Thursday, October 27, 2011


MasterChef Italia logo - Wikipedia
I have always preferred radio to television but one TV programme I used to enjoy in the UK was MasterChef - until, that is, it went the way of all flesh and got "dumbed down".  But for the past month I've been enjoying the first MasterChef Italia series immensely and thought I would try to give you a flavour of it tonight.

The programme goes out on Wednesday evenings at 21.00 and finishes at approximately 23.00.  Like most Italian TV series, its episodes are long and rarely finish on schedule, partly because the commercial breaks  are also longer than they would be in the UK.  

As you would expect, the Italians have brought their own unique touches to the show, making it a cookery programme with a touch of the human weakness that is often present in series like Big Brother [still going strong in Italy] or The Weakest Link.   Contestants are encouraged to talk about each other throughout the show and, although they are usually mutually supportive, cracks in their relationships become evident as the cookery challenges get harder and "elimination time" draws nearer, for two contestants are eliminated each week.

Let me talk you through the show's stages:  all the hopeful cooks begin the programme in one enormous kitchen, where their first challenge is to produce a dish from up to ten ingredients in identical "mistery boxes". [That is not a typo.]  At the end of the allotted time, they submit their dishes to the harsh judgement of chefs Bruno Barbiere and Carlo Cracco who are joined by restaurateur Joe Bastianich.  [If you read Italian, you can find out more about the judges here.]

The person who, in the judges' opinion, has produced the best "mistery box" dish is allowed to choose the type of ingredients to be used for the next task, the "invention test":  in tonight's programme, for example, the contestants had to produce, in one hour and using a selection of mountain herbs and root vegetables plus a limited number of ingredients of their choice, a dish that would evoke the flavours of the Italian mountains.

Image:  Wikipedia

And then things get tense:  at the end of this hour, the cooks again submit their dishes for judgement and the chefs choose not only the best, but the three worst dishes prepared.  They do not mince their words, either and among tonight's comments were, "Not even the dog would eat that" and, "This dish is a disaster".  The three cooks destined to be shamed stand at the front of the kitchen, shed tears and sweat blood until finally judge Carlo Cracco reveals the name of the cook who is eliminated.  That contestant then has to take off his or her MasterChef apron and leave the kitchen.   At this point there are hugs and commiserations, grown men cry openly in each others' arms and there are a few recriminations via interview.

For the next, and most interesting, stage of the programme, the remaining contestants board a coach and head for an unknown destination where they will, in two teams, cook for an important "real" occasion and the diners will decide on the winning team.  In tonight's programme the contestants had to cook a gala dinner at the Australian Embassy in Rome using Australian ingredients and recipes - all in only four hours.  The cooking of a perfect Pavlova was the undoing of both teams but the other dishes were mostly successful and the diners had a difficult job in choosing the winners.  The Ambassador's wife, I thought, was splendid and proved herself a better diplomat than her husband in her comments on the dishes.  [Will someone send that woman to sort out the Middle East, please?]

Finally, the losing team has to take a "pressure test" and, on the result of this, one more person will be eliminated.  Last week they had to cook perfect mashed potato - which, as every cook knows, should be simple but can be temperamental - and I watched with great empathy as one poor woman resorted to mashing the stubborn vegetables with her hands. [Presumably the judges would curl up and die if the contestants did as I do and used a hand mixer.]  Tonight only two team members had to take the test and there was much bad feeling and bleeped-out swearing as their "captain" chose the unlucky pair.  The challenge was to cook fillet steak in three ways - rare, medium and well done ["well done" not meaning to an Italian what it would to a Brit or an American] and at the end there was a graceful exit as another pinny was dropped onto the counter.

All in all, it is a thoroughly absorbing programme but I have one suggestion, judges:  don't you think it's a bit mean to take the pinny back?

MasterChef Italia Series 1, Episode 4 - 12.10.11


jams o donnell said...

The current format, certainly in the UK, is far better than I remember when it started out with that annoying Lloyd Grossman.

Patricia said...

I did not know there was a Masterchef Italia. We watch Masterchef in the US. Being reality TV there is a lot of forced drama. Gordon Ramsey is yelling and berating the chefs, Joe Bastianich is doing his "Italian" thing, and the chefs, sweat, cry, tremble. but over the weeks we get to "know" them and have our favorites. I would have loved to view the video but it said "video not available" when I tried to click on it. Maybe because I am not in Italy?

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

There are versions of this type of show on American TV that follow almost the same format. It is fascinating to watch how the chefs make things out of the mystery box ingredients. I think the judges are not as harsh here, but they are still very critical. I think the producers like a lot of drama to hold the audience interests so they encourage rivalry and so on. T

Whispering Walls said...

I think you should enter, WL

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi,jams. I agree that Grtossman could be annoying but I preferred him to Rhodes. Hi, Patricia. I didn't realiser Bastainich was on Masterchef over there, too. A pity about the video. Have you tried viweing it directly on youtube? Hi, Pat. Oh, yes, I'm sure the drama and tears are encouraged. I think the Italian judges are very harsh. Oh, WW, I'd get iin a terrible panic and would end up swearing at the judges!

Mimi Lenox said...

I just wanted to invite you to join us again this year for BlogBlast4Peace. We hope to see you flying a peace globe with us! It wouldn't be the same without you.
One subject. One day. One voice. Join us!

Founder, BlogBlast4Peace

Cuby said...

This sounds totally absorbing if heart wrenching when people get eliminated! I do watch occasional episodes of M.Chef here in the UK but do end to find them rather sameish and now celebrity M.Chef has made it to the screen. HO HUM!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Mimi. Nice to see you and thanks. I'll be there. Hi, Cuby Poet. Oh, yes, I nearly cry with the eliminated contestants!


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