Quite recently, the BBC launched the applications for Masterchef: The Professionals and this week saw the final of Masterchef for amateurs. It got me thinking, is the catering industry attempting to go down the same road as pop music, or Simon Cowell’s version of it? Is it trying to discover the next big talent via a TV programme? After all, there have been various versions of the same thing: ‘The Restaurant’; ‘Masterchef’; ‘Masterchef the Professionals’; ‘Iron Chef UK’ and to a lesser extent programmes like ‘Ready Steady Cook’ and others from that genre.
It is easy to see why cooks, foodies & chefs apply for these programmes; after all who doesn’t want to be adored and have their fifteen minutes of fame? The main problem as I see it, is that many who take part will try to see it as a short cut. Yes the filming schedule maybe gruelling but it may only take 3 months to get it in the can, at most. 3 Months?!? It’s nothing compared to the years that many chefs dedicate to learning their trade and often to the detriment of many things around them, and this is where the issue lies.
On a previous series of Masterchef, Michel Roux Snr did a master class on how to make croque-en-bouche. In the same programme many times it was implied or said that Mr Roux had taught the contestants how to do pastry. How wrong could you be? He showed them how to take filled profiteroles, glue them together with caramel & stack two feet high. Effectively all the skills you would learn in the first couple of months doing a pastry course at college, but far from teaching them enough to run a pastry section in any self respecting kitchen.
All this may seem a touch nerve and it has to a point; if you’re on Twitter when Masterchef is being aired you can read the tweets of derision. Anything from the masses jumping on every mistake or continuity error; to my personal gripe of Michel Roux Jnr’s gurning sous chef Monica “I wouldn’t give THAT to Michel” Galetti.
But there is an upside, one such case is Jon Jones. He definitely saw his experience on Masterchef the Professionals last year as a positive one, saying..
From the initial interview stage to the first day of filming the whole experience was great. The obvious highlight being cooking for Michel Roux Jnr who is such a gentleman
..and followed it up with..
For me it would have opened doors to work with some of the best chefs in the world, places getting a stage is near impossible! & the possibility of realising the dream of opening your own restaurant could become a reality!
My advice to anyone thinking of applying is do it!!
Its an experience I’ll never forget
He has admitted that he never really entered to win and after being knocked out in the quarter finals
Being in the competition you start to think about what would you do if you won?
I chat & have some banter with Jon on Twitter, on a regular basis; he’s a down to earth Cardiff bloke working in the North West, has no ego that needs massaging & loves what he does.
Whilst many will think that I’m out to bash Masterchef & its ilk just because the contestants haven’t done it the hard way; I’m not. Even by today’s culinary standards, the six years I spent as a commis would be viewed as too long. Fortunately it stood me in good stead for the future, I juggled day release at college with often a six day week routine in a three rosette hotel for over 2 years. Every day I encounter commis chefs coming into the industry & think that that they either couldn’t or wouldn’t do that, maybe it was just me & I had a good mentor at the time.
The subject came up on the trade journal’s forum entitled ‘Amateur chefs on the telly’. There were various points made by users, one stood out. Elizabeth Allen (@the_modernchef) voiced her opinion; she raised many valid points and informed the masses that she was now working at a one Michelin star in Berkshire. It’s actually The Royal Oak in Paley Street with the wonderfully talented Dominic Chapman. Elizabeth is going to college and integrating into the more traditional, & I firmly believe, more beneficial long term route. Needless to say after spotting this thread I threw my tupence into the mix, concluding with.
I fear for people like Tim Anderson whose quirky food on Masterchef lead many to proclaim him as the next big thing. One serial restaurateur the morning after the Masterchef final took to twitter to track him down with the objective of them doing a place together.
Absolute bonkers, how would they staff a kitchen? Kitchens are places of education in one form or another & those chefs that are carefully nurturing a CV are hardly likely to go & work for someone who has minimal experience in one.
The two that really seem to have gone on to bigger things are Thomasina Miers & Matt Follas. The rest are either doing what they should have done in the first place (work in professional kitchens) or promoting their books.
I don’t begrudge them what they’ve done at all, why? Because they’ll have a shorter work life span than a professional footballer.
Clearly there is money to be made in such programmes, in September last year the Press Association reported that a pop mogul was going to start making a culinary version of X-Factor with his production company SyCo. It seems more a statement of society than on industry. Many years ago, cooking was proclaimed as the new Rock ’n’ Roll, no it isn’t. Yes the media profile has risen considerably and thus attracting the same type of people that think it’s a quick route to fame & fortune. Nearly all the celebrity chefs that appear in the media these days have cut their teeth in professional kitchens. Despite Heston Blumenthal proclaiming at the start of his ‘How to cook like Heston’ series, that he is self taught, it just isn’t true. Mr Blumenthal actually spent time at, amongst other places, Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons under Marco Pierre White. Jamie Oliver, yes the cheeky chappy himself, actually used to be senior Sous Chef at the legendary Michelin starred River Cafe before being spotted for The Naked Chef. And I doubt many will forget the harsh reality of Gordon Ramsay pushing for his third Michelin star
Then there are the host of Masterchef, John Torode & Gregg Wallace. Again I have nothing against them as food TV presenters, but as judges? That is a whole different ball game. As a chef Mr Torode demonstrated his passion & love of food in a recent interview on the Chris Evans breakfast show, eloquently speaking about tying food with emotions.
Thankfully Michel Roux Jnr features in the professionals, which does bring an element of credibility. As for Mr Wallace the former greengrocer, well he’s trotted out a couple of restaurants with mixed success. For his Wallace & co enterprise in Putney he recruited the former Marco Pierre White right hand man, Tim Payne to insure all went well. Unfortunately he didn’t have the same foresight when he opened his latest venture, Greggs Table in The Bermondsey Square Hotel. The Evening Standard gave it only one star & after reading the review it was lucky to get that. Dave Sexton wrote:
What a dump! It is simply potty that a man who makes his living by appearing as an expert and implacable judge of other people’s cooking should put his name to such inadequate delivery of such unambitious dishes. What would he say himself?
“Inches away from a good dish”? Actually, it’s about a hundred yards, heading north.
Ordinarily a non chef type opening really wouldn’t have bothered me, but the blatant attitude from Mr Wallace in an interview on Big Hospitality just staggered me.
Fast forward the interview to 1minute 24secs
So basically he’s not interested what educated food critics think as long as he’s pulling in your hard earned cash.
As entertainment Masterchef is precisely that, but a short cut or showcase for new talent, I don’t think so. If anything, the show is becoming more famed for the youtube mash ups.
Buttery biscuit base anyone?