Regular readers will know that I have a particular interest – ok, obsession – with how fast foods differ between countries and cultures. I don’t know why I find it so fascinating, and unfortunately this obsession extends to competitive cooking “reality” TV. Yes, this is my secret shame – I’m currently following three editions of MasterChef, and the Australian one hasn’t even started yet…
You will have seen some of these shows on Australian free-to-air and Foxtel, although often well after their original screenings. In this series of articles I’m going to talk about some of the key differences and what I consider to be good (and not so good) about international versions of shows like MasterChef, The Taste, My Kitchen Rules, Come Dine with Me, Top Chef and so on.
MasterChef is the obvious place to start as it exists in so many versions around the world – 42, according to the blurb at the start of the latest iteration, MasterChef Canada. As well as a variety of different formats, it exists in “normal”, professional, celebrity, junior, all-stars and the brand new “duos” editions.
The original – and for many, what will always be the best – is MasterChef UK, with judges Gregg Wallace and Australia’s own John Torode. Now part way through its tenth series, MasterChef UK adopted some of the Australian look and format as it was getting a little tired (about 40 episodes of entry-level heats before it got interesting), although it really didn’t work to start with and the first year was terrible. This year there are three episodes a week in the early rounds, and it’s looking good four weeks in.
Where MasterChef Professionals Australia (sorry, the Marco Pierre White show) failed rather miserably, the UK version goes from strength to strength, having completed it sixth series late last year – it’s one of my favourite editions. Gregg Wallace returns (in the role of “the diner”) but the main drawcard is Michel Roux Junior, with the assistance of his brutal and entertaining senior sous-chef Monica Galetti. Unfortunately, Michel recently left the BBC after a dispute over his endorsement of a brand of potato, and it’s yet to be announced who will be at the helm this year.
There’s always a head chef who isn’t as good as he / she thinks they are, and one of the best rounds is where Monica challenges all the contestants to complete a relatively simple challenge in a short amount of time. You wonder how some of the chefs who screw up badly ever work again.
MasterChef USA is lucky to have Gordon Ramsay as a judge, but he’s not as mean as he is in Hell’s Kitchen (which gets no further mention as I find it tedious, despite it featuring an Englishman yelling at stupid Americans – much like the Equalizer in a kitchen). Joining Gordon we have Joe (son of Italian food guru Lidia) Bastianich – he’s the meanie of the three – and two-Michelin-starred chef Graham Elliot. They make a good trio, and I always enjoy watching this version. Amusingly, the contestants always seem to hate each other – there’s no helping each other out or making friends like in Australia. The winner of MasterChef USA in 2012 was a blind woman.
There are very few guests in the USA version, whereas in the UK they have many Michelin starred chefs, and in Australia we get the likes of Heston Blumenthal. The format rarely changes from week to week – individual challenge, group challenge, “pressure test”, elimination and let’s go around again.
MasterChef USA had a junior edition in 2013, and the skill level was simply amazing. It was also heart breaking to see the reaction of some of the kids when they were sent home. I’m looking forward to this year’s season.
MasterChef Australia needs no introduction to most readers here, and it could be considered the king of them all – it has many more episodes and better guest stars, as well as setting the look for pretty much every version that has come after it. I actually think they make too many episodes here and as we all know its popularity has wained over the years. Last year’s casting was particularly terrible, let’s hope they do a better job this year – not long now!
MasterChef Canada is in its first series, and the contestants are a little nicer than on the American version – there are some curious names like Bubba and Sparkle. The “devil judge” (yes, they use that term) is a chef of indeterminate gender with blue hair. The format is much the same as MasterChef USA and I found it entertaining at the start but my interest has wained as it nears the end.
You’d think they could have paid for some better fonts.
My favourite version of all is MasterChef New Zealand – the contestants are always nice, and the attitude of the show is nurturing but brutal at the same time. When things are bad, the judges are very blunt – “you might as well bugger off and go home”, yells a guest chef on the intro to this year’s show. The masterclass episodes are really great, too.
It’s all so honest, and some of the contestants really aren’t pretty enough for the cover of a cookbook – i.e. they are “normal” people. They swear. They win Skodas. Woolworths is called Countdown. It’s come a long way – I remember watching an early season and the MasterChef logo looked like it was pinned to a noticeboard.
This year’s NZ show featrues a new “duos” competition. There’s (creepy) siblings, (creepy) mother & son, two “friends” that met on FaceBook, a former Miss New Zealand whose ten-years older heavily bearded partner must be holding her hostage etc. Great stuff. The first challenge for the duos was to replicate a Donna Hay black forest cake, and poor Donna looked like she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. One contestant set fire to the recipe; one cake was described by the judges as “chocolate hell”; one of the contestants described their own creation as looking like “a fatal car accident”. You get the idea.
There’s no New Zealand My Kitchen Rules – yet – however a new show called The Great Food Race has recently started, and it’s basically a cross between The Amazing Race and MKR. It’s well produced – dodgy moustache aside – although the episodes are long and it’s a bit slow.
Next time: The Taste USA vs UK