Marketing might have you believe Masterchef is a show about cooking. Vanessa Crofskey is here to inform you what it’s really about: dads.
There’s something addictive about Masterchef. At one point in high school I watched it everyday. Two minute noodles and cold cups of tea would be slurped down in indigestible succession as my family gathered around a four-channel television, wondering who would be sent home or who would win that coveted immunity pin. Now I watch reruns whenever I’m depressed, the pressure of that clock ticking like instant acupuncture.
Masterchef is a universal delight, beloved by immigrant parents and middle class mums alike. It’s an underdog success story based around people making delicious meals and some of those knife skills are legit impressive. It’s also just really fun to watch people fuck up under pressure. Plus, Nadia Lim won Season Two of Masterchef NZ, and after Bic Runga, she’s our country’s most precious natural resource.
I’m not a chef. I’m an OK cook who knows how to make three dishes pretty well. I love watching this show, and for all the wrong reasons. My hypothesis is: are we all just watching Masterchef to search for the approval of our stern and estranged father figures?
Let’s get real, there’s a 45 minute YouTube compilation with over nine million views exclusively dedicated to judges flipping their lids on promising competitors. Something about old white men telling off hopeful young somethings gets to our inner shame in a way that only Pornhub has previously managed.
This show is a nationwide phenomenon and so are emotionally crippled adults coping with uneasy relationships with their parents. All I’m saying is, has a beloved 7pm tune-in become a way for all of us to collectively deal with our daddy issues?
Bearing this in mind, I’ve assigned each Masterchef judge a type of Disapproving Dad.
Sugar Daddy: Matt Preston (Masterchef Australia)
“There’s some dishes that are… complete Frankenstein disasters” – Matt Preston.
Matt Preston has BDE and by that I mean Big Daddy Energy. He is the Best Judge on Masterchef and the white man in my life I most want to impress.
When I watch him throw the dish of a young beanied man on the ground with a flourished “that is disgusting” I can’t help but imagine cooking scrambled eggs for him in the morning and him scraping them into the sink. He tells me that I should have used cream instead of almond milk. He doesn’t care that I’m lactose intolerant. He only cares about the quality of my ingredients and how fresh and engaged my palate is. This man is a double shot full cream cappuccino who you’re never quite going to impress. Many contestants on the show fawn over his praise and I wonder whether they’re seeking the affection that they never quite received when they were kids.
Imposter Dad: Gary Mehigan (Masterchef Australia)
Gary Mehigan has this really weird character act where he tries to become a mentor to every promising individual on the show – except he’s not as invested in it as the other two judges. Sit down Gary! You are being the absent father figure to their own absent fathers which is not what these contestants need in the last 30 seconds they have to plate their dishes.
In Masterchef Australia season four episode 31, a contestant makes a joke about not ‘choking’ on an artichoke during Gary’s cooking tutorial. Everyone cringed and laughed but Gary didn’t even look up from his cooking.
While everyone’s real fathers are at home persuading their younger siblings to pursue accounting, Gary Mehigan continues to not pull his weight as much as the other two. Sure, Gary has the quality of seeming both caring and patronising, proud and yet distant, but he’s just not that into it. He’s not there enough when his children (read: contestants) need him to be. That’s what makes him an impostor to dad figures globally.
Micro Manage Dad: George Calombaris (Masterchef Australia)
George Calombaris must have trust issues passed down from his own Culinary Father Figure. Unlike Gary, George cannot leave these contestants alone! George does not trust these grown adults to tie their own shoelaces correctly, let alone know how to prepare shrimp. I feel like he is forever pottering around their kitchen benches commenting on whether they have potentially overcooked their asparagus by two milliseconds instead of doing something useful like having enough trust and faith in a person’s own capacity to succeed and fail.
His attentiveness may seem like care, but it hides a general lack of trust that will eventually cause grand fissures of emotional damage through his interpersonal interactions, causing a ripple effect of harmful micromanaging from these contestants to their own future relations.
It is also incredibly weird that all the young POC people keep saying “Yes George” to him. You are not their saviour! Don’t just constantly be their saving grace! Am I exorcising too much emotional trauma in here?
Problematic Dad: Simon Gault (Masterchef NZ)
I don’t know Simon Gault and I don’t want to be sued for defamation, but I assume he has racist parents. I think his family might hold lightly xenophobic views on border politics and that he comes from money, probably farming or property development.
Simon, why are you calling all the female contestants by their first names? Simon, why are you wondering whether someone’s ethnicity might be ‘sliding too much’ into their cuisine? Is your ethnicity sliding too much into your own mouth? Why are you mocking someone for not knowing what saffron is? Did you eat lovingly prepared oat porridge with chia seeds, gold leaf and Canadian imported genuine maple syrup for breakfast every morning? Were you told to follow your dreams in a double income household? Not everyone grows up in a money tree orchard!
We forget sometimes that white people colonised half the world for spices because their tastebuds were getting boring and then gentrified the shit out of them to make most of those spices inaccessible to the communities they belong to. Simon Gault laughing at someone not knowing how to use saffron in like the second episode was too much for me and that’s why he’s the Problematic Dad of this group. Sorry.
Emotionally Cold Art Dad: Ray McVinnie (Masterchef New Zealand)
Ray McVinnie is a true intellectual and probably the most qualified of the judges on Masterchef NZ. Based on his intro, he probably qualifies for an honorary doctorate from Le Cordon Bleu. But because he’s an intellectual (see: thick rimmed glasses) he’s also flinchingly critical, of himself and others. Ray gets so focused on the minor details of a dish, he forgets that you’re six years old and lines are really hard to colour inside of.
I do think this man genuinely cares about food, his kids, and moreover the progress of his contestants, but boy does he hold his applause at arm’s length. It’s infuriating when he gives one of the competitors an 8/10 when everyone knows they hands down deserved a 10. Who gives a fuck if their peas needed a little extra seasoning? He’s too weak to admit they did exceedingly well and he should articulate how proud he is of them! Ray should watch that Brené Brown Ted Talk on vulnerability before he comes back for a new season. Lest his love becomes like my microwave: hard to see inside of and ultimately broken.
‘Work It Zaddy’ Daddy: Josh Emett (Masterchef New Zealand)
Just here to say that Josh can get it!!!
I really don’t know if Josh Emett does the lion’s share of work on this show but he’s real hot and Stuff described him as a ‘family man’. I imagine him as a husband who finds the work/life balance extremely taxing. There have been a few times he has gotten annoyed at his children for having fun too loudly when he was trying to concoct a new recipe or build a culinary restaurant chain empire. I imagine he doesn’t cook at home as much as he likes and always forgets the dishes. I reckon he puts a lot of energy into perilously excavating the new frontiers of cuisine, but who is establishing meaningful relationships with his real life children? Josh, they need their father!
The OG Daddy: Gordon Ramsay (Masterchef USA)
Gordon Ramsay is the OG Masterchef Dad. He’s practically the patriarchy in the form of a skillet. So why do I crave his approval so desperately?
Just like the thousands of people who have sent him terrible images of dishes on Twitter for the opportunity for him to ruthlessly cut them to shreds, we all secretly want to be lambasted by Gordon Ramsay. Gordon Ramsay – I have to use his full name.
Gordon Ramsay takes his volatile temper and anger issues out on you, but it’s OK. Yes, he called you a downright failure who deserves nothing more than to jump headfirst into a vat of oil because you’re so pathetic that even your own grandmother is ashamed of being related. But it’s just that he really wants you to tough it out and succeed on a white man’s terms. Cut to some emotional footage where he tells you how proud he is for making it this far, and all the past emotional abuse he has put you through is forgotten and forgiven. But late at night as you’re piping dots of buttercream into pastry shells, you’ll remember how ashamed he made you feel. Just remember: what all men in power really want is to be told that they’re worthless. I hope someone is fulfilling that for him.
There’s something eerily familiar about watching an old white man tell a person who is not an old white man that he’s disappointed in their lack of effort at mastering an outdated technique that divides the stars from the wannabes. Does it remind me of the arts industry? Probably!
It’s almost self-harm to watch young, bright, usually POC talents get told by esteemed industry heads that they could have been the next big thing. Except, they just didn’t have what it took not to crumble under the overwhelming pressure of having to represent an entire ‘authentic’ continent of cuisines when they’re Vietnamese and the signature dish to be cooked that night is a beef rendang.
My takeaways from Masterchef: Dad Lessons is that life is a meritocracy and white men got to where they are not just from considerable talent and expertise, but also money, networks, opportunities, Eurocentric influence and the tabloid publicity that comes from cheating on their partners.
Just kidding about the last bit! It really doesn’t matter if an esteemed white male judge makes weird jokes about spanking the female contestants (hello, Jamie Oliver’s Masterchef Australia guest appearance) because we should be grateful for the opportunity to watch more of them flex their power on prime time TV.
Masterchef is a wild ride and so is masculinity but hey, at least Nigella Lawson gets to judge occasionally!
This content, like all television coverage we do at The Spinoff, is brought to you thanks to the excellent folk at Lightbox. Do us and yourself a favour by clicking here to start a FREE 30 day trial of this truly wonderful service.