Australian food television connoisseur and disappointment addict Eleanor Robertson journeys through cyber space and time to watch and recap TV3’s competitive cooking show, Masterchef New Zealand each week.
Ahh, Masterchef. Here we are again at the start of another season and I’m truly thrilled to waste precious hours of my life slumped on the couch like a depressed retiree, dribbling out the corner of my mouth and whispering ‘your risotto is literally a pile of throw-up, you twitchy little trash rat’ at contestants who look like people I’d casually avoid eye contact with at the bus stop. If that doesn’t get your pulse racing please log off this web page, hug your loved ones, and build a razor wire fence around your television to reduce your risk of becoming one of us.
This will be my first time watching Masterchef New Zealand because I’m an Australian, and like all Australians I’m casually chauvinistic about our cultural output for no good reason. But as it turns out the Kiwi version of this depraved franchise is extremely similar to the Aussie one, and within the first ten minutes I feel as though I’m watching an episode of Masterchef Australia with my head tilted sideways and a bit of cotton wool stuffed into my ears. Here are several things the shows have in common:
- The first episode involves whittling a shortlist of contestants down to the official top 24, who are marked by their possession of a Magic Apron with their name on it. An apron is prepared for every contestant who makes it into the top 50, and I assume those with the losers’ names embroidered on them are ceremonially burned by the most junior member of the production crew.
- The contestants provide puerile voiceovers containing semi-unique assemblages of a set of stock phrases like “my food dream,” “giving it 100%,” “get in there and give it my best,” “I’m passionate about cooking”, etc. This makes them sound like hostages being forced to read from pre-written ransom notes before being shot and/or beheaded.
- The judges are three middle-aged white guys who I already want to feed into a woodchipper like the villain does at the end of Fargo. I don’t know their names yet (see: Australian chauvinism), but all I see when they speak is torrents of blood and damnation. One of them is wearing a baseball cap indoors and it’s got a lobster on it, which I think means he’s the ringleader or king within their wicked culture and will be burned alive as an example to the other two.
- George Calombaris will be on at some stage, a man you may know as the village idiot of Masterchef Australia. George can barely read, often bounces up and down on the balls of his feet to convey emotion when his 400-word vocabulary fails him, and is the only judge on Masterchef Australia who can be relied upon to deliver its clunky scripts without a trace of self-awareness. If George weren’t a preternaturally gifted chef, he’d be getting fired from his job working in a convenience store for being continually swindled by local teens.
- At least two of the contestants are wearing jorts, jean shorts, on television, without shame. Nobody forced them to wear jorts; that’s simply the kind of people who go on Masterchef. Wearing jorts is a trait that correlates with emotional instability, which is just what you want on a show where the contestants are encouraged to invest their entire worth as people in a series of increasingly difficult but ultimately inconsequential challenges. The jorts-wearers are always the ones who break down in tears when their fish velouté is described as “an unexpected disappointment”.
So all 50 contestants cook their signature dishes, which range from excellent to garbage. Chris the builder does a good-looking ceviché and gets in. A Quirky Art Mum wearing chunky glass jewellery who says she has a “heightened sensitivity to anything kinesthetic” makes smoked goat pizza and gets booted out, which is a shame because she’s clearly mad and belongs on television. A young woman named Shannon who describes herself as “like, the boss of the fish and chip shop” makes steak and chips, gets in, and is bouncing off the walls with so much energy that I wonder if she’s taken up the traditional chef’s habit of snorting cocaine to get into the part properly.
And so on. Tim the physio says his passion for food started when he shot his first deer, and he’s got the crazy eyes to pull it off so he’s in too. 19-year-old Sarah gets an apron and her dad, who is on the verge of tears, says he hasn’t been this nervous since she was born. If Sarah’s got the same hair-trigger panic response as her dad, she’ll be weeping inconsolably into a pot of consommé in a Week 12 team challenge before she knows it. Some stony-faced old dude makes a Thai beef salad and one of the judges complains that he wants it to slap him in the face rather than caress him gently, which makes me feel uncomfortable.
22 contestants go straight through, and then the judges make the five who got a Maybe rather than a Yes or a No cook off for the remaining two aprons with a set of pre-specified ingredients including salmon and fennel. These ingredients have been ubiquitous in trendy suburban cooking for a decade; personally, I haven’t eaten anything except pan-seared salmon with fennel salad since the late ’90s.
But of course there are a couple of the Maybes who have never cooked salmon before, and instead of nicely crisping up the skin and finishing it with some acidity they bang it against the table and groan like cartoon cavemen while pissing in their own trousers. Then they’re tranquiliser darted and dragged out into a dumpster behind the studio, and the two who have cooked the salmon well are given the last two aprons amid torrents of tears.
And that just about wraps it up for the first episode of Masterchef New Zealand. I know it’s going to be a good season because I feel sleazy and a bit revolted with myself, but not quite as bad as when I watch The Bachelor.
Masterchef airs on TV3, Sundays at 7.30pm
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