I like the new MasterChef format

Updated on 25 March 2011 | 0 Comments

Viewers have complained to the BBC; critics have slammed the "X-Factor style" overhaul. But Sophie Morris can't see what all the fuss is about.

There is one sure-fire measure of a British national treasure. It is when we speak out in droves to protect the object of our affection. 

MasterChef revamp 

For the past few weeks, the treasure under fire has been MasterChef, the latest and seventh series of the cooking talent show, which has undergone a dramatic revamp for 2011.

Or has it? Viewers have complained to the BBC; critics have slammed the “X-Factor style” overhaul. Really, I can’t see what all the fuss is about. 

Solo auditions 

For the first few weeks of the series certain changes were indeed revealed. Instead of the contestants cooking in heats for judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace, before finding out whether they had made it into the final 20, they had to cook alone for the judges. 

Yes, the pressure was on. And a number of wannabe MasterChefs lost their cool under the glare of the cameras and the disdain of Torode and Wallace. 

But nothing about this took away from our viewing experience. In fact, we got a better and closer look at what was being cooked. 

New set 

Then there’s the issue of the new set, which has caused more outrage. It is big and it is brash, there’s no doubt about that. It is also shades of red and dark woods, which gives it the feel of a slightly tacky bachelor pad (is it John’s fantasy kitchen, or Gregg’s?). 

But who has the time to get upset about a tv set with some shiny new taps? And, as Wallace has pointed out, “Flash new set, but it’s still the same – an Aussie, a bald bloke and some fantastic food.” 

Telly has to evolve

Esteemed readers of lovefood.com, I ask you, if we were still stuck in the days of Loyd Grossman’s MasterChef, would you be watching it? 

The Grossman show may have been light on the entertainment and heavy on the food, but the new format manages to give equal billing to both the food and the dramatic format. 

Of course it’s all cliff-hanger delivery, good cop/bad cop judging, surprise success stories and triumph over adversity when faced with a Jerusalem artichoke and a blowtorch, but that’s what makes it sing. 

MasterChef is as camp as it is brilliantly self-aware, but it is also an incredibly testing show – flakes don’t get through to the last rounds.

Since the final 20 were selected (we’re now down to seven) the same types of cooking activities and tests as in previous series have been set, such as cooking for top guest chefs (Yotam Ottolenghi set vegetarian challenges last week, which flummoxed the best of them) and hitting the road to produce intricate dishes for large groups of diners. 

Top ratings

Do we really all hate the new MasterChef so much? I’d say the proof is not in pudding, because Gregg has clearly scoffed the lot, but in the ratings – this series is consistently drawing more viewers than any since it launched back in 2005. 5.4 million people are regularly tuning in, compared to 4.6 million for series 6. 

My only complaint is the infrequency of MasterChef’s killer catchphrase in this series – “cooking doesn’t get tougher than this”. Bring it back! 

MasterChef continues Wednesday, 9PM on BBC One, and the accompanying cookbook MasterChef At Home, is out now (RRP £20, on sale at Amazon for £9).  

I'm a MasterChef fan!

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