Review: Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef
MasterChef is the latest American incarnation of a successful British reality competition. The original MasterChef has been a hot commodity for years in the UK as has its cousins MasterChef: Australia and MasterChef: Hungary. For the American version Fox has teamed Gordon Ramsay, one of the world’s greatest and most renowned chefs with two of the kingpins of the US restaurant industry, Chef Graham Elliot Bowles and restaurateur Joe Bastianich. Fox was nice enough to let me catch a preview of MasterChef’s debut episode, a sneak peek so to speak.
Meet the players:
Bowles is a prodigy who became America’s youngest 4 star chef at the age of 27. He is a pioneer of the trendy molecular gastronomy movement that couples cooking and chemistry. His groundbreaking restaurant, graham elliot, combines cutting edge American cuisine with humor and just a touch of moxie to create Chicago’s first “bistronomic” restaurant. His accolades are many having brought home traditional culinary affirmation like the coveted James Beard Award and new age recognition as a competitor on both Bravo’s Top Chef: Masters and the Food Network’s Iron Chef America.
If the name Joe Bastianich sounds familiar it should. His mother is famed Italian cheflebrity Lidia Bastianich. He is also friend and business partner to America’s most successful Italian chef, Mario Batali. But Bastianich’s life is about more than just great restaurants. He is also a noted winemaker who is described as a “street-level philosopher.” He has been honored as both vintner and restaurateur by the likes of Food & Wine and the James Beard Foundation. His book on wine pairing, Vino Itialiano (available at amazon.com), is considered the standard by which the genre is judged.
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Few people in the western world are not familiar with the name Gordon Ramsay. Though his reputation in the states is built mainly around his explosive temper and colorful use of metaphors in Europe he is thought of as one of the best chefs in the world. It is a shame that most Americans only know the exaggerated personality shown on TV because he is one of the most gifted and passionate people in the culinary world.
The premiere episode features 100 hopeful home cooks vying to be one of the 30 finalist competing for the title MasterChef. To earn one of the coveted MasterChef aprons each competitor is asked to cook the meal of their lives for the three judges.
The first round of dishes fails to yield a single plate worthy of remaining in the contest. This forces Chef Ramsay to give a pep talk to the remaining contestants filled with the bleep riddled prose that the host is known for as well as a bit of the overcharged, dare I say forced drama that is the mainstay of virtually every “reality” show.
As with every “reality” contest on TV there is a plethora of over-critiquing. Negative comments are far more negative than they need to be and positive comments are stuffed with Pentecostal exuberance. Nothing is ever mediocre in “reality” TV; it is either dreadful or the best thing ever. This lack of gray area is why television is anything but real.
The best example of overly-negative critiquing is when Gordon takes a stuffed bell pepper garnish from one plate, dumps out the contents so he can spit out the mouthful of fish taco he is tasting. The best example of made-for-TV positive shtick is Bowles tasting one contestant’s Korean duck wrap and stating, “That is like sex in your mouth . . . in the best possible way.” There are plenty of the tear jerking moments that producers love to show as well. MasterChef follows the American Idol formula to a “T.”
But, as with any of Ramsay’s shows, there are truly honest moments. It is these glimpses of lucidity that make him a star. At his soul, Ramsay is a compassionate person and it is evident that he genuinely cares for other people. It is likely that his persona and Graham Elliot’s lovable big guy personality will produce a similar chemistry to Paula and Simon. Although I highly doubt Bowles would look as good in a short red dress. Bastianich is the wild card; he lacks that biting English snark while at the same time he is cold and calculating in his critiques.
MasterChef separates itself from “Worst Cook in America” because it starts with ametuers who can already cook and seeks to make them better. It also separates itself from “Next Food Network Star” because it allows Southern cooks to compete. The best home cooks in America traditionally hail from the South but NFNS has clearly avoided casting calls in the South for some reason opting for mainly East Coast and West Coast auditions.
MasterChef also separates itself from all other TV cooking contests with its prize – $250,000 cash and a major cookbook deal which is potentially worth millions. I like MasterChef more than I do Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen or Chopped and far more than I do NFNS. But at the same time it is a far cry from Iron Chef America.
MasterChef premieres Tuesday July 27th (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on Fox. For more information check out the official press release HERE.