Sunday, 27 June 2010

Mastering the ratings

Master Chef makes for great entertainment, if that’s what turns you on, and it obviously turns many people on, judging by the evidently bottomless budget pit MC producers appear to have. Last year’s splurge to Singapore was nothing in comparison to this year’s outing to London and Paris, and what obviously went into organizing the various events for contestants in both cities.

The thing that struck me most forcibly last week whilst watching the London episodes was wondering how many chefs in Australia would give their eye teeth to be there in London having a private cooking lesson, and time chatting food, with Jamie Oliver. How many would love the chance to cook with Heston Blumenthal? To chat with all the world-class chefs who attended the function that the two prizewinners got to attend.

It’s nice that the MC contestants got to experience all the trappings of life in the fast (cooking) lane, but when push comes to shove, they actually are only a handful of amateur Australian cooks on a reality TV cooking contest, with cooking having been their hobby for x years.

Chefs around Australia have selected that particular career path for themselves years back, when they started their apprenticeship. They have suffered the indignities of extremely hard physical work, shocking conditions (in many cases), anti-social hours of work, extremes of emotion, studying at the same time for their ultimate qualification. They mostly do this at one of the most vulnerable times of their lives, when they are immature, just out of home, starting up relationships with the opposite sex, dealing with the myriad issues that you need to deal with at this stage of life (saving for a car, keeping up with your mates etc). In a nutshell, they have done it tough.

And into the cooking landscape swan 20 amateur cooks who get handed on a platter the most extraordinary cooking experiences daily whilst we the viewers get to salivate at the results of their master classes with the likes of Tetsuya, Donna Hay, Kylie Kwong, Neil Perry et al, as well as the Jamie Olivers – all for the executives at Channel 10 to get their annual bonus for having achieved the highest ratings.

Why can’t this MC program somehow be linked into improving our standards nationally, and allowing up-and-coming chefs to achieve the same high-flying notoriety as the MC contestants? Why isn’t a 3rd year apprentice at, for instance, Tetuya’s Sydney restaurant a name on everyone’s lips as being the next big name in cooking, rather than lawyer Claire on MC?

Why isn't the World Skills competition, for instance, made more of? It's a nitty-gritty, down and dirty, hands-on competition of pure skills in apprentices. Because it's boring? Because it's unglamourous? Because the main players aren't cute and desirable with model girlfriends? Because no one will sponsor it, or push it to be more than an esoteric competition?

We’ve all worked with people with that ‘magic touch’ in the kitchen. We KNOW with certainty what it looks like. Why do those very people have to fight to get anywhere, or achieve any kind of recognition for the way they work?

I’m sorry but I think the London MC experience would have better served some of our current chefs in this country, and not merely be used as a Wow Factor ratings exercise for a TV show.


Nola said...

It's highly unlikely that Claire is the next big name in cooking.

Tassiegal said...

Last years trip with to Hong Kong Rita. I also tend to agree with you - while its great these people get these experiences, I reckon young chefs in Australia would give their back eye teeth to meet some of the people these guys have. Hell I'd give my back eye teeth to try some of the food they have! I LOVE the idea about World Skills comp - unfortunately its not "ratings" TV. HOWEVER I do remember watching last year a doco on SBS about the competition to become a master pastry(?) chef in France. It followed some of the competitors through their prep and then through the competition. It was really fascinating.

the iconoclast said...

"It's highly unlikely that Claire is the next big name in cooking"
Says Nora, apparently Tasmania's newest Local ABC 'Foody'. I hardly think re-heating frozen pre-ccoked schnitzels and blogging about them makes you Hobarts pre-eminant good food spokesperson-do you?

Nola said...

Get over it IC. That was a fair statement.

If you'd like to wage a one person hate campaign go ahead, but I've no idea how that is going to benefit anyone. That ABC gig is up for grabs, if you're so knowledgable send me an email I'll put in a good word for you. You might want to work on your sense of humour though.

the iconoclast said...

Don't be so egocentric Nora.
Take a chill pill!
There's no hate campaign going on.
Just an expresion of difference,
Cant you handle being scrutinized?
Toughen-up, I'm just calling it as I see it.
I dont hate you, I dont know you.
I do know you have a blogsite where you consistantly talk up your photographic, professional and foody credentials/aspirations and talk down your finacial situation.
In between there's not much else.
Just my humble opinion-no hate campaign here.
Maybe just yet another overly sensitive Gen Y reaction when they are called into question....?

Snuva said...

Sorry to change the subject back to loving or hating MasterChef instead of each other. I think the bad things Rita has mentioned are bad. Definitely. And it makes me violently angry to think that these people who talk about aspiring to open restaurants and cafes think all they need is to learn how to cook 1 serve of a few different things. To succeed they also need to be businessmen, managers, able to produce many plates under high pressure night after night, etc. And not being able to identify beef vs pork vs veal?!? I really wish they had to go to TAFE or similar (like people doing 15 had to) along side the competition or do this intensely as the first few weeks of the competition.

But here's a few positives:

* MC replaces that other episode-every-day reality show they used to have, Big Brother. Some people would think this is enough to be thankful for MC and hope it runs for years.
* My manager's family now cooks together often because his kids are excited about trying different recipes. This from a family that used to just make the sort of cut-up-chicken-simmered-in-bought-sauce type meals. That the children were never excited about learning how to make. Now they sometimes have friends over to cook complicated desserts as a treat.
* Other people I know have started going to more expensive restaurants because they understand more what goes into that sort of meal and realise why it is worth the money.

So there's good and there's bad, but if it keeps me from even having so see Big Brother while I'm changing channels I'm happy.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone read G Phillips review of the Bruny Island cafe?
If what he wrote is true, the people running that cafe need to learn a few things about hospitality or face losing custom

Nuf Sed said...

Hi Anon 12.52

IM BACK!!! Been a while.

Yes I read GP's review. and Yes, I have been there.

Bit strange, that place. The providore seems to be packed to the rafters with fresh produce, yet the alleged 'restaurant' there seems to have an inability to cook anything.... The time I went there I was told no breakfast, but they "might" be open for lunch.

On the rare occasion that the restaurant is actually open... The kitchen seem unable to provide more than 2 menu options.

Well I ended up going down to Adventure Bay for lunch, it was nice.

sir grumpy said...

I vowed never to watch MasterChef again after the debacle last time when they brought back already eliminated contestants.
I found Donnas Hay disappointing too, although her stuff in print is good.
All the contestants still in it last season should have (on that logic) got a second chance too!
Don't miss it, although I did see a sliver of one episode when Rick Stein was in it (accident really but I do like Stein).
They can take this show and shove it.

Rita said...

Nola - I didn't think I'd have to explain myself but using the name Claire in my post was symbolic of all contestants, and I obviously don't think for one second that Claire is destined to be the next big name in cooking, just as I find it hard to take Poh seriously in her current cooking program on Channel 2, especially with her fake laugh!
TG - glad you're still commenting. Hong Kong, Singapore - meh! Whatever!
Iconoclast - welcome. You appear happy to put the cat amongst the pigeons?
Snuva - great points, and great to hear from you again too btw.
Anon 12.52 - yes, I saw that and think I'll pop them on my crap service listing!
Nuf Sed - welcome back! We missed you. Thanks for your feedback.
Good job you didn't see last night's and tonight's episodes then Sir G! They've bought back all those from this current series who have previously been eliminated, and wanted another bite at the cherry, a second chance!

sir grumpy said...

Poh's horse laugh wiv all em teeth!
Program's saved a bit because of guests such as carluccio etc.
So MasterChef is at it again? For me, they're gone baby, gone, gone, gone.
I knew they were having Blooming Hestonthall on because I saw an ad.
Another reason to not tune in with all that bullshit foam etc. That's not fucking cooking.
Him and his Spanish counterpart at El Bullshit.
One day people will have the balls to look back and cringe at that molecular gastroshit.

ut si said...

Have never seen MC cos our teev only picks up abc1 & sbs...the twitterverse is scathing in its condemnation of the show so reading snuva's positive comment above was interesting. I liked Poh when I met her Rita & she was very generous to our staff but do wish she'd wear more clothes in her kitchen.

Nola said...

Oh Rita I know you don't think that Claire is the next bit name in cooking. You were being tongue in cheek as was I. I meant no offense.

Tassiegal said...

Rita - you would have to tie me up and blow up all 3 of the laptops I have access to to stop me commenting!

Anonymous said...

funny how women make superficial comments about other women - ie Poh - how will female cooks and prime ministers ever hold their own ground - when this is how we see each other???

steve said...

Hi Rita-Re; master chef,
I'm just not a fan

bri said...

This is an entertaining read:

I'm not ashamed to admit I like the show. I've learned a few new things from watching it, and I get a kick out of following the progress of the contestants. I think they are all aware that it's not exactly a realistic situation and are (mostly) grateful for this rather unusual opportunity. Nor do I think it takes anything away from what 'real' chefs have to go through to earn that title. But I can see why it might irritate those in the industry.

It's a heck of a lot better than most of the rubbish on TV these days.

I also like Poh and her show. She's friendly, down-to-earth, and willing to keep on learning in the public domain, basically inviting viewers to learn with her. I think that's a good thing :)

Onmysoapbox said...

Hey Rita this is exactly what I was saying in previous posts 'My old bugbear- customer service, or the lack therof...'.

These shows glamourise cooking.

In a previous life I work in the recruitment industry specialising in Hospo and I would often sit there and think hey when did cooking become trendy, it wasn't when I first started. Shit the thought of working long hours on low pay in sometimes horrible conditions is somehow appealing even trendy. This is why there is such a high turn over in young apprentices.

These contestants who state that all they ever wanted to do was cook, yet went and got their degree or whatever, were not prepared to put in the hard yards to become an industry profession. (But hey according to KR (previous post) we hospo workers are simple people, who need more training).

Why are these opportunities offered to our young apprentices? Tetuya's is associated with brand Tasmania and I appreciate the time he already puts into promoting our state, but is the Tasmanian Brand getting its full money worth for these promotion.
I would like to see more money invested in the next generation of Tasmania cooks and chef's. And I am sorry this has to be government lead, the industry needs help- more the point the young cooks and chefs need help.

Thats my rant for the week....

Anonymous said...

The whole process is about selling ad space. A sweaty young apprentice in a dirty jacket will not sell more cereal at Woolies. Shoving images of hard working people down the throats of ordinary Australians will only make people change to channel Two and a Half men. Hard work does not sell, it's not sexy.
I have not seen a single episode of the show as I don't get channel ten and I am not too upset about missing the show.
I have no problem with people getting their 15 minutes, as long as they don't turn into arseholes. I do, however, have a problem with people who would never even qualify to be on the show acting like a judge when they head out for a $15 lunch special.
Do they show what the prices would be in a Melbourne/Sydney restaurant? I had a spanikopita (spelling??) at The Press Club in Melbourne and it cost $30. May have been a poor menu choice on my behalf, but these dishes should really be put into perspective.

ut si said...

Come to think of it, Chef turned up for work in a skimpy little blue singlet yesterday...but he had an orchard to plant.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5.27-is that you Nola?

Ut Si-I bet he looked buff

Nola said...

I'm not Anon 5.27. But you'd think so wouldn't you!

Anonymous said...

No blog updates in sooooooooooo long :(

sir grumpy said...

I have a pet gripe to chew on. We use a little Indian place at Kingston which is fine.
Except, when we eat in, the girl takes the orders for our stuiff (all in the baine marie waiting) and we pay up.
We the go through the back and wait...and wait.
It seems she is so caught up in the passing takweaway trade we have to wait.
After all, she has our dough. we're a captive audience.
Last time, I emerged from the back to be met with ``yes, yes, it's ready'' before I even said anything.
This made me think she knew the whole situation.
I should have said, ``we'll I'll take it then!''
I don't know why she can't put it together for us on a tray when we order and bring the drinks later.
That's what happens happily at the Asian place (Touch of Asia?) we use.
I'll be asking the same of the Indian place next time abd mentioning it to the owner.

Anonymous said...

Sir Grumpy, I generally do not go to that place as food standards have dropped so so much.

The staff are generally outside dragging on cigarettes like there life depends on it, and service average.

sir grumpy said...

Yes, when it first started, the tandoori chicken was pretty good.
We usually bog in once in a blue moon. I will say their Madras curry is very good, but most offerings are too sweet and gloopy for me.
I was not aware of the smoking thing, that puts me right off. I see it in town round many places (Indian in Collins St for example).
It's a terrible look. Why don't the owners crack down?
You always wonder if they wash their hands of all that nicotine gunk before preparing more food.
I've just struck another place off my list.

Anonymous said...

Pretty soon, I won't be eating out at all.... The amount of stodge, MSG, low quality vegetable oil, imported garlic, Tumeric, Flourescent, greasy oily crap they put into takeaway foods these days is enough to make you sick....

sir grumpy said...

I have started to think many of the places around town must be using cheap oil.
We have been complaining about indigestion and heartburn after curries and stir-fries around town and we love our spices.
I asked one of the places if they used ghee (which I like) and was told (proudly) we use healthier (questionable anyway) vegetable oil. Cheaper more like.
I know it must be tough for these places fighting for custom. so every dollar shaved from the ingredients can come off the price of a feed.
I'd rather pay an extra dollar and get reasonable quality but many won't.
I remember in the food court at Cat & Fiddle seeing a skirt-suited smart young lady (looked like a bank or store management type) eating just a plate of plain boiled rice with water to sip on.
Can't be much of a margin on that for the business providing.

Albury Accommodation said...

Claire and Adam are the two most able performers. Adam is the most inventive and Claire perhaps technically superior. I think the winner will come from one of these two.

Melbourne Restaurant said...

I agree anonymous...

Claire got flustered once to often not realizing what a time consuming task peeling all those broad beans was going to be.