After ten seasons, Masterchef Australia is a comprehensive cooking contest with a real focus on the contestants. It feels like a throwback to earlier episodes of Top Chef moreso than Masterchef. They did expand at one time to Junior, All Stars and Professionals but scaled back to focus on the quality for one show and it shows.
We came across the Australian version thanks to Gusto, a lifestyle channel in Canada that was introduced as a competitor to the ubiquitous Food Network. The first season we saw was six but after that we were completely hooked. Why?
1. As noted above, it's comprehensive. It's a three month competition with challenges every day. But the kicker? Each day is broadcast. So when they say "get ready for tomorrow"", the next show IS tomorrow. When it airs on TenPlay in Australia, it is shown every night. None of this "fit into a typical 24 episode season" crap. This was shocking to get into but wow, what a difference it makes.
2. The judges are NICE. They are fair but hard but they aren't about tearing down the contestants but building them up. Their pedigree is also closer to Top Chef's approach, where you have a high quality chef who isn't an abrasive TV showboat and a critic. Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris are the chefs. Matt Preston is the critic. I'm sure Ramsay isn't the total ass he portrays but that he lets himself get shown that way is depressing. Even super critical chefs like Marco-Pierre White ( who no longer appears on the show) come off as inspiring and mentoring to the contestants.
3. The contestants get along. Maybe it's a North American thing - people just want to screw everyone else. But in the Australian, and even in the others, the contestants seem to genuinely want everyone else to do well. They live in a house and compete but are friends and support each other. Sometimes, it can even get downright annoying, all the hugs and pats on the back, but to me, it's proof that not every person on TV is simply showboating but actually want to learn and respect each other.
4. They actually teach the contestants. If you only watched North American versions, you might be wondering "where are they learning anything?" (yes they do on other shows - but it's never allude to) In MCA, they broadcast the "Masterclass" where the judges show them techniques and ideas. You can definitely see why other Masterchef incarnations are starting to borrow this concept.
5. The quality of the dishes are astounding. What do I mean? Even the auditions show a quality of food presentation that would make a professional chef blush. You may get some nice comfort food dishes but the quality bar is so high you might be thinking "these people cannot be home cooks". It makes me wonder what they are doing in Australia to encourage this level of wow.
6. The format is awesome. Mystery box is standard for most shows and the format of each week is generally the same. Maybe because it's broadcast every day or just the production method - it feels like a real challenge. Mystery Box, Invention Test/Team Challenge, Elimination, Winner for Immunity (more on that) and then Pressure Test. Complete and Repeat.
7. The guest chefs or challenges are amazing. Bring your best dish and challenge the chefs to make it. Learn your trade by working in a professional kitchen directed by the professional chef. Heston Blumenthal Curtis Stone are among the more internationally recognizable chefs but the calibre of the chefs presented make you want to visit and taste some of these great dishes.
8. But it's fair. You need to make a chef's dish, you get the recipe to work from. At least you can understand how they learn these processes. You're not given unreasonable times.
9. The immunity process makes sense. You win a challenge and then you have to prove your mettle by competing against a professional chef. Blind taste test (sure, when watching you may not understand how the judges don't know which is which).
10. Scoring is clear and understandable. Judges score a dish out of ten. The finale is made up of three challenges showcasing different aspects of their journey.
I could go on but you need to go find whichever network is showing Masterchef Australia or watch it on YouTube and see how a good cooking show is really done.
If you haven't watched MasterChef Australia, you could be forgiven to think all of these cooking contest shows are more like the Bachelor or Survivor than actual cooking.
Do yourself a favour and watch MCS - wherever you can.