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 soufflés! 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