Sunday 14 April 2013

The trouble with Masterchef

People ask me if I fancy going on Masterchef. Well, no, I don't. It's a question of priorities. Masterchef is at the mercy of production budgets which means that the early rounds (far too many contestants) ask what can you cook in just over an hour. It's all about time and not about food or developing flavours. It means almost everything is pan fried. Nothing wrong with pan frying but it's a technique that favours expensive ingredients; and so you see them: scallops, monk fish, fillets of bass and beef, duck breasts (and some obsession with fondant potatoes, usually pronounced Fon-Dont with great zeal). OK, you can fry eggs and spam but these are rarely seen.

But really: there's no time to roast a cheap joint well or slowly stew something until it's unctuous. Four hours for a melting pork belly? Forget it. What of curries, casseroles, pies, stews, bakes, gratins, steamed puddings, roast joints? In short, all the things I love cooking are impossible on Masterchef. If you want to spanner their works, ask them to make a bread roll!

This a symptom of TV's obsession with cooking food quickly. What's next Jamie? 30 Second Meals? Where you stand in the kitchen with your mouth open and someone pours in the ingredients? We have time. Really. We do. Cook properly, eat well (around a table with your family) and just watch less telly.

It also means that contestants must be using commercial stock and pastry. You can't make decent stock in less than three hours. Hell, I take days. You need a half day to make puff pastry that's worth its name. Even pasta dough benefits from an hour in the fridge. But stock is at the heart of a good soup, sauce or gravy. Watery, cloudy, shop-bought stock is prohibitively expensive too. How can you judge a cook when some of the fundamental ingredients are provided for them? It's not so much cooking as food assembly.

And why is the commercial kitchen thrown in so soon? What does that prove? Again, they aren't really cooking anything; it's all about expensive food arranged on a plate. It's not their recipe. It's an alien kitchen. There's nothing to test their palate.

One more thing. Why the hell doesn't someone open that damn door for the contestants? Get a napkin and wedge it underneath! Why make them take two trips to serve the celebrity judges? A hostesses trolley at the very least. I'd stand there and yell at John and Greg. Has anyone dropped a plate? What would happen then? Today, Greg, I'm serving sea bass with a ginger sauce and ceramic shards.

One more, more thing. Chocolate fondant (Fon-Dont) puddings aren't that difficult any more. Everyone has a foolproof recipe now. Enough. Make bread and butter pudding instead. Oh, sorry, you can't; you're out of time.

Home cooked ham hock. Butt ugly and very slow.

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