Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Masterchef gets panned

If I had my way, I'd ban cookery shows once and for all. Too many celebrity chefs giving the viewers at home delusions of grandeur. Now every boozer with a set of matching placemats can rebrand itself a 'gastropub', because the bloke in the kitchen spent one lonely evening learning to make spun sugar.

And then there's the chefs themselves. During my formative years I spent many a school holiday working as a waiter in a bunch of different restaurants. And although the star ratings may have varied, there was always one constant - obnoxious chefs who had such anger management issues that they'd make Naomi Campbell seem like a reasonable employer. Somehow, the ones on TV manage to come across even worse. Even Jamie Oliver, who normally acts as though butter wouldn't melt in his mouth (probably because there's no room in there), shouts and swears like the police chief in an eighties mis-matched cop thriller.

When they're not driving their kitchen porters to self-harm with a butter curler, they're trying to convince us that all that fussy perfectionism is just a ruse. In reality, they'd rather be pinching down the crust of a game pie before dishing it up for the cast of Straw Dogs. Yeah, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, I mean you. Those bucolic bezzies of yours piss in your tankard whenever you leave the room to pan-sear some venison.

As if the schedules weren't already overrun by egotistical pan-flingers, Masterchef returns to our screens tonight for its eighth series. Once again John and Gregg, looking like Great Yarmouth waxworks of Richard Littlejohn and Al Murray, are on the lookout for a new telegenic dictator, willing to torture the kitchen staff with a crème brûlée blowtorch. Having sifted through thousands of applicants, there are 24 finalists left to compete for 12 'Masterchef' aprons. Seems like a lot of fuss for something you could pick up for a fiver in Lakeland.

First off, tonight's eight contestants have ten minutes to pick a selection of ingredients from a neat little larder that's been set up at the front of the room. It's a tiny little Waitrose, but without the hand-held scanners. "You know the rules", says John Torrode, before explaining them anyway. Well, there's an hour of airtime to fill.

Then it's time for a quick introduction to the amateur cooks. Shelina tells us that she's given up her job to focus on Masterchef, so I guess we'll have to wait and see whether she's counting her chickens before they've been spatchcocked. Speaking of poultry, Tom scored early points with a 'three-way chicken'. If that's his thing there are a few bars I could refer him to. Christine has a "slight obsession" with food, but undermines her point by mistaking a Dover sole for plaice.

Aki is a quantum physicist who wowed the lads with her bento box. That's not a euphemism, by the way. Oblivious to how her offer comes across, Aki invites Gregg and John to visit her bedroom, in order to see how messy she can be. Better to save those shenanigans for the after-party. And finally, we have Ross, who's drawn to the "showy-offy" side of cooking. He says 'ta-da' with a straight face, and 'rocks on' to ACDC when he makes food. I think I'd have trouble keeping anything down if he was cooking for me. By the end of this introductory round the music has swelled to such dramatic levels that I keep expecting Tom Cruise to lower himself into the studio on a fishing line.

As the hopeful contestants present their dishes, the lads ask Eamonn where he was hiding last year. Sadly, he's too choked up to reply, but it's hard to tell whether he's getting emotional or trying to swallow one of his own clams. The show takes a turn towards the creepy as John and Gregg start salivating at the prospect of Tom, the young plasterer. It gets even worse when Gregg gives us a burst of Hannibal Lecter's lip-smacking when critiquing a lemon tartlet. Christine presents her plate of notplaice to the guys, but as well as misidentifying it, she's also overseasoned and overcooked it. As the boys cogitate, she looks as though she's trying to eat her own face from the inside. Maybe she should have served that instead.

As is customary for the first episode of any talent contest, we get a reprise of the old "if this is the standard, we're in for a great series" cliche. But don't worry if you missed it first time around, they'll say it again in a couple of minutes' time. They also describe Tom's cooking as "heart-stopping stuff"which could either be a complement, or a suggestion that he lay off the Lurpak. Shelina tells us that she hopes to stay keen to her roots, which is great in theory, but could become repetitive and samey over the coming weeks. Let's call it the Janet Devlin factor.

With two contestants already ditched, John tells the remaining hopefuls: "You thought that was tough, now it's going to get a lot tougher." Sadly, he neglects to follow this up with "We're going to release you in Windsor safari park with a spork and a pack of firelighters in order to catch, kill and cook dinner." Instead, they're off to two of London's most respected restaurants to put their skills to the ultimate test. Although The Living Room seems like a nice enough place to work, Gilgamesh head chef Ian Pengelley manages to come across like a titanic cock, full of 'my way or the highway' sub-Ramsay bullshit. He comments that Eamonn seems a little nervous, which is understandable given the unnecessary way he's yelling at everyone. In contrast, the boss at The Living Room tries to be more agreeable, encouraging and helpful, rather than threatening to sever a finger every time someone falls short with the drizzle bottle.

As the challenge draws to a close, the action movie music starts up again. There's a big bloke at the bar asking one of the waitresses if she's Sarah Connor. Meanwhile, Ross is complaining that he's ripped his hands to shreds. Then again, he's a recruitment consultant, so a hard day's work might well be a shock to the system.
Before we've had chance to digest the drama, it's back into the studio to cook again, as our judges crank up the over-expressive homoeroticism to a laughable degree. After a tough time in the Gilgamesh kitchen, Eammon tells us that he wants to get his emotion out on the plate. Just tell them it's crème anglaise and it can be our little secret. Aki has prepared a selection of Japanese dishes that Gregg says he could sleep in. So there you go, he'd rather wrap himself in udon noodles than set foot inside your bedroom.

To be fair to the contestants, their final dishes all look incredible, but there's an alarming amount of froth and foam on display. Eating one of these meals would be like plucking leftovers from Cujo's muzzle. Time for the results, and Aki, Shelina, Tom, Eamonn and Emma are all through. So much for four finalists being selected - that exasperated sigh is coming from the luckless chippie who's just been told he needs to knock up another cooking station by the end of the week. 

1 comment:

  1. Have you noticed how white the contestants' teeth are? I missed episode 1 but in the second they were all gleaming. Most looked like dodgy oversized laminates, too white and unflattering. I hope the poor sods get some fame to make up for sacrificing their knashers.