Sunday, October 7, 2012

MasterClass Lessons

I first started watching Masterchef Australia in its second season. Then, it was intermittent viewing and the connect was just beginning. In the third season, I was hooked and the latest I followed religiously, but always the Australian version. I loved even Junior Masterchef Australia, where the contestant were all aged under 12 years and what they were cooking would have shamed many a chef!

My family members are quite bemused by my interest in a cooking competition like this. And I can understand where they are coming from. I don’t like cooking (I am a reasonably good cook but I don’t like it). And neither am I likely to eat most of the dishes they make on the show, being a vegetarian and lacking a sweet tooth, although they make everything look so good.

So, why? Here I list a few:

#1: Your dreams make you who you are: The contestants are all ordinary people. No celebs these – small or big. They have regular jobs, families. They come on the show, choosing to gamble away their regular jobs and willing to be cut off from their loved ones for the show duration, beyond the communication that the producers permit. I see them and realize, how courageous they are. To take this leap of faith. To have a dream and pursue it. Nearly all of the contestants in the Top 24, even post elimination, choose not to go back to those routine jobs of electricians, pipe layers, teachers, bankers etc. When you hear them say how they do not have a job to go back to but would still have no regrets, I want to learn their courage and salute them

Kate, winner of Season 3, with her family
 #2: It’s never too late: From people like Audra in Season 4, Rachel, Kate and Kumar in Season 3, I learnt that age is no bar. It is never too late to wake up and decide to change your life. There are all these people, well-settled in life, in their late 30s, 40s and 50s. They give up the comfort of familiar, which gets progressively difficult, as we age, to venture into the unknown. To test their beliefs in themselves.

Junior Masterchefs, 2012
#3: Age no bar: The Junior Masterchef contestants astounded me. There were these kids, some as young as 8 years old and they cooked like a dream. I believe, if ever they were to face-off with the older contestants, they might even come out as winners. And their parents let them pursue these dreams, which in India are still considered radical and off-beat.

#3: Background? What background?: This year’s winner, Andy was a 25 year old electrician. Last year, Kate was a housewife. All you need is belief.

Ben, the Tasmanian teacher - Season 4
Alice in Season 4
#4: Being nice is nice: There is no doubt – this is a competition and everyone wants to win – some more, some less. There are moments of doubt and there are moments of overconfidence. But you do not have to walk all over the others to win. Sure, you can be selfish. You have to be. So, given a chance you choose your partners strategically. You choose ingredients and dishes that would throw others off, when given dibs, as challenge winners. But, you do not have to be mean and bitchy. You do have some of those also in some seasons – Dani in Season 3 and Debra in Season 4 are not my favourites – yet most are nice people. Ben in Season 4 volunteers to quit to save young Emma who he considers his sister and then, he consults Andy on the dish he would prefer cooking in the Finals week. Alice chose not to use her immunity pin, because that would mean Beau taking her place in the eliminations, opting instead to use her skills to survive. The immunity challenges would grant immunity to one, but the two other contestants were needed to win and they cooked as if they were getting the pins, which might be used against them later.

#5: Learning goes on: I have seen people deliberately choose unfamiliar ingredients or dishes to challenge themselves and to learn. Taking the risk, which might send them home, but willing to learn. And they learn in every episode, in every challenge. It is amazing how far they come in terms of their skills in three-four months – these amateur cooks. The sophistry of the dishes churned out by Andy in the last two weeks, surprised everyone. Like he said after winning, that even a few weeks back no one would have picked him for a winner.

Awesome Threesome - Gary, Matt, Georrge
#6: Criticism is constructive: I cannot end my list without mentioning the fab judges. Gary, Matt and George (plus Matt Moran, whenever he joined them) were absolutely amazing. It would not be wrong to say that they were less of judges but more of mentors, teachers. They would come and give advice while contestants cooked. They freaked them out. They joked with them. They chided them. But you could feel their pride in the contestants coming off the screen in waves at the end of every challenge – be it cooking in an Italian cafe for lunch or cooking for some of the biggest names in the culinary world. And all without melodrama.

So, I am a little sad that the season is over. But I loved every moment of it. And then there’s Masterchef All Stars coming up J

As an aside, my next post is going to be about Game of Thrones (or A song of Ice and Fire, as George R. R. Martin) calls the book series. I am into the last book out and am holding my breath for the end.

MasterChef™ is produced by Shine Australia for Network Ten based on the format by Franc Roddam.

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