The food of love

Ah folks, ain’t life grand? In fact, ain’t life a glorious succession of soaringly joyful events, each one more wondrous than the last? Nothing bad has ever happened, sunshine’s for breakfast and anyone who suggests otherwise is lying. Regular readers (yes, both of you) may be wondering at this point what has inspired this unprecedented optimistic reverie. The oncoming spring? Hardly. Spiritual epiphany? Of course not. It’s not even that Youtube clip of the surprised kitten (the one that makes Bambi look gawky and unlovable in comparison).

No, all this beneficent bonhomie is based on one fact alone: _Masterchef_ is back. Undoubtedly the most purely enjoyable television programme ever produced has returned to our screens and everyone ought to be dancing through the streets and corridors like an ill-conceived musical . While tolerance and individual taste are all very well, on this issue nothing less than brutal, unerring fundamentalism is required.

There are two types of people in the world: those who watch _Masterchef_ and those who should be watching _Masterchef_. As a fair warning then, expect less a balanced critique of the show’s merits and flaws than the kind of gushing paean generally reserved for a Daily Express Diana retrospective.

Before all else, to truly appreciate the unimpeachable excellence of the show, one must understand that, like all great televisual triumphs, Masterchef effectively transcends itself; it’s not just a TV show but a mini-cultural event with its own set of internal tropes and motifs. Sceptics may complain that each episode is incredibly similar and indeed it is, but this is the very source of its charm. It’s rather akin to protesting that laughter or snow are tediously monotonous.

There is a deeply comforting aspect to watching the hosts dissect eighteen thousand combinations of scallops, pea puree and black pudding, each time behaving as though it were an utterly original choice. In the same vein, Gregg Wallace’s almost identical response to any dessert offered up (chuckling in the manner of a Chess Grandmaster at a particularly deft use of the Latvian gambit before spouting rapturous haikus on ‘gooey chocolateness’) becomes more not less entertaining through constant repetition.

Casual viewers (who are, of course, heartily disdained by real devotees) may have been confused by the absence from proceedings of fuzzy, affable genius, Michel Roux Jr, who partners Wallace in the equally wonderful _Masterchef: The Professionals_. The proper series features instead the slightly stern Australian chef, John Torode, whose signature trick of listing three positive aspects of a dish before unleashing a sucker punch criticism never fails to dupe the contestants (seasoned viewers will be able to exactly predict the point when the eager smiles disappear). While it’s easy to miss the enthusiastic and erudite Roux, the return to the classic pairing is nonetheless a welcome one, simply through the curious chemistry between the hosts. If anything can be learnt from this relationship, it’s that bellowing at one another can be a remarkably harmonious form of communication.

Although it’s always a risk attempting to reformulate what is clearly televisual perfection, there are a couple of tweaks this time round. Most notably, rather than a week spanning spread of three half-hour episodes culminating in the thrill of a full hour on Thursday, the show is now served up in two big chunks on Wednesdays and Thursdays, before a bite sized quarter final on Friday. Whether or not this seems a good idea depends entirely on what day it currently is, but the swings between one extended high and four days of cold turkey have certainly underlined the rampantly addictive nature of the programme.

Less controversially (these issues are taken extremely seriously), the format itself has slightly changed, entirely removing one of the rounds, an identity parade of obscure ingredients, in favour of a high pressure fifteen minute cooking challenge, and demoting another, the ludicrously titled Passion Test, to a brief afterthought. The former consisted of a succession of contestants anxiously scrutinising fennel in a dark room under the inspection of Torode and Wallace, a scene looking largely like a particularly surreal episode of _CSI_. As such, it was always something of a low point and the programme doesn’t really suffer from its absence. With regard to the latter, while the Passion Test was clearly a ridiculous creature, there was a kind of post-modern glee in the conscious inclusion of such an egregiously pointless round, a kind of supreme caricature of the pervasive recourse to teary bluster on all reality television.

However, since it has at least survived in a minimised role, there is still the enjoyment of watching the stressed competitors struggling to produce a powerful variation on, “Yes, I would like to continue cooking”, followed by the hosts loudly and sincerely musing on how moved they were by their stilted monologues.

In any case, whatever changes have been made, frankly _Masterchef_ remains an unadulterated delight. Hugely consumable, unremittingly entertaining and triumphantly buoyant, the show is a rare example of television that is truly primetime without being bland. So, basically, it’s quite good, you should watch it.


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