By Sakhi Nair
Edited by Nanditha Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
With Season 6 of Masterchef Australia currently airing, food enthusiasts are once again tuning into their televisions religiously at 9pm everyday, and I, being a Masterchef aficionado, have made sure never to miss an episode, relishing each of them with much gusto. However, I haven’t shown so much fervour for its American and Indian counterparts, and have also noticed the same among others like me. So why is it that Masterchef Australia is satiating and appealing whereas its twins are failing to tingle our taste buds?
The one-hour season premiere of Masterchef Australia recorded an all time high in viewership, even in India, which has its own version of the series. It’s gaining popularity with every season. It’s judges are popular among viewers, the contestants are equally so, and it focuses more on culinary techniques than on the drama quotient, unlike USA and India. One reason for its popularity could be the very marketable themes of ‘family and food’ – a lethal combination in a country like India where sitting together for a meal as a family is deep rooted in our culture. The show strikes a chord with the Indian audience as the contestants reveal their backgrounds, and most stress on how important it is for them to win the contest for their family. As nation we also love seeing the presence of Indians abroad. So when we watched the contestant Deepali in the current season going back to her roots and charming the judges with her delectable Gujarati preparations, we got just another reason to follow the show.
The popularity of any reality show depends a great deal on its judges, and that is exactly where Masterchef Australia leaves its Indian and American counterparts behind. The ever-so-pleasing and occasionally goofy judges, George Calombaris, Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston are now household names among the urban viewers. Seeing their popularity in India, George and Gary visiting our country for a book signing,and were in for a pleasant surprise as they were mobbed by over 3,000 food enthusiasts, as well as getting a fair amount of press coverage. On the show, they do their job of scrutinizing each dish very well. They criticize, but don’t demean any contestant, no matter how disastrous a dish is, and they also never conceal their love for any well-turned out dish. In comparison, the criticism by the judges on the USA and India editions can be very severe. On Masterchef USA, the main judge Gordon Ramsay is quite infamous for his blunt and demeaning criticism, perpetual sternness, and abusive language. The other judges are equally critical and unappreciative. Similarly, when Akshay Kumar judged the first season of Masterchef India, he was similarly grim and critical, lending the show a substantial amount of drama that is only appealing to the viewers of Ekta Kapoor-esque daily soaps.
Furthermore, the presence of an actor completely unrelated to the culinary world judging a cooking reality show didn’t help either.
The audience does not like their favourite contestants being treated with disrespect, and that’s where Australia is a winner.
If given a choice between a familiar dish like Butter Chicken and an exotic dish like Salmon Tartare, what would an urban Indian choose? The Tartare of course! A major contributor in the popularity of Masterchef Australia is the variety of the dishes cooked on the show. Owing to the cultural diversity in Australia, the show is a medley of contestants from different backgrounds around the world, ranging from Indian to Italian, Chinese and more, each cooking a smorgasbord of exotic dishes right from Israeli Shakshuka to Italian Artichoke Ravioli. The show also familiarises us with modern cooking techniques like molecular gastronomy, which would have otherwise been unheard of. Overexposed to regular Indian fare, we are automatically driven towards international cuisines to quell our curiosity about food, and the increase in the number of restaurants serving global cuisines, as well as supermarkets selling exotic equipment and ingredients, has further fuelled our desire for the different. The show is also popular due to its distinguished and Michelin-starred guest chefs like molecular gastronomy expert Heston Blumenthal, and Queen of the Chinese Kitchen Kylie Kwong.
Judging by the record smashing performance of Masterchef Australia, is it time for its counterparts in India and USA to change their ingredients? Undoubtedly, yes. They could definitely take inspiration from Australia’s recipe of success.
Sakhi is a 12th grade student planning to pursue Mass Communication. She is a keen observer of everything that her eyes can see and never leaves herself out of a stimulating conversation. She considers the freedom of expression to be the fourth necessity of life and believes the world could be a better place if we could just listen. Her interests include photography, music and satire. You can wade through her musings at http://www.neuroticpeanuts.blogspot.com.