Masterchef 2022 is here, as Gregg Wallace and John Torode reprise their roles judging the efforts of budding home cooks on BBC One. Here’s how the first episode of the series went down.
A new Masterchef challenge puts the John and Gregg in the dark
The new Masterchef opens with a site no-one ever thought they’d see: a Masterchef kitchen empty of John Torode and Gregg Wallace. This is “The Audition,” in which the nine cooks make a dish of their choice — as is typical in the first round — without having John and Gregg in their face the whole time — which is not typical at all.
It’s sort of a borrowing from the most recent two series of Masterchef the Professionals, in which one of Marcus Wareing and Monica Galetti would sit in another room during the initial skills test, watching over video link and commenting on how each chef was doing without their knowing. Here Gregg and John can’t actually see what’s happening, and then they don’t even taste the dishes blind, meeting the contestant for feedback.
It’s also sort of a borrowing from Top Chef’s “judges’s table” and Masterchef Australia, in which contestants watch each other complete challenges from a gantry and offer words of encouragement.
The principle might be solid but it just doesn’t work. In a skills test, each chef is (supposed to be) doing the same few, specific things, so any errors or deviations are easy to identify and more compelling for viewers, because it’s easy to compare who has nailed it with who has screwed up. When nine different cooks are cooking nine different things, trying to focus on each of them would feel staged and haphazard even if they could see what was going on; trying to do just from a menu even moreso.
And it hasn’t gone down well with viewers either
Catching up on tonight's #MasterChefUK... So, they've got a new round to kick the series off with, BUT, what's the point in John & Gregg, being in another room, not watching the contestants cook their meals, if they're just gonna give 'em to 'em themselves, anyway? #MasterChef— ADADAPPADAN (@ADADAPPADAN) March 23, 2022
#Masterchef I immediately hate this new format, if I had another contestant just sitting on a stool watching me cook I'd ask them to turn around and face the wall. And to also shut up.— aHumanbyMistake (@aHumanbyMistake) March 23, 2022
Is the Masterchef disaster era over?
In times gone by, the early rounds of Masterchef were fertile terrain for culinary disasterclasses: raw meat here, cremated vegetables there. But as the world of food TV moves further into the realm of hypervisibility and so becomes more self-selecting, that’s no longer really the case. All nine cooks in, in this episode at least, were at worst absolutely fine.
Eddie dropped a fine fig and almond tart; Haylee rolled up with a beautiful consommé; and Pookie delivered a seabed still-life. Add the new spectacle of contestants watching each other — and interacting a lot — as they cook, and there’s an unmistakeable move towards the Great British Bake Off model of winning and losing, or in this case mostly winning, together.
It’s just desserts for most contestants in the cook off
A more pleasing innovation is in the elimination round, where contestants are obliged to cook a savoury dish if they cooked a dessert, and vice versa. As most contestants start savoury, this does turn the elimination into a sweet dream for Gregg Wallace, but more interestingly ensures that the cooks are perhaps a bit more rounded than previous years (or know literally one dessert.)
#Mastercheffood is here to stay
It did take until the elimination for some deconstruction — Rachel giving the Derrida treatment to a red velvet cheesecake — but deconstruction there was. Put this next to Lisa’s pork in the first round which had seven things on it and Pookie’s excellent, but slightly tortured presentation of a panna cotta, and it’s clear that the idea of “good food” that Masterchef promotes remains the same. As many techniques as possible, either loads of ingredients or one ingredient loads of ways, and everything in little abstract bits.