It’s my own fault, I know. I decide to settle down and watch Masterchef with Mr Mason. Now, as we all know, cooking doesn’t get tougher than this. That’s right. It’s the idea that cooking is really tough in the first place, although clearly the idea of cooking in a television studio is not most people’s idea of a sympathetic environment. Obviously we cook food we hope will taste nice but lots of people make do with ready meals so clearly not all cooking has to taste good. And you only have to watch Freaky Eaters to know some people live on a diet of crisps and chocolate biscuits although perhaps they think cooking is SO tough they won’t even bother. I once knew someone to all intents and purposes sane in every other aspect other than she had never cooked a meal in her life. This was before the invention of Masterchef but post ready-meals. The idea of cutting up an onion actually terrified her. “Which part do I cut? How do I hold it?” Seriously? Afraid so.
In the mix of today’s contestants we have the usual selection of real cooks together with wannabe’s. I am pretty good and sifting the wheat from the chaff these days. There is usually a manual worker who will often be fairly good but not good enough. There is always one person who looks a little deranged or dangerous. This person is often a good cook. Always there is the bit of tottie. Wedged into the show like a slice of lemon on a g&t, she is there to flutter her eyelashes when she gets things wrong and to wring a little sympathetic soothing out of the judges. Today’s tottie wears bright red lipstick and tells us that she knows she’s got a lot ot learn but that she passionately wants it. Here’s a newsflash. Just because you want something passionately does not mean you can have it or that you are good enough at it. Rather satisfyingly, I am proved right and her cooking is bizarre. Yes, that sweetpotato and mango mash just isn’t destined to go with the fish. And the chicken that is raw? No matter how many times you say “But I cooked it for aaages!” still doesn’t make it cooked so it is safe enough to eat. And yes, you can pout and look distraught but sadly, you are not good enough. I would not be going to eat at her table any time soon, either.
The judge’s comments and facial expressions get increasingly bizarre. At one point, a flake of fish falls away from the main portion and it appears we are nearing the end of time judging by the anxiety on Gregg Wallace’s face. As contestants are plating up their food Gregg Wallace, in particular, repeatedly urges them to hurry up, just as they are, er, hurrying up and then admonishes them if they spill something with a “Take your time!” thrown in. Oh, and the thing the judges really want? What they really, really want? It’s just a good plate of food. “Just give us one good plate of food” they say. No longer a meal, it is a plate of food. If a contestant cooks something complicated, they say “Food doesn’t have to be complicated. Just give us a good, simple plate of food”. If someone cooks something simple, they say “But is that good enough? This is Masterchef!” If a contestant cooks a classic dish, they complain it is not inventive. If they invent, they ask what is wrong with classic cooking?
The lady from India is sweet and, quite surprisingly to Gregg and John, is good with spices! They wax lyrical about her ability to spice a dish she regularly cooks at home, almost to the point of being patronising. However, when she is asked to cook something more classic she is not so adept and they worry away at this like dogs with a tasty bone. “Can she go any further?” they ask and the camera stays on their little worried faces just to emphasis the point. One woman presents a lemon tart and I really feel sorry for her. The pastry has gone all wrong and the only bit left is a soggy bottom onto which she pours lemon goop. How many contestants have just run away at this point and refused point blank to go in for the mauling which surely awaits them? The raised eyebrows, the hand scratching at the chin, the long sigh and the penetrating stare. All artifices ready to be pulled out of their little box of emoting tricks.
They bring back former winners and good contestants to sample the cooking of the current contestants. This is an interesting idea, particularly because I have opinions about some of them. The one who was unexpectedly ill on a particularly gruelling challenge and was given a pass onto the next level is in receipt of a few pithy comments from me. There is another man who always used incredibly expensive ingredients in the hope people would be impressed. Sadly he did not impress me and he is also in line for some personal remarks about his apparent lack of neck. If I discover he has some unfortunate condition I will forever feel shamed. Most of the former contestants at least appear to understand the stress the new contestants feel and treat them sympathetically. On the whole. The man who was given a pass is rather scathing and I wish someone would spill a hot sauce in his lap. Alas, it does not happen.
While I am venting about food programmes, when did it become popular to pan fry something as opposed to just fry it? Why does ‘pan fry’ conjure up something better than ‘fry’? This, I have to admit, is one of Mr Mason’s favourite bête noire. Also ‘cooking off’ is another of his. Saying “I am going to cook off some onions” can send him into paroxysms of rage involving the grinding and gnashing of teeth. This is probably why he does most of the cooking these days. Ah, we know how to enjoy ourselves in the Mason household.