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Masterchef mania

1 created by Franc Roddam, the Masterchef franchise originated with the UK version in 1990. Till 2001, the UK format had three amateur cooks taking part in each episode, with nine heats leading up to three semifinals and a final, in which they competed for the title of Masterchef. The show adopted a different format known as Masterchef goes large from 2005.

2 Rhe show is now produced in more than 35 countries worldwide — Israel to Ireland, China to Croatia, Peru to Phillippines. Bangladesh and Vietnam are all set to get their Masterchef formats by the end of the year.

3 The format has appeared in four versions: the main Masterchef series, Masterchef: the professionals for professional chefs, celebrity Masterchef featuring famous faces as contestants and junior Masterchef, created and adapted for kids.

4 Masterchef Australia is the most popular format of the Masterchef franchise. The first season of the show — which has won many logie (Australian TV) awards — went on air in 2009. Masterchef Australia features a different format than that of the original british Masterchef and Masterchef goes large. Initial rounds consist of contestants individually auditioning by presenting a dish before the three judges in order to gain one of 50 semi-final places. The semi-finalists are then tested for food knowledge and preparation skills, until a Masterchef is crowned. The winner plays for a prize that includes chef training from leading professional chefs, the chance to have their own cookbook published and prize money.

5 Masterchef Australia has had four seasons, with the fourth season currently airing in India on Star World (we know who the winner is, but we aren’t spoiling it for you!). Junior Masterchef Australia has aired over two seasons, with only season one (in picture) having been telecast in India so far. Masterchef all stars — a format that pits Masterchef contestants from various seasons against each other — goes on air from october 8 on Star World.

6 A large amount of credit for the popularity of Masterchef Australia goes to its three judges — chefs Gary mehigan and George Calombaris and food critic and author Matt Preston (from left to right, picture above). While Gary is easily the most supportive among the three, George’s comic style of presentation has many fans. Matt Preston — the man with the ballooning weight and over-the-top dressing style — is the big daddy on set, ever ready with a pat on the back or a word of encouraging criticism.

7 The lip-smacking food dished out on the show apart, it is the format — mystery box challenge (in picture) to invention test, bottom 3 cook-off to a chance to grab an immunity pin — that keeps the interest cooking on Masterchef Australia. The best one for us so far? The junior version with knee-high kitchen hands showing off their jaw-dropping culinary skills.

8 Celebrity chefs — and guests — from across the World have entered the kitchens of Masterchef Australia. Nigella Lawson, Kylie Kwong, Donna Hay, Jamie Oliver, Adriano Zumbo and Heston Blumenthal have lent their skills to the show. Season 3 even had the Dalai Lama (right) sampling and rating the contestants’ dishes!

9 Masterchef Australia’s popularity has led to cooking schools down under reporting a rise in enrolments, while kitchenware retailers and upmarket restaurants have also seen a boost in business. Supermarkets have reported increased demand for the unusual ingredients used on the show such as quail, custard apple and squab. In India, Masterchef Australia is a TRP topper for Star World.

10 The first season of Masterchef USA, with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay (left) as one of the judges, was telecast in India last year. However, the format didn’t click with audiences here. As a result, subsequent seasons of the show haven’t made it to Indian screens.

11Two seasons of Masterchef India have made it to our screens. While the first had Akshay Kumar as judge, the second season was co-judged by celebrity chef Vikas Khanna , who has rustled up dishes for the Obamas and the Clintons, among others. High on drama and low on charm, Masterchef India, for most viewers, is a poor take-off on the popular format.

Akshay Kumar with guest judge Randhir Kapoor on MasterChef India

Masterchef australia is the flavour of the season for young — and not-so-young — calcutta

Neelanjana Das, student of architecture, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

I follow the show in UK too. I stay in the hostel and so don’t enjoy the luxury of having a personal television set there. Instead, I follow the show on my laptop. I love watching the contestants do so many tasks within an hour. It’s amazing! I try and incorporate this in my cooking, I try and multitask. When I’m not cooking I like instructing others, based on the knowledge gathered from this series! Amina Elshafei was my favourite, but sadly she got eliminated. I can’t tell you who my favourite host is, because the famous trio (Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston) are perfect! They are nice and encouraging.

Abhishek Bhowmick, B.Com third-year student, Umesh Chandra College

I love watching Masterchef Australia because of the cooking tips I can acquire from it. I don’t really have a favourite contestant, but Gary Mehigan surely is a great host. I have already tried to replicate the Hariyali Chicken cooked with spinach, which they made on the show. I must tell you, it did taste quite amazing! I try and cook during weekends, as I don’t get enough time for it on weekdays. I love preparing spicy kebabs and prawn curries.

Neera Majumdar, BA English second-year, Jadavpur University

I have been following Masterchef Australia since the second season. It is way better than Masterchef US. The Indian version is just sad! How can contestants be given extra time if they fail to finish their task within the deadline? I love Masterchef Australia because of the gastronomical experiments they do and the stock of food they have! Cooking is more than just chicken and veggies. I cook quite often. Inspired by the show, I tried baking a lemon cake last night and it was yummy! I love Amina, though she has been eliminated. She is sweet, simple and really talented. George Calombaris is the best host. When he shouts “Boom boom shake the room…”, who can stay away from the television set?

Sohini Ghosh, Class XI, Army Public School

“I love watching Masterchef Australia because I love to cook. I can’t cook much, though! I love helping my mother in the kitchen. I have learnt how to bake by now, and recently I tried to prepare a French dessert that the contestants made on the show. It came out pretty okay, actually. The show is so much fun. I try to remember all the little tips that are let out by the celebrity chefs and judges. The programme has really inspired me. My favourite contestants from this season are Ben Milbourne and Andy Allen (above). I hope one of the two wins. George Calombaris is definitely my favourite host on the show.”

Shounak Majumder, English honours, Asutosh College

MasterChef Australia has changed my entire perspective on the food industry and the art of making food, be it rustic and countrymade or the fine-dining stuff that make the gourmand in me go all “mmmm”. But it is not just a cookery competition. We get an insight into the lives of real people with dreams very much like our own and the judges Gary, George and Matt are some of the most delightful personalities I have ever seen on television. ‘Mystery Box’,‘Invention Test’ or the value of an ‘Immunity Pin’— I know it all like the back of my hand!
From Brioche and Tuile to Pavlova, my food vocabulary has grown by leaps and bounds! Sometimes I imagine what my life could be as a food connoisseur somewhere in southern France or as a restaurateur in Manhattan. Religiously following the show from Season 2, I have caught up with the first season on the Internet. I was transported to Paris, New York and the famous Kangaroo Islands when my favourite contestants flew down for a tantalising food experience.

I cannot but gush over the Nigella Lawson moment from Season 3 (which is still my favourite), Kylie Kwong’s appearance in the Dalai Lama challenge, Adriano Zumbo looming over everyone while they rushed to finish the deadly Croquembouche and Anthony Bourdain’s amazing seafood challenge.

MasterChef Australia has managed to ignite a fire in my belly resulting in my trying out dishes served up by the contestants. I have successfully cooked a few but my absolute favourite has to be Julia’s Melting Moments from the current season, the Prawn Ravioli from the last and the Tarte Lorraine from a Masterclass. I can’t wait to try the Cola-baked Chicken.

A t2 MasterChef fan on what makes the show so appetising

I don’t watch TV. I abhor TV. I find everything fake on it. Maybe it has something to do with the countless TV reality shows and talent hunts I have had to cover as a journo, where every emotion seemed manufactured and rehearsed.

And then one fine day, I switched on MasterChef Australia. Not that I hadn’t seen stray episodes of earlier seasons. But this fourth chapter unfolded in front of me early into the season. And voila, it was a munch, er, match made in heaven.

The competition and the camaraderie and, of course, the cooking became an irresistible recipe for addiction. And before a toaster could go pop, I was hooked every night at 9, tuning in to catch more than a dozen amateur cooks from Down Under fight it out in the MasterChef Kitchen. And thank you STAR World for repeating the show every couple of hours. So even if I missed the 9pm telecast, I could watch it at midnight or at 3am. Yes, I have stayed up till 4 in the morning for MasterChef because missing an episode was just out of the question.

That ‘amateur’ bit makes all the difference for me. Because while some of the dishes they cook can easily find pride of place in top Michelin-starred restaurants, their approach to the cooking and presentation is actually an extension of their personality. And believe you me those are very different — from an apprentice electrician to a physiotherapist to a paediatric nurse to a legal secretary.

From “your time starts now” to “step back from your benches”, it’s exhilarating to watch the contestants go crazy and creative with their cooking. The tests are innovative; from pressure test to invention test — cooking with a cactus must really be both pressure and invention! The best are the guest chefs and judges who bring their own personas to the episodes. Like Marco Pierre White really made the kitchen a Corleone corner.

But it is the emotions that make the show for me. Despite murmurs on blogs that every emotion on the show is cooked up, I heart their heartbeats and heartbreaks. Yes the show is cut really well to arouse those feelings in audiences but the feelings on the show are as real as they get.

If watching the show isn’t enough, I tag the talk to social networks. As Meredith Grey promotes her Anatomy in the breaks, I hashtag #Masterchef and discuss the latest from the show on Twitter. And it’s so much fun to know a film critic friend in Delhi rooting for Audra while my food blogger dost in Mumbai wants to throw Debra out of the show.

I hate the Masterclass episodes, though. Not because the dishes that the hosts and chefs cook are too exotic and made with ingredients you can’t even dream of sourcing here in Calcutta but because those episodes don’t stir up competition at all. They are those bland speedbreakers on what is a rollercoaster ride every weeknight.

As a natural corollary for my obsession with MasterChef Australia, I searched the contestants on Twitter and started following them. And trust me I do not get as thrilled when an @iamsrk replies to me as I was when @julia_bakes wrote back!

I really don’t know whether this fixation with MasterChef would spill on to other seasons or on to other country versions but Julia, Ben, Andy, Audra, Mindy, Kylie, Alice and Amina will always occupy a very special part in my heart — and tummy.

Pratim D. Gupta