Masterchef Goes Large

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 by

“I love being a chef in a great restaurant,” vouchsafed John Torode across about a million weekday evenings last year, “but it doesn’t get tougher than that.” “Standards are high,” chipped in Gregg Wallace, “and the pressure is immense.” A pair of non-sequiturs, this wasn’t really much of a discussion, more a couple of heavily-set gorillas acting tough for the cameras and talking rubbish.

Masterchef returned to our screens in 2005 in a new form – Masterchef Goes Large. If we were in anyway worried that the inflated vowels and fey predilection for asparagus-hued numbers which characterised Lloyd Grossman’s time on the show were also staging a comeback, John and Gregg’s macho chuntering and the ridiculously intoned commentary (“Masterchef IS GOING LARGE!“) gave that notion a damn good kicking.

In OTT’s review of the year, the show was curtly summed up as being “the art of good cuisine swapped for an obsession with aggressive time-keeping and shouting.” And it’s all true. However, that curt one-liner doesn’t come anywhere near to pinpointing what makes the programme so ludicrously entertaining.

To celebrate the arrival of the second series, John and Gregg have got a new opening spiel, which we viewers have yet to commit to memory (John murmuring something about “one in a thousand”, Gregg still vexed by the pressure issue), but we can rest assured the rest of the shtick remains otherwise unchanged. Gregg’s still being introduced with a different sobriquet each day (along the lines of: “Fruit and vegetable guru”/”Supplier of fruit and veg to London’s most demanding chefs”/”Experienced food expert”) as though he’s in constant renegotiation about his billing. John, meanwhile, attacks every tasting session with his thick, unfurling tongue, and loudly rattles the cutlery off his teeth when he comes back for seconds.

Both men linger moodily in the background, before stepping up to interrogate the show’s onslaught of amateur chefs about the dishes they’re creating. “W-e-l-l, you might just prove me wrong,” teases Gregg after rubbishing a “keen home cook”‘s mash and prawn combo. Come the tasting, the duo don’t appear wholly concerned about what they’re loudly shoving into their faces, giving the impression they’d rather be off paint-balling than consorting with a “marketing whiz” who can do nifty things with pak choi.

The bit they really love is when they get to send people home. The longeurs that fall upon proceedings as John waits to complete his sentence (“You’re … … … going home”) provide the only moments of respite in the whole 30 minutes.

But, you know, cooking is a full-throttle kind of business, evidently best practiced by scowling, tubby men, looking for grub with “guts” and cooks with “determination”. Masterchef Goes Large presents us with the Krypton Factor of all TV kitchens, albeit with Gordon Burns swapped for ones of the flesh variety. Standards are high, and the pressure is immense. We wouldn’t have it any other way.


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