Thursday, July 16, 2009

On Matters Masterchef

I'll admit it. Like most of the rest of the country I've been watching Masterchef assiduously for the last couple of months. Like everyone else I've developed something of a crush on Matt Preston. Have enjoyed immensely George's ability to invent new and torturous ways of twisting the English language into totally incomprehensible sentences, and have loved the way Gary perpetually looks as though he's swallowed a canary.

Like everyone else I've wanted to take Chris' hat and feed it to him, possibly with a side order of pigs head poached in beer-flavoured-tripe. I've despaired at the high sweat content of almost everything Julie cooks. I've revelled in Poh's complete meltdowns as she attempts to get out nine courses, all involving panadus, in under four minutes.

I've compared Matt Moran to a walking Roll-On deoderant, but without the appealing personality.

I've struggled to remember the host's name from one episode to the next.

But I haven't given a moment's thought to the effect of the show on the cooking industry, except to assume that 'it must be really great to be promoting cooking like this.'

This morning, though, on the way to work, Radio National had a fascinating interview with a chef and with the head of a large, tafe-based culinary school, and it was fascinating to hear their perspectives on the subject.

The title 'masterchef' for one thing. Sure, makes for great television, and I know it was brought under licence from the U.K. (though the U.K. version of masterchef is, in many ways, a very different animal from the Australian one), but I hadn't stopped to consider how insulting it might be to anyone who's worked their arse off for four years of culinary school, then through an apprenticeship, and then as a line cook for however many years it takes them to earn the title 'chef'. As one of the interviewees pointed out, he's been in the cooking industry for 40 years, and has yet to meet a 'master chef.'

It must also be horribly disappointing when you've spent a career in the kitchen, anonymously slaving over hot stoves, putting out hundreds of covers per night, to see the sort of opportunities and adulation being heaped upon the Masterchef contestants who are all (I'm sure) nice enough people and very good in the kitchen, but when all is said and done, are still just amatuer chefs.

It's kind of insulting, too - the implication that the cooking life is one that anyone with a bit of a palate and some reasonable kitchen skills can pick up in a few months. A little like when people discover that you write children's books and immediately tell you that 'I'm going to do that, one of these days' as though it's the simplest thing in the world to knock out a book.

So, as someone who loves food and who loves eating out, I just want to give a big shout out to all the chefs out there. And the cooks. And the apprentices. And the dishpigs out the back. Thanks for the effort you put in to feeding us. Thanks for your passion for food. Thanks for the 14 hour days and the lack of social life and for putting up with the burns and the heat and the demanding customers.

You're all masterchefs, in my book.

(I'm still going to watch the final few nights, though!)

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