The Masterchef franchise has conquered the world. And when TV franchises conquer the world there is only one thing television executives want them to do next. Conquer more! The option of expanding into the Solar System and from there the Milky Way (just think of the opportunities for product placement) being at the present moment denied by those pesky luggards at NASA's inability to develop a warp drive the programme commisioners have been forced to fall back on the age old solution of making the same show again with a slight twist. The new twist here is that the ten wannabe chefs are...already chefs. I bet that caused an awkward pause at the pitch. But...only some will prove good enough to cook for Michel Roux Jr. who not only has two Michelin stars but also sounds like a sauce base. It's as if Gordon Ramsey was called Gordon Ramikin.
Eschewing the laughably obvious method of measuring the chef's skill by...er...going to their retaurants and eating there the programme makers have instead plumped for the far more radical option of treating them all like amateurs and dragging them up to London to cook in the same shiny industrial-looking kitchen.
Nor are the judges the same as before. The internet swirls with rumours that John Torode departed when he was hospitalised with repetitive strain injury to the jaw after saying “Cooking Doesn't Get Any Tougher Than This” for the one millionth time. He has been replaced by Monica who is Michel's sou-chef (she makes Roux's roues). Monica is the “bad” judge. She points out”errors” with unsmiling severity and tells chefs that she would be ashamed to serve their dish to her boss. The competitors carry their dishes away rueing (I couldn't resist) their mistakes and occasionally their missteaks (I'll stop now).
Unlike Torode, Greg Wallace is going nowhere. Having correctly calculated that “No Greengrocer Has Ever Got Luckier Than This!” by which I mean, wheeling away a barrowload of money for stuffing his face and paraphrasing pretty much exactly what Monica has just said, he can't hide a smile as big as knickerbocker glory. Greg is the “good” judge. He's matier than Monica and pushes the whole man in the street thing and is never happier than when spreading his arms and promoting the virtues of “Big Flavours”. This left me wondering where are those judges in favour of small flavours and why don't we see more of them. This is the BBC after all and they have an obligation to provide balance.
The drawback of this take on the format is felt the first moment the chefs walk in. Despite moving purposefully forward unlike, for example, a Barcelona protest march (Blog intertextuality, ladies and gentlemen) their arrival still takes a while because there are ten of them. And ten chefs is just too many for the human mind to cope with at one time (they did tests at MIT). Let me explain. If the chefs were ten “celebrities” the programme might get away with it because the audience would already recognise/have a relationship with some of them. But these are ten complete strangers. And to further lessen the chance the audience relating to them they're all wearing the same outfit and they're almost all men. The overall impression was of a mash of whites served with a side dish of ugly tattoos topped with a gelled jus of unwise new hairdos.
The whole chance for any human interest having instantly vanished, Masterchef : The Professioanls falls back on the other staple ingredient of the genre ¨C ogling food and watching other people work hard. I haven't seen a cooking show for a while so I was surprised to discover much of the food is now prepared in the form of a Ballantine. A Ballantine for those who don't know is a sort of trussed up cling film sausage. How appetising does that sound!
A ballantine's chief advantage seems to be that when poached it keeps the meat “moist”. I sort of nodded along while listening to this in the kind of soporific way one does only to ponder afterwards exactly how appealing “Moist Chicken” actually sounds. Ask yourself whether you'd order it on a menu. Then again it could be me. I still have difficulty with the idea of pea puree.
There were a few other dishes interpersed with the long line of cling film sausages. A chocolate tart served with shortbread prepared by the only female chef present Nat caught the eye. It looked pleasantly appetising. That is until she sprinkled it with tarragon. I'll repeat that for those of you are experiencing a soporific moment of your own. Tarragon! How many times have you been in a restaurant and witnessed a disappointed diner ask for more tarragon with their pudding. I'll do the Maths for you. No times.
But what did Monica say? She said the shortbread was too sweet. Not a single word about the tarragon. It's like listening to The White Album by The Beatles and criticising Good Night as sung in a admittedly overly syrupy voice by Ringo Starr while saying nary a word about the inexplicability of Mr Lennon's Revolution No 9. OK I will give you that this parallel may be verging on the obscure. But give me a break. Someone just put tarragon on a chocolate tart and didn't get it squished in her face.
In fact nobody got anything squished in their face in the sense that there were no eliminations. That's right. This was a reality show which concluded an episode without making someone cry. All we had were some people in white saying they were chuffed and some people in white saying they had more to give and tomorrow was another day. It was like the programme makers had wrapped the whole concept of the reality TV genre in cling film. So doubtless it will keep well in the fridge but for me Masterchef : The Professionals needs to spend more time in the oven.