All right! I give in! Only no more, please, no more! It’s not that I don’t enjoy cooking programmes, I do and have loved them since the days of Philip Harben…sorry, New Zealand…Graham Kerr; it’s just the endless MasterChefs. In an average week there are about twenty-six cooking or food shows on television in New Zealand and that doesn’t include those on The Food Channel, that’s nearly four a day and of that free-to-air twenty-six, eleven are MasterChefs.
We are shown Australian, British, American, Celebrity, Professional, Australian Junior and of course, ever ready to jump on the programme band wagon, New Zealand, MasterChefs. I wait in dread for the likes of a national Junior Professional Celebrity MasterChef and sure as night follows day there will be Master MasterChef in the different counties and then who knows maybe an International Master Master Master wotsit and after a few years of that…leave it, Gerald!
There are already so many, together with repeats, that I get confused. Is this the one where the man that always wears a hat dropped his pudding but still got through or the one where the other man that always wears a hat served his potatoes raw and didn’t? They all cry and hug each other when they win and cry and hug each other when they lose. There is usually one competitor who, sadly, has a recently deceased relative and decides to share this when they present their masterpiece to the judges. And the judges…do they deliberately find one who has an annoying manner of eating? And why, when the contestants are uber-stressed by having 45 minutes to prepare something like a display platter of rabbit kidneys cooked nine different ways with a frozen herb, mustard and carambola foam and cardoons and salsify in chardonnay and squid ink aspic in the shape of the Sky Tower, do they wander up and ask inane questions like, “How’s it going?” and “You know you only have two minutes left?” As for the interminable wait before they tell the poor things which of them are coming back next week …that is just cruel!
Why do we watch them? Is it the food? Maybe; it isn’t always the kind of food I would enjoy but I admit I do get a little green-eyed when the master-wannabes are asked to help themselves from the lavish stock of goodies in the storeroom.
Is it the celebrities? Perhaps, most of them are fine cooks, although if I may climb on my language hobby-horse for a moment, would someone please tell them how to pronounce “sauté”, “turmeric” and “chorizo” and while they are about it point out that there is no such word as “restauranteur”.
Or is it the motor racing syndrome where seeing the winner is all very well but the crashes are far more exciting. Her soufflé has come out like a pancake; his sauce has separated at the last minute…will they fall apart and lose control on screen?
I know! I’m being picky but perhaps I am not alone. MasterChef first appeared in 1990 in the UK and the contestants had to cook a gourmet three-course dinner in under two hours and within a budget. The first winner was Joan Bunting who prepared a starter of mussels stuffed with pistou, a main course of quail stuffed with couscous with pine nuts, raisins and spring cabbage and dessert of floating islands. Earlier this year she is reported as saying of the recent programmes, “MasterChef is all about the drama. In my day it was more about cooking; now it’s more about the show and personalities…” She added, “I find parts of it really annoying – the bit where competitors leap around like lunatics…” But in spite of that and for whatever reason she, like me, continues to watch it.
This week’s cookbook might not contain recipes to win MasterChef; it’s a New Zealand book about making the everyday delicious. The recipes are creative and affordable and take the humble mince, be it beef, lamb, pork, chicken, seafood, even fruit and nuts to new heights. It’s beautifully set out and is that rare sort of cookbook that makes you want to cook recipe after recipe.
Minced by Sue Hamilton and Dana Alexander
Published by Penguin RRP $35.00