‘MasterChef Australia’ – Egos in Aprons, Seeking Celebrity

A while ago, in one of those bored moods sitting in front of the monitor googling old school peers, ex-lovers, ex-wish-they’d-been-lovers, distant family relations etc, I thought I’d drop in on my old mate Matt from abstractgourmet. Many moons ago, we enjoyed an “exchange” in the Comments thread of my post And the Boomtown Rap Silver Spoon Best Perth Food Critic Award goes to… . I was out of inspiration for further aimless stone-turning on the web, so why not pay ol’ Matt a visit and see what he was up to, I asked myself. Go on, Self urged in glad response. So I did.

Firstly, I was glad to see the dear lad had taken note of my sage advice to lose the trophyist yuppie kitchen fashion accessories pic parade he used to have plastered across his About Me page (Le Creuset, Wursthoff et al – the usual suspects ). Further, he had dropped his ‘List of Things I Can’t Live Without’, including the Murray River Pink Salt that had been the subject of a gentle chiding from diplomatic, well-meaning moi in our Comments discourse. And I note in a recent post he is singing the praises of down-home Indian-Malaysian fare at a little restaurant in Inglewood. I urged him to get himself to Malaysia to experience REAL gourmet food straight off the street…Inglewood’s a start. It’s gratifying to know that one’s advice is respected and acted upon. (I still wax lyrical reminiscing over the brilliant curries at the Pak Putra Restoranin in Melaka – the best curry feast of my life, including during 3 months in India, and at $5 per head this hawker made nonsense of the effete offerings for $150 per head in some of Perth’s “fine-dining” joints).

For a short while I was feeling I may have been a little harsh on Mr Abstractgourmet. Then I came across this page, the first of several blog posts in which the poor lad whinges on about missing out on qualifying as a finalist in MasterChef Australia. On checking out the dish he presented to the judges, I was prompted to post some observations on the comments thread, which to my vast surprise were promptly deleted. I went to some trouble to stay polite (no mean feat), but for some folk the merest criticism or dissent is taken as a direct personal slight. Censorship is the obvious fallback for fragile egos, I guess. Goes against the very principles of blogging in my view, but there ya go…

Why did I bother offering my views where I knew they would not be welcome? Partly out of deference to my compulsive shit-stirring urge. Mostly out of a need to take a stand against the sort of precious ego-soaked foodie wank that, for me, is epitomized by the abstractgourmet site – and the self-righteousness, self-importance and ego-projection that goes with it.

Fashion, hipness and celebrity have hijacked food in the West, and glam vampires masquerading as “foodies” and/or self-styled cooking experts abound. As a food freak from the beginning of time, I declare myself outside the petty dictates of food fashion, and mission-bound to drive a stake of satire and ridicule into the collective heart of this new breed of food poseurs and kitchen dandies. Don’t think you can hide, ye hunted. The sign shall be your compulsion to crow that you are “passionate about food” from every bump in the landscape.

Harrumph. Now where was I? Ah, my philanthropic abstractgourmet Comments post. Essentially, I suggested that expensive, hard-to-get ingredients like the marron ol’ Matt had had rushed to him all the way from Corrigin were not, in themselves, any measure of a cook’s worth – no matter how fine the ingredients, they need to be appropriately combined and treated with suss.

Our man had bunged the marron in the middle of a lake of salmorejo – an aesthetically odd arrangement, to say the least. Worse though, I contended, the concoction was way out of balance: the robust peasant flavour combos that make up salmorejo would have overpowered the marron. It is no accident, I pointed out, that the Spanish serve salmorejo with jamon – which can hold its own in the personality wars – rather than with delicate crustaceans or seafood. Further, salmorejo is thick and bready, already substantial – dumping a big lump of crustacean in it is culinary autism, texturally jarring, just plain wrong. Regional specialties deserve a little respect! Messing with traditional combos beyond tweaking to personal preference is perilous for the best of cooks, let alone the pretenders.

Marron is such a gorgeous, delicate flavour, I ventured, that there is simply no better way to serve it than with utmost simplicity, allowing its qualities free reign without the interference of big flavoured sauces, spices, etc.

Cooked quickly in lightly salted boiling water, sprinkled with fresh lemon juice, lightly seasoned, and perhaps with a little herb and garlic infused butter sauce – that’s the way to go. Oh, and served with a simple green salad with herbs and fresh dressing and some fresh crusty peasanty bread. Impossible to better that. Let delicate, exquisite flavours speak for themselves ferchissake!

The secret of great cooking is to be found in the traditions of regional cooking – and particularly in domestic kitchens – the world over. It is not in exotic for the sake of exotic, or expensive for the sake of impressing.

My bet is that for every “master chef” who actually succeeds as a bona fide culinary artist – and I’m including pro chefs here – there are 100 ego-bloated pretenders who fool many of the stupid hip-conscious foodies out there with grandiose productions built hollow.

The hawkers in SE Asia, the street stalls and peoples’ restaurants of India, the provinces of the great food regions of Europe, the Middle-East and Morocco – that’s where you’d find me if I was monied and free to roam the world tasting and tippling, not in Michelin star restaurants inhabited by celebs and foodie wankers. The hottest yum zones on the planet are where it’s cheap enough for the locals, where the dishes are locally and seasonally orientated, and where fresh combos of quality ingredients are expertly prepared and informed by tradition and the tweaks of generations.

Great food is nothing to do with fancy “foodie” fare tangled up in arty excess.

Interestingly, the very same points I’ve laboured over above and presented in my fast-deleted comments on abstractgourmet were articulated in the actions of the judges in the first episode of MasterChef Australia, when they declined to sample an elaborate creation engineered to teetering heights by a Malaysian contestant, sending her off to return with one of her favourite Chinese-Malay dishes made regularly by her mother in the family home.

An episode later, they made a similar request of a Lebanese contestant.

It’s a relief, heartening in fact, to see that the judges have their attitudes in the right place – and you’d expect nothing less of food pros like these guys.

That’s not to assign any cred to MasterChef Australia, however. It’s reality TV through and through, and of course, manipulated. The aim is to win ratings, not discover the country’s top amateur cooking talent. Beats me why anyone would want to be on a show like this in the first place – cooks being the new celebs, it’s fame I suppose (it’s certainly nothin’ to do with securing a career in food – there are other well-beaten paths to that destination). Yep, there’s never been a shortage of spotlight chasers. These days, if they don’t trill into a mike, they wear chefs aprons.

And what brings in ratings? Drama and conflict – STORY – which in the case of reality TV shows is staged or fashioned by creatively editing countless mundane hours of shooting. Oh, and “personalities”! Reality TV shows are looking for stereotypes their viewing demographic will recognise without too much effort. I concluded with this point in the censored comment I posted on the abstractgourmet thread, and added some predictions on the contestants. I thought it might be an interesting exercise to re-publish them here in advance of the coming episodes of MasterChef Australia. I might be miles off the mark, but then again, the formulae for these shows is nothing if not predictable, and it don’t take no Einstein to see that…anyway, here’s my list:

1. Some spunky gals and guys with good ogle value.

2. Some outrageous personality types – ie: fucking poseurs with outsized egos and an acting or TV career as a sub-agenda.

3. A token gay or two.

4. A token ethnic or two.

5. Maybe one old fart for the young things to resent and conspire against.

6. A pain in the ‘community’ arse to bring out the bitchiness like salt brings moisture outta eggplant.

Oh, and if I’m wrong, or anyone takes exception to the content of this post, don’t hesitate to express yourself here. Censorship is against the ethos of this site. I might disagree with you, but I’ll sure as hell leave your comments up, no matter how hostile or strongly worded.

6 thoughts on “‘MasterChef Australia’ – Egos in Aprons, Seeking Celebrity”

  1. Hear, hear.

    There’s something of the over-compensator in foodie wankers, turning sustenance to the services of cultural capital accumulation. They invariably betray themselves by overstepping the bounds of taste.

  2. Singapore has some of the best food in the world by far, full of all those street vendor style places. Singapore also has some of the most dirtiest food in the world though. Mr Ping’s delicious family recipe might taste and smell great, but Mr Ping doesn’t wash his hands often enough, he cleans the hoods on his stove almost never and vermin like to sleep in his stock room. And it isn’t a case of our food standards being too high compared to street vendors of non Western countries, because Mr Ping and his disgusting habits really do make people seriously sick and people die simply because he is too lazy/uneducated to run a proper kitchen.

    I know that it is cool for white posers to hate on white culture, but you seriously need to get a grip. People can’t afford to just fly overseas to eat from uncoded food vendors, people can’t even afford the drugs they would need to take to even allow themselves to eat street food and drink local water supplies. Let alone the time off work. And I certainly know that my insurance won’t cover time off work if I chose to ignore official travel warnings and got sick from dirty food.

    There is so much wrong with so much of what you said and you just need to be aware of that. Your dysfunctional personality disorder oozes out with every word you type, of course you cannot see it and will deny it.

    And as far as Masterchef goes, it’s just a tv show sweetheart. It makes no attempt at hiding the fact that all the cooks on the show have never worked in a commercial kitchen before (this is in fact the entire premise of the show). People watch it not to listen to someone having a four paragraph wank over the proper and precise use over a single rare ingredient.

    You completely missed the point of Masterchef, most of the things you talked about and in life in general, I am sure.

  3. Dan, Dan, Dan… First of all, calm down – you don’t wanna get your angst-soaked frillies all twisted round your sad little olive pips, do ya? Might raise your shrill tone a notch higher, and lawd knows where that could lead an excitable little fella like you.

    Breathe deeply, expire slowly. Once, twice. Better?

    Now, if you can control that bitch juice that your poor belaboured pancreas keeps pumping out, making you go all nasty and emotional and irrational, I’ll try to make a couple of points in response to your little tanty.

    Firstly, I didn’t even mention Singapore – I referred only to Malaysia specifically, and SE Asia in general (along with other countries including Europe, where lotsa White People live).

    Whatever, your comments lead me to wonder whether you’ve ever actually BEEN to Singapore – and if so, when? Your stereotyping and anachronistic references to the place’s food culture come across as the fearful reminiscences of some silly greenhorn package tourist of 30 years ago who copped a bad case of Singapore belly during his 3 day stay and has never forgiven the place or its “dirty” cooking folk (oh, fuck it, why not just go the whole hog and add “slitty-eyed” to descriptors like “dirty” – you know you wanna!). Yet you write like a dumbarse twenty-sumpin’ mummy’s boy….WTF? Old before yer time, bro.

    Strewth cob, there is a lot more to Singapore fare than hawkers these days – it’s one of the most sophisticated food centres in the world. That said, I ate almost exclusively at hawkers when I was there a couple of years ago, and had no problems with bugs. Since the locals also eat regularly at hawkers – in their droves – I’d suggest the food poisoning and hygiene fears you’re all upset about are largely a function of some sort of cultural parochialism on your part. You need to get out more…

    Of course, there is doubtless poor food hygiene in Singapore, as there is in Australia, but as is the case here, you’d be unlucky to cop a stomach bug these days – including at the hawker centres.

    Re your comment about it being “cool for white posers (sic) to hate on white culture” – is it? Seems like xenophobic paranoia is an area of specialisation of yours – it sure ain’t one of mine – so I guess I’ll just have to take your word for it. And how does that weird observation of yours relate to my post? Also, how do you know I’m white? Assumptions, bozo, assumptions…be careful – they can make a fool of you.

    Now to poseurs (note the correct spelling). If your reading comprehension capacities were a little more fully developed, you might have understood that food poseurs were one of my primary targets in the post above. If you can point out any written evidence in my post that I fit into this category I’m attacking, please identify it. Otherwise, your ranting is mere bluster that speaks of your state of anger and frustration, rather than to fact.

    And erm, nowhere did I indicate that I thought Masterchef was anything other than a TV show, or that it attempted to hide the fact that “all the cooks on the show have never worked in a commercial kitchen before (this is in fact the entire premise of the show).” Like, DUH!? And your point is?

    Re your comment: “People watch [Masterchef] not to listen to someone having a four paragraph wank over the proper and precise use over a single rare ingredient.” Ah, now we come to the real reason for your tanty and all your personal attacks. You’re miffed over my assessment of poor old abstractgourmet Matt’s choice of dish in the MasterChef auditions!

    Well, Danny boy, or Matt, or whoever you are, you’ll have to somehow learn to live with that without getting all hot and bothered and hostile. You can steam up and mouth off all you like, but evidently the judges were as unimpressed as I was, and for good reason: anyone with half a clue about food and cooking would instantly dismiss a dish as full of bum notes and disharmonies as marron plonked in the middle of a salmorejo for what it is – the try-hard kitchen klutzwork of a yuppie food wanker without any real taste or food sensibility.

    Reminds me of a Perth surfer’s summing up of a group of Japanese surfers decked out in new wetties and sporting new top-of-the-range surfboards, sitting out beyond the swell where there was no chance of ever catching a wave: “All the gear and no idea.”

    Thought you’d appreciate that little analogy – taps into your xenophobia, nyet?

    Bye, bub. Ta for the opportunity to have a bit o fun with you on this dismally dull day – but think I’ll sign off now. Wasted enough time, even if it was a bit of a laugh.

    PS: Hope you get that apoplexy under control – it’s making a crashing fool of you.

  4. Well………. Let me just say….. the first thing anyone does when in a foreign place and if they are going to spend any time in this foreign place is to get ACCLIMATIZED.

    I only spent 4 weeks in Shanghai but I DID NOT GET BALI BELLY. My boss and he’s partner did not use their BRAINS. She got sent back as a medical emergency. The boss screwed the deal and WE all ended up getting screwed over.

    Drink the water and eat the food. It WONT kill you.

    “Been around”

  5. Agree, The Traveller. You’ve got more chance of picking up a gut bug eating salads in a fancy hotel dining room than catching something at the food stalls where the locals eat. Besides, sampling the local food (and I mean LOCAL, not tourist-tailored) is, for me at least, the best part of travelling.

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