive lesson in how we can all grow and learn.

Last year’s winner Simon was shaking so badly as the start he could barely hold a spoon but by the end of the competition he was wowing a judging panel consisting of Britain’s top chefs. “His journey has been remarkable”, said John at the time. Watching that progression is a big part of the appeal of the series.

It also lends itself to the way we consume television nowadays. The new Masterchef hit the screens as Twitter was born and ten years on the latest series trended this week as viewers shared opinions and observations on their devices as the action unfolded on their screens.

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The hot topic was the fashion for deconstructed food where contestants take something like a cheesecake and reduce it to a pile of biscuit crumb, a blob of cream cheese some fruit on the side.

It didn’t go down well on social media with one person calling it “can’t be bothered to cook cooking”. Thankfully the judges agreed. As is obvious from Gregg’s cardigan and braces, fashion doesn’t matter in the world of Masterchef.

Water baths, spiralizers and foams have come and gone as trends but genuine passion for food and a great palate always matters much more when it comes to producing the ultimate winner.

It’s often said we are a now a nation that prefers watching food on TV to cooking food in real life, but the level of skill and ambition on Masterchef suggests instead many people are inspired to cook by what they see.

Right now another winner is in the making and once again, millions, including me, will be watching.

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