‘We Could All Understand’: How MasterChef Harnessed the Locked-Out Cooking Boom | Chef


Ffrom sourdough starters to ubiquitous banana bread, the UK’s obsession with food has never been more evident than during shutdowns, but that enthusiasm has been heightened by the pandemic, say the producers behind MasterChef, as the long-running television contest marks its 500th season in the world.

Watched by more than a billion people worldwide, the series has won over more viewers than ever before, because “the world, not just the nation, loves food and cooking so much,” according to Monica Galetti, judge on MasterChef: The Professionals.

“During the lockdown… we were all stuck at home doing things over and over again,” Galetti said, “and [when watching the show] people were like, ‘Oh, I could do that.’ These were things we all could relate to back then, cooking!

MasterChef was the third most-watched program of 2020 on iPlayer, with 22.2 million requests, beaten only by the Normal People and Killing Eve dramas, as the confined UK audience sought culinary inspiration and experimented with skills such as cooking. bread making.

Its executive producer, David Ambler, said, “People really want to show off their food. You might say ‘it’s just cooking’, but the amazing thing about food is that everyone’s food story is unique and it’s something audiences relate to.

“Food is incredibly powerful emotionally… if you lose touch with loved ones or if your grandmother dies… these things endure and are passed on through our food. It is therefore loaded with emotional resonance, even if it is something seemingly so simple and so everyday.

He said the lockdown reinforced the fact that “there is something very important… about every plate of food; there’s a story and an internal drama starting from the most humble food situation, whether it’s chopping an onion or burning toast.

The format is broadcast in around 200 global territories, and Spain recognized the increased resonance of food during the lockdown by creating MasterChef Seniors, which was taken over by other countries.

Emily Randall, format manager at MasterChef’s parent company, Banijay, said the Spaniards have started to think about the importance of the elderly in terms of food culture, with “grandparents teaching us how to cook and passing on to us. traditional recipes “. The show was “a kind of thank you to the older community that had been isolated and more vulnerable than ever last year.”

She continued, “With MasterChef, you have the ingredients that everyone can relate to: we can all cook to one degree or another. And it’s life changing, which I think is even more evident in the last couple of years… of people wanting to do something different with the time we have.

Last year, MasterChef was the first major BBC show to resume production under new Covid-19 restrictions. Now that it enters its 50th season in the UK, the longevity of the series lies in its ability to “evolve. [as] eating habits are changing, ”said its creator, Franc Roddam – the filmmaker behind Quadrophenia and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

He envisioned the format to “democratize good food” after a mockery of British cuisine from actor Mel Brooks.

MasterChef started on the BBC in 1990 and was restarted in 2005. Then the most cooked dish was monkfish or chicken wrapped in pancetta. Now Banijay says veganism, “smart things made with eggs” and crispy fish and chicken skins are popular.

Ambler added, “Food is constantly reinventing itself. We’re shooting the amateur series right now [and] five of John’s dishes [Torode] and Gregg [Wallace] had never seen before.

Over the years, the competitors and judges, as well as the food, have become more diverse. And there was greater focus on sustainability, with 75% of productions donating leftover food to charity, competitors using sustainable fish and reducing waste, and the German version using a 100% recycled set.

Although they offered no official awards, 1,700 contestants took part in the UK versions of MasterChef, and the show created stars such as Wahaca founder Thomasina Miers, as well as celebrity, professional spin-offs. and juniors.

Ambler said another version was “maybe in the works” in the UK but not yet confirmed, while Randall revealed there were “some really exciting ideas” on a potential global iteration of the show. and “untapped potential” for a teenage version.

Roddam would like to see the UK show ramp up and use the previous contestants as mentors. He also thinks MasterChef is “a bit undervalued because it’s been around a long time.”

Kind of like a bowl of ripe bananas during a pandemic.

About Victoria Rothstein

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