Tuesday, 24 July, 2012

Masterchef Mania

You know there has been a paradigm shift in TV viewing habits when the Australian Open Men’s Finals struggles to beat a cooking show in viewership ratings ! Masterchef Australia is currently the 4th highest rating television program in Australia since 2001, behind the 2005 Australian Open final between Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin.  The first season finale was the most watched television program of 2009 and each episode averages more than 3 million viewers a night! Infact recently the Masterchef TV ratings overshadowed national politics in Australia by forcing a re-scheduling of the only debate between top contenders for Australia’s next PM, Tony Abbot and Julia Gillard. All for a cooking show! Except its not just a cooking show.
This hog interest is not an overnight phenomena. The writing was on the wall was clear when Travel and Living mercifully adopted a far more apt moniker- TLC for their  channel. Viewers demanded more of the Italian pasta and French cheeses rather than the Colosseum and Eiffel Tower. Food exported as culture through incredible photography is the new irresistible and lip-smacking pop phenomena. Masterchef has tapped well into that adding exotic locations and the competitive dimension. Pressure mounts over whether the ovens are hot enough or the cream peaks enough and if there is just the right amount of Vin in your Coq au Vin to make you the next culinary pop idol
I first watched Masterchef when all fb and twitter were abuzz about an upcoming episode on chocolate cake! There were people, masses of them, talking about a cooking show that made chocolate cake? Except when I watched the episode, this was no mere chocolate cake… it was a gooey, dripping 8 textured chocolate cake full of chocolate mousse and creamy ganache and caramel and everything to give you a blissful heart attack. And that I guess the USP of the show, its not merely food but the most decadent, sinful food decorated in the most extravagant style ever. Much like Extreme Makeover or America’s Top Model. Its not just a competition, it is a display of the most exotic, extravagant and larger than life houses,  cars, accessories,clothes and women  that grips the fantasies of our consumerist society. Especially in developing nations like ours where canned olives and any cheese other than Amul in your fridge means you’ve arrived. 
This obsession has leaked out of televisions into kitchens and suddenly people around me are buying tiny electric whippers to whip the cream on their coffee, pasta cutting machines to create scalloped edges and ramikens to ‘plate up’ their souffl├ęs! Aaahh the plate up… as pretty as the food looks eventually it is to be eaten as nourishment, was what I tried to point out at a friends place for dinner. The gorgeous main course arrived. It was individually plated with three glossy gravy covered strands of noodles, 2 succulent looking grapes and 1 bright green basil leaf.
This culinary culture obsession is not gender or age specific either. Masterchef is not Khanna Khazana with Sanjeev Kapoor watched only by grandmothers and housewives. I have a friend who has opened a cupcake boutique, another who will eat only sushi or phad thai for girls lunch out and a third who owns a blow torch to brown the top of his meringues, but then, he is openly gay. The firmest attestment of the Masterchef phenomena though came  this afternoon from a 6ft tall, footballer friend who emotionally said, ‘It’s more than just a cooking show Shayoni!’
Oh and the purpose of this post… My cooking over the rainy weekend.
Peach and Plum Cake
Pouring in the Caramel and batter….
Turn it upside down….. Voila!

Bengali style Kichdi and Aloo Jhuri
IMG_0992 IMG_1001IMG_0998

Friday, 20 July, 2012

One Stormy Night….

“Push….pushhhhh…… “


“Come on… harder … Push! ”

“ Its hurting! “

“Yeah, just keep pushing!

“Dude my arm is killing me. I. cannot. push. anymore.” I said,  resting the bike on the side stand.

“Yeah neither can I” said Shailee, flopping on the side of the road as the rain and cold wind whipped around us.

Stormy night. 2 girls, 111kgs of punctured metal and a deserted 3km stretch of road. Uphill.

Just our luck that the tyre burst in the Cantonment area where one side of the road gives way to acres of open land and gently rolling hillocks while the other to acres of densely forested terrain.

'”You are the science geek… by how much does the work increase when pushing 111kgs up 3km instead of across flat land?” I asked, stretching my arms out in readiness for our Sisyphean task.

‘A lot.’ Shailee grunted as we began pushing.

Cars splashed and worked their way around us. Amongst the countless amused glances at 2 bedraggled girls heaving a bike in a dark, stormy night were several sympathetic ones.

1. ‘You need fuel?”

'”Nope, tyre puncture”

2 .“Pakad  hai?”


3. “Asa footrest karu chala”

“Kela, tyre gudhda aahe”

And so option after option exhausted we kept pushing until….. a crash of thunder and crackle of lightening split the sky, cascading a fresh deluge of water.  Through the icy curtain came a rickety old tempo from which alighted a not so rickety young man.


He walked slowly and unhinged the door. His stubbled face glowed red as tail lights flashed by as did his dark hair shining with rain  like drops of blood. The water seeped black lines down the collar of his cheap blue shirt rivuleting down to the threadbare jeans. In one jerking motion he heaved the inert mass of metal into the back of his tempo and the ropes lashed around his muscular arms as he fastened the bike. We watched this Hulk Hoganesque feat in stunned silence.

'Kahan?' he let slip the guttural syllable.

'Agla chowk.' we squeaked.

He turned to the drivers wheel while we gathered our wits and scrambled into the back smiling gleefully as we sped through the street lit night.

Home and dry.