We’ve had the amateur home chefs, celebrities and kids, and now it’s time for the experienced to take to the kitchen, in TEN’s 2013 take on the MasterChef brand.
There’s a lot that is new in this off-shoot. New city, new kitchen, new mentor and new skills base, but thankfully we are still served up a MasterChef we recognise. Despite the tweaks, Shine hasn’t strayed too far from the recipe of a dish the country still loves.
We are introduced to the new-look kitchen (now located at Melbourne Showgrounds) when one contestant, Michael, walks into this renovated hall like a boxer into a ring. It is much larger than its Sydney counterpart, with areas that highlight meat, wine, produce, seafood, restaurant and more.
Hanging in the middle of it all is an art gallery of enlarged photographs of food. One of them is a dish by him. Shortly, another contestant joins him and they discuss each other’s dishes until all 18 are standing before snapshots of their work.
Together with video bio packages we learn they range in age, experience, ethnicity and background. One was born in Sudan, another has a child with a brain tumour, another is an outback character in a jackaroo hat, and there is a woman who is deaf in one ear. All of them love food and all of them are killer chefs.
Matt Preston sets them straight. There’s no room for mistakes. The prize is $200,000 and a world trip to kitchens across the globe. Behind him is MasterChef‘s new commercial kitchen, a sparkling space full of ovens and stove-tops. Then he introduces the hero of the dish: Marco Pierre White.
Part-villain, part-mentor, White looms ominously both in terms of his on-screen presence and in character. He strides up and down in front of his nervous group.
“I’m not here to be your friend,” he warns the 18 contestants, “but I am on your side.”
In no time the 18 are into their very first challenge: cooking for 120 guests to be seated at tables in the kitchen itself -with one chef to be sent packing by the end of it all.
White treats service like a machine, driving his protégés hard and bombarding them with orders. He says everything twice, if not three times, and swings like a pendulum between ruthless disdain and gentle encouragement. Precision is his best friend. It’s clear he is no battering Gordon Ramsay, no “prick” as early promos suggested. And it’s clear there is method in his methodology.
Being MasterChef, the drama is driven towards every commercial break. Disasters strike even the most experienced. Plates are returned underdone or incomplete. White is unimpressed.
Despite the fact these are experienced chefs, they make mistakes and we connect with them sympathetically. One of the biggest risks in a Professionals series is that we would not feel for the little guy in the way we have in the conventional series. But Shine has balanced this well. You might not be able to cook their dishes this time around, but you are still feeling their pain, and hopefully their joy.
MasterChef: The Professionals arrives like a shot in the arm to a series that was at risk of familiarity and the casting of Marco Pierre White is its master-stroke. It’s also just what the network needs to reheat its own brand, returning to core values as opposed to an influx of wafer-thin formats aimed at niche audiences.
Sit down and wet your lips. This one deserves to be tasted.
MasterChef: The Professionals premieres 7:30pm tonight on TEN.