MASTERCHEF Season 2 Premiere Advance Review

MASTERCHEF

MASTERCHEF “Audition 1” Season 2 Episode 1 – I was able to view an advance screening of the Season 2 premiere episode of MasterChef and I think it’s fair to say that this is probably the best that FOX has done in terms of Gordon Ramsay shows for American audiences. I became a Gordon Ramsay fan after watching his British television programs and was disappointed in the adaptations of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen that were made for American audiences. I dismissed MasterChef in its first season thinking it would be more of the same. In all honesty, part of it is still feels the same – there’s still the manufactured drama and melodramatic music that is the hallmark of FOX reality programming, but there’s something about MasterChef that feels just a little bit more genuine. A little bit.

Part of it might be that with three judges on board, Chef Ramsay doesn’t always have to play the screaming man. He still has his moments, but his angry outbursts are balanced better with more authentic amusement and moments of sincerity so he doesn’t seem like a caricature of himself the way he did on Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares.

Because there has to be a bad guy, Chef Joe Bastianich takes up the role of the cold-hearted judge. He has a smug way of looking at people and the way he talks makes him seem like a jerk even when he’s paying someone a compliment. Despite his snobby air, it’s difficult to totally dislike him. I get the feeling that Chef Bastianich is the way he is because he’s absolutely dead serious about food. He’s not about to lower his standards for home cooks in terms of texture and flavor even if it means not a single person that walks through those massive doors will get an apron.

Rounding out the judges table, is Chef Graham Elliot who seems to like almost everyone and has an optimistic attitude about everything that crosses his plate. He’s the opposite of Chef Bastianich in that even when he’s criticizing someone, he manages to do it in such a way that seems nice and sometimes even complimentary.

On one hand it’s awkward to watch professional chefs harshly critique the dishes of normal home cooks who have no training or background in food. There’s a definite “American Idol of cooking” vibe in this premiere with one hundred contestants clamoring for a few aprons in the MasterChef kitchen. Some of them brought along character shticks to help them get past the chopping block in case their food wasn’t strong enough to stand on its own. There are some cringe-worthy moments where I just wanted to fast forward through so I could avoid the embarrassment I was feeling for them. On the other hand, these people had to know exactly what they were walking into and I have to hope they were mentally prepared for the possibility of not only being rejected but also for the possibility of being humiliated.

Ultimately, the purpose of MasterChef is to find someone with enough natural talent and intuition to make seriously good food. When Chef Bastianich explains that restaurants are democratic and that the good ones succeed, the same applies to the contestants on the show. There are already some contestants I’m rooting for that make me wish I was able to taste the food they’ve prepared for the chefs.

Although the set up is similar to a number of other cooking show competitions, MasterChef was still interesting and entertaining. There are one hundred underdogs in the running and every person that comes up to the counter could be the one to whip out a dish that will blow away the competition and impress the palates of seasoned chefs. I’m excited to see what the rest of the contestants will be cooking up for their judges in the following episode.

Unfortunately the forced dramatization detracts from what would otherwise be a solid reality series and I think MasterChef would benefit from the advice that Chef Ramsay regularly gave to the struggling chefs he’s mentored: keep it simple.