Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Masterchef (A Rant)

Being a chef is not a game show.

There, I said it.

Don't get me wrong, I love me a little bit of reality TV. "The tribe has spoken, it's time to go, it's time to cut the fat, I am sorry to tell you: you have been eliminated from the race............. PISS OFF CAN'T COOK..."


I am a tragic who is addicted to watching Masterchef, and I am left by my lovely husband to watch alone, so that I can shout abuse at the TV in peace.

Last year I got wound up in the production and service contradictions - is the food that is judged on Masterchef by Matt, Gary and George ever hot when they taste it? Do they judge the contestants food when it's cold? How is this ever an accurate indication of taste and texture?

And this year, I am really glad that the production team have seen the light and had some of these amateur cooks being exposed to basic but essential techniques such as sauces and fundamental baking. These foundation skills are the back bone of any good cook or chef. Less of the wank food art on a plate and more of the crucial culinary skills is a good thing, for the show, for the contestants and for the folk at home who learn to cook from watching foodie shows on TV.

But what is driving me mental this year is the way that the production team have upped the anti on the "meaningful" soundbites and emotional cry fests.

For fucks sake ladies and gents, you are admitting to the whole of Australia that you want to work in restaurants, and that working with food is your dream, and yet you are CRYING on national TV?

Hospitality, the food industry, restaurants and commercial kitchens are, in my experience, some of the hardest places on earth to work. It takes emotional and physical resilience. It takes strength of character and confidence. And if that confidence is tinged with a little bravado and charming arrogance, that's probably a good thing, for survival.

More than most, I understand how the traditions of cooking with family, generations passing down food related echoes, and food as a cultural mark of love is addictive. I can see how it may make a lot of folk link this to, and then crave, a successful future as a chef.

But being a successful chef is NOT the same as being a good cook.

Some good cooks can train long and hard to become good chefs, eventually.

And being a good cook is an accolade in itself, make no mistake.

Many chefs, I am sure, enjoy and have a love of home cooking.

But being a mediocre cook, no matter how "passionate" you are about food, not matter how much food is your "dream" is never going to make you a chef.

And being on Masterchef is not going to make you into a chef either. It may fast track you to people and places that give a great deal of foodie exposure. But unless you truly have what it takes, I am positive that no decent chef is going to put you on even as a lowly apprentice, unless you have the resilience and confidence and the heart to survive.

And all the crying at criticism, the cracking under challenge time pressures, producing shite food, getting emotional at the idea of being sent home - that does not show ticker to me. So many of the episodes see amateur cooks launch from disaster to disaster, with little focus and sloppy habits that I cover my eyes as I shout at the TV.

"But it's my dream. I've always had a passion for food. I am not ready to leave the compettion yet. If I am eliminated, I will be devastated. I want to follow my dream, and my dream is food...."

Cry, tears, yadda yadda. Snot, bleating, hugs from judges, more tears. Week after bloody week. It shits me enough to blog about it...

Is working in restaurants with food is really your dream? Look in any newspaper or on Seek, and apply for any of the hundred kitchen jobs that are being advertised. The industry is crying out for kitchen staff. Go, go follow your dream. Apply for those kitchen hand jobs - the industry is desperate.

But be warned - your dreams may will not pay that well, and the conditions are truly woeful. But off you go - if food is your passion, go for it.

The working conditions of all commercial food establishments is tough. Long long hours. Split shifts. Poor pay. Hot and cramped conditions. Incredibly stressful prep and service times. Long arduous clean downs followed by more prep. Steamy, noisy, greasy and loud.

I worked in commercial kitchens from the age of thirteen. I completed four years at uni (whilst still working in restaurants part time) which earned me my City and Guilds chef's qualifications, as well as a degree in hospitality management. I was then only then allowed to start on the bottom rung in a brigade in a high volume restaurant. I eventually did very well, and I survived. I lived on cigarettes, speed and adrenalin. But no stars for me. By the age of twenty seven I was totally burned out. Hence I feel I am in a position to shout at the TV and rant on my blog about the fluff that is Masterchef...

Masterchef is a great show. But I hate to think of all of the young people that it is conning into a life of foodie glamour, who do not view it as fairly trite reality TV, but who see it as a reflection of an tempting industry to work in. That scares me, as it is simply not an accurate portrayal.

Chefs in real life do not get flown to Malaysia or drive round Sydney in lots of black chauffeured cars. Chefs in real life do not meet celebrity chefs twice a week,  nor do they mingle and dine with the foodie aristocracy.  Chefs do not get book deals at the drop of a hat, not do they get hats or stars after their restaurant name without working bloody hard for a number of years, if they're lucky.

I've said it before, and no doubt I'll shout it at the TV again - being a chef is not a game show...

Do you shout at the TV? Tell me what you love and hate about Masterchef?


  1. Bravo Lucy! Excellent post, 100% agree! (with the reality tv fluff and that it is not real and a genuine reflection if the industry).

  2. Ps, I love it when you get fired up! Can just imagine you doing a Gordon Ramsey on their butts! Lol.

  3. Hear, hear! I was addicted to the first and second seasons but have managed to kick the habit. I got sick of hearing "it's my dream to work with food..." If it's that much of a dream quit your job and go work with food. Not hard. Or, just make sure you cook well at home every day. I don't understand why people feel the need to work in their area of passion, especially when it's food. We all eat at least 3 times per day so plenty of opportunity for creating....

    I LOVE reading firey posts!

  4. That's why I don't watch reality TV...

  5. I agree with you, the hospitality industry is crying out for people so go get your dream job! I have worked in the industry too many moons ago and it makes me a little cross. They have truly no idea at all whats it like.

    Lets face it, if they showed the true reality no one would watch it.

  6. YES - all that crying is so annoying! Hubby and I roll our eyes at each other and say, here we go, another sob story.

    One thing I'm finding frustrating about the show is the lack of basic skills. You know you're going onto Masterchef and you claim to have dedicated your life to food - but you don't know how to bake a cake? What??

    And I'm with you - working in a kitchen is far from glamorous. Long hours, hard work. Very hard work. It's not straight to celebrity chef stardom - or at least, it shouldn't be.

  7. I must admit I haven't engaged with the show at all this year though I loved it last year. Your feelings are perfectly understandable. I'd be the same especially after the years you spent in the industry. Now when are you flying over to cook me dinner? ;)

  8. I refuse to watch it. Watched half of one episode and someone cried over something (? a pavlova - some sort of pudding anyway.)

    Basically I looked at it and thought - "Grown adult crying on TV about a pudding. Really??" Does my head in.

    Obviously I am in the minority though because it rates ridiculously well.

  9. LOL!!!
    Lucy - I hardly ever see you have a rant, but this one is a pearler!. I don't watch the show (don't like to cook and don't love to eat) but you had me seriously fired up right along side you!

  10. I used to love watching Masterchef, learning about food and getting some good ideas.
    It's become a soap opera. Cue dramatic music and tears.
    Bugger that.
    Bring back the food!

  11. I love watching Masterchef but I am with you on the drama aspect. I worked in commercial kitchens from the age of 14 and saw how bloody hard places they are. You wouldn't get me training to be a chef! They have to work while everyone else is partying. And most chefs end up as hard-drinking, hard-smoking stress heads headed for a heart attack.
    But god some chefs work magic :)

  12. I agree with you completely! Love anything to do with food...but the whole drama aspect? No thanks!

  13. A lot of people have said that this series hasn't been as engaging as the first couple of series. I totally agree. Too many tears and sob stories.

    I reckon they've put too much focus on celebrity appearances, big challenges etc. and not enough emphasis on the food or the contestants - I haven't been able to connect with any of them like I did with Marion and Justine in past seasons.

    I say we need less drama, more food! xxx

  14. Amen to that sista!
    I love that it inspires me put my food on the plate at artistic angles. I hate that they think being a chef is a glorified job, it is hard work and long nights. I think they are confusing the glamour of the food industry with being one of the judges, not being the chef.

  15. My son is burnt out at the tender age of 23 after 6 years of being ripped off, underpaid and undermined by bosses in the industry ranging from fine dining to cafes. He has run kitchens and built up clientele only to have owners change the menu and reduce staff around him and destroy all the work he has done..he's over it! He also refuses to watch Masterchef and similar shows.

  16. "Cry, tears, yadda yadda. Snot, bleating, hugs from judges, more tears. Week after bloody week."

    AGREED! When do they tape the talk to camera sound bites anyway? While they're cooking? Hours afterwards and they're still sobbing because they can't cook a chip?

    Harden up. Most irritating contestants ever.

  17. oh good. someone said it! I didn't watch the first season. LOVED the second season. I'm a bit meh at this season but I am luckily one of the ones that see it as a trite reality show. I hate the sob stories that get airtime and the tears. But that's why they air it. Reality is actually very boring. "reality" tv is great because it's not reality. for me, this season, I yell at them, "put a fucking hair net on!".

    But it has made me pay extra special attention to how I plate my cheese on toast.

  18. NOdding my head in agreement with your post and many of the comments.

    We watch Masterchef as a family as the kids really enjoy it. I feel that this season has had far too many 'big' challenges that are totally unrealistic - just because you are a good home cook does not mean that you can run a commercial dinner service with no training. Really. I'm also over the tears.

    And the 'food is my dream' spiel? They just need to do what the rest of us have to do to achieve our dreams - work hard, train, learn (TAFE, uni, on the job) and work even harder.

    On the plus side, the kids and I have had some great discussions about how the media shapes our impression of people and events through editing, etc while watching the show.

    As a writer, my biggest issue with the show is the continual and over the top use of puns. It makes my brain hurt.

  19. I don't think I've ever tuned into an ep of Masterchef and this post has given me even more reason not to xx

  20. I love Masterchef (and all reality TV!) but I agree with what Jane said, after reading her comment, I realised that I don't have a favourite this year - don't really know any of the contestants.
    There's no time to get to know them, when the show if full of real chefs getting their head on TV. It doesn't seem to be about the contestants anymore (unless they're in tears, of course).

  21. YOU TELL EM LUCE.....
    You've said it all brilliantly. I like and loathe Masterchef in equal quantitites for all those reasons.
    And I am a shite cook....

  22. Boom Boom Shake The Room!
    *me wanting to kill George*

  23. Which is why it helps to remember that Masterchef is a TV show, not real life.

  24. Love your post, about time someone spoke up about the 'reality' in this show. There is no way in hell I would want to train to be a chef (seen friends in the industry wither) but I still like preparing a nice meal for people. But that doesn't mean I should go on Masterchef. I wish others on this show would realise this. Your ranting should be put out there more widely so all those media groupies stop raving about the show. And that might put an end to those inane 'off camera' comments the contestants make ... somebody shoot me!! Or bake me a cake.

  25. Good to hear the wise words of an expert, Lucy. My father-in-law was a chef and hubby's brother was, and stepmum was a school dinner lady... so I've heard all about the rugh side from them. No illusions...

    I'm not a confident home cook so NO desire to grave Masterchef... ohhh... but I do love a meal out!

  26. Brava!!!!

    *Stands and applauds wildly*

  27. As my family has banned me from watching any show taking place in an ER or having any of the characters taken to an ER or hospital, I'm pretty much doomed to watch cooking shows when anyone else is in the house. Though I pretty much behave myself [Oh for Pete's sake you're supposed to have knife skills! Throw a bandaid on it. Quit whining or go home!] the same cannot be said for the ER shows. I mean really, has no one considered a Continuity Editor? At least use Google to sort out your symptoms. "You morons, he has meningitis - you've just infected the lot of you"

  28. Oh hooray for this post Lucy! HOO-BLOODY-RAY! It drives me nuts!
    My ex brother in law was a chef. Long, long hours, cigarettes, and a failed marriage. Ah, the glamour. He was a very good chef too, with movie stars wanting him to cook for them... did he get a book deal? A tv show? A food column in a paper? No. He got burn out, exhaustion, oh... and did I mention he is my ex brother in law?
    He did though work bloody hard.
    Being a chef is hard slog. The people who really piss me off on this show are the 20 somethings. Really? It's your dream? Then why are you studying nursing FFS?
    This year seems worse than past years... the puns alone make me want to yell.
    Stop crying, and get on with it. Or get out of my TV.

  29. I love a good rant Lucy and you have done exceptionally well here. Bow. Bow. I am not into Masterchef. Doo Dah and Nugget watch it from time to time. They seem to like the competitiveness of it. My mate is the Director this year - will pass on your opinion re: sound bites and tears. lol. I didn't know you were a chef - always nice to learn something new about you! x

  30. As a former waitress and kitchen hand I totally agree. The reality is they are more likely to be sweating it out in some grungy pub kitchen cooking bangers and chips for the barflies. Dreams are good but in reality how many "rockstar" chefs can this show pump out!

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