The new series of Masterchef kicked off last night, with a new set, new theme music, and a new catchphrase for Gregg Wallace: “Let’s get fatter!” (sure to go down well with the National Obesity Forum, that). There’s a new format too – this time the hopeful contestants cook individually (instead of in groups of 6). They get 45 minutes in the prep kitchen then a further 10 minutes to finish and plate up their dish in front of Gregg and John. In an X Factor-aping move they’re accompanied by assorted friends and family, and they get to cook their own creation (rather than concoct something from an array of mystery ingredients). In these early stages the judges select a final 20 – if John and Gregg both give the thumbs up the contestant gets handed an apron and is through to that final 20, if they disagree the contestant gets a ‘lifeline’ and can cook again.
They have retained a few things from the previous series – the voiceover woman, Gregg’s propensity to repeat whatever John has just said, and of course, the endless shots of contestants walking towards the Masterchef HQ (later, thrillingly, we’ll get to see them perambulating toward various London eateries).
The first contestant to face the judges is Paul, who dishes up mackerel wrapped in thin slices of white bread (he clearly watched the Great British menu last year, as this is very similar to one of the winning dishes). John and Gregg love it and duly pass him the apron of success. Charity, for some reason dressed for her culinary endeavours in a low cut black dress (trying to secure Gregg’s vote?), opts to serve a deconstructed trifle. My notes say DO NOT MESS WITH TRIFLE, and lo, a lesson is learnt. The result (that’s it on the blue plate there) made me hoot with laughter (and needless to say Charity is sent home).
Other contestants of note are American Tim, who’s through with his cod tempura, and tattooed carpenter James, endearingly worrying about the consistency of his jus – happily, despite the fact the jus is indeed over reduced, he gets an apron. I also like Polly, with her “vibe that someone here likes a pud”. I’m pretty surprised that Gregg votes no to her peach upside down cake, especially as John likes it and praises the skill involved. Still, she eventually gets through after cooking pea mousse (WHY???) for her ‘lifeline’ dish. Ondine, possessed of the squeakiest laugh ever, goes through despite some knackered tuiles. Terry’s quail eggs surrounded by a hollandaise lake have John and Gregg in fits, while contestant John from Essex falls at the fonDONT hurdle – will people never learn?! Some familiar flavour combinations reappeared – scallops and black pudding, sodding minted pea puree – and some new ones made their debut: leeks with coconut and lime, anyone? Rather nice, apparently.
So, I hear you ask (indulge me), are the changes an improvement? Weeeeellll…..on the whole, not really. The hour really dragged (Gregg in particular took ages to deliver his verdicts, I guess because they’ve been told to ramp up the tension), and I don’t like the X Factoriness of seeing people sobbing on their rellies when they’re booted off. I’ve read that this new format is very similar to the Australian version, which is enormously popular. However, if it does mean that the preliminary round is over after tonight’s episode, then fine, because that always seemed to go on for weeks and it was always more interesting in the later stages anyway. I do kind of miss “cooking doesn’t get TUFFA than this!” though……