The Fall & Rise Of Masterchef

MASTERCHEF – THE PROFESSIONALS: All Week, BBC2, 8pm

Masterchef: The Professionals kicked off last week and the show has been another hit with viewers, but back in the early noughties, the programme’s future was looking flatter than an overwhipped meringue. The strange-voiced sauce-manufacturer Lloyd Grossman was presenting, yet the show’s dismal black set dotted with oversized food stuffs looked painfully outdated and audience figures were plummeting. This is the story of how Masterchef got its mojo back..

Exhibit A: Masterchef circa 1999 – bad haircuts, Lloyd Grossman and giant condiments

Masterchef – A Potted History
Random celebrity guests (what do Paul Ross and his orange silk shirt know about cooking?) and Lloyd’s laboured vowels ended up turning the once popular cookery competition into a laughing stock. After ten series and ten years on TV, the series came to an abrupt end with Grossman sauntering around the kitchen criticising crème brulees for the last time in 2000. Before long, spiky-haired TV irritant Gary Rhodes had stepped into the fray….but not for long. The Beeb gave Gary the boot after just one series and Masterchef went into hibernation.

Four long years passed and the televisual viewing landscape changed beyond recognition. For one thing, in 2001, TV audiences were introduced to Simon Cowell and the grisly glories of harsh reality TV competitions like Pop Idol. In 2004, the X Factor was born. Complete with bright lights and suave judges who spoke properly, these shows were fast-paced, loud and aggressive – a far cry from the dimly-lit studios echoing with Grossman’s unique brand of constructive criticism. Things needed to change.

After several successful series, the show underwent yet another transformation last year as a number of X Factor style knock out rounds were introduced. Is there any tougher environment in which to balls up a soufflé? But after such a long absence from our screens back in the noughties, which crucial ingredients were added to the original TV recipe in order to create such a delicious reality show with a difference…?

The Judges
Take one cockney wideboy with a penchant for puddings, blend with one grub-loving Australian and what do you get? John Torode and spoon-sucker extraordinaire, Gregg Wallace (Although the Torode is replaced by Michel Roux Jr, on account of the fact that the Antipodean doesn’t have a Michelin star to his name) This dynamic duo changed the very face of Masterchef by turning up the heat on the contestants and bringing a spicy new honesty to the judging rounds. The pair share a serious love for food and Gregg’s passion for all thing sugary sweet has become particularly legendary. Drawing upon the help of carefully selected guest chef judges (as opposed to Paul Ross) when it comes to the Professional series adds an important dose of credibility to the judging process, ensuring that the focus is always on the food.

The Studio
The studio has undergone several transformations since Masterchef was revived back in 2005. The first was a bright white Ikea-esque interior which pandered to our penchant for Swedish simplicity and “minimalismâ€?. But this has now been chucked out in favour of warm woods and burnt orange. In line with the new X-Factor vibe contestants line up in nervous rows, armed with mixing bowls and wooden spoons, as they compete for the affections of the discerning judges. Gone are the black backdrops and kitchen units of Grossman’s reign. Masterchef is now sleeker than ever.

The Challenges
The infamous tag line “cooking doesn’t get tougher then thisâ€? was somewhat underplayed last series. We’re all in favour of well-timed change, but seriously, don’t be dropping a catchphrase like that. And its safe return seems highly appropriate given the utterly brutal nature of the feats expected of contestants now. It really doesn’t get tougher. Forget cooking at your bench week in week out, amateur chefs are now thrust out into the field to cook for wedding parties, high profile business meetings and even royalty!

The Time Slot
Audiences were outraged when the BBC decided to shift the recent series of Celebrity Masterchef into a “graveyard slotâ€? of 2:15pm on weekdays. Viewer figures reached lows of 700, 000 compared with series highs of seven million in the evening slot. Insiders reported that the M-team were raging at the demotion to daytime and have fought long and hard to bring the culinary competition back to an evening audience.

The Accolades
Forget “huge, helpings of congratulationsâ€? and a lame trophy, the winners of the new high-profile Masterchef series can look forward to book deals and cookery programmes as their prize. Mexican food-lover, Thomasina Miers, won back in 2005 and has several books and a few TV series under her belt.

Some viewers were not so sure about the X-Factor style tears and tantrums that came with the show’s 2010 knock-out format. They had got a little too comfy with the comfortable familiarity of the Masterchef routine pre shake-up. But guess what food fans? This show is the king of reinvention and we anticipate that it will continue adding a pinch of salt here and a new judge there to make sure it tastes as fresh and delicious as it possibly can.

We might love it but there is always plenty of room for a bit of gentle p-taking, as this clip shows..

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