Masterchef: US vs Australia

I must say I really enjoy watching cooking shows, even if I am not much of a cook myself. I particularly liked watching Junior Masterchef Australia which featured 8-12 year olds battling it out in the kitchen and acing challenges that older cooks can’t even fathom.

As our local cable operator aired the regular version of the show, featuring adults, I was equally amazed by the concept of the show, which gives a chance for amateur cooks — regular folks from different orientations to pursue their dreams of becoming amazing chefs in a series of invention and pressure tests which challenge them in different levels. The show also features group competitions wherein contestants are divided between the blue team and the red team and are tasked to cook for huge quantities of people for real occasions. This brings the challenge to a different level since many factors come into play — number of  guests, availability of food, presentation, taste, flavor and portioning, all of which are less complicated when prepared individually.

US judges Joe, Gordon and Graham

I have had the opportunity to follow both the US version hosted by Hell’s Kitchen nightmare chef Gordon Ramsey, wine maker Joe Bastianich and four star chef Graham Elliot, as well as the original Australian version, which according to reports, is one of the most successful shows Aussie television. Restaurateur and chef Gary Mehigan, chef George Calombaris and food critic Matt Preston are the regular judges for the show.

I quite enjoy both shows. They both operate on the same premise but the difference lies in the show’s approaches. Perhaps, culture comes into play. The American version is noticeably more intense than its Australian counterpart.

The contestants, while there are many nice people among them, are more strategic and focused on the competition. When they are interviewed separately, they sometimes diss their competition and criticize their techniques. Being in a competition is never in question. At the judges’ table, Chef Ramsay is surprisingly more mellow compared to his stint in Hell’s Kitchen. He does not throw fits but rather gives genuine critique, although sometimes, it may seem harsh. Joe, for me, was the mean judge among the three. He craves perfection and feels insulted if he does not get it. He is not beyond snubbing dishes or throwing them away without a second glance if he is unsatisfied with the way it looks. Graham is the most affable among the judges but is very particular about the taste. He and Chef Ramsay mostly go around the kitchen while the contestants are preparing their dishes to interview them about techniques, and gives out advice to the novices. What draws audiences to this show is mostly the drama and the entertainment value of the competition, aside from the cavalier attempts of the amateurs to move forward and experiment with their dishes.

Australian judges Gary, George and Matt

The Australian version on the other hand, is the opposite of the American version. While American contestants could not wait to get rid of each other, Australian competitors seem to have bonded instantly and genuinely liked each other. In the season which featured dessert prince Callum Hann, it was quite obvious that everyone nurtured a a soft spot for the show’s youngest competitor. When he was competing against superstar chef Philippa Sibley, everybody was supporting the 20 year old, shouting out advice and checking Philippa’s corner to give tips to Callum. Even when it came to pressure tests and elimination tests, there was genuine sadness in the contestants whenever one of them leaves the competition. The judges are also nicer, to the point that contestants are too comfortable with them, George especially.

What I like about the Australian version is that while the show is about competition, it is also about shared learning. There is a MasterChef class wherein Gary and George teach the contestants and viewers how to make simple dishes that they can adopt into their own household menus, and both Gary and George are excellent chefs. But mostly, what I appreciate in this show is the level of mutual respect among judges and contestants. Nobody really goes out of their way to wish somebody else gone, and while tempers flare once in a while, there was no genuine animosity.among the contestants. It’s pretty relaxing to watch, and viewers will find themselves glued to the show because of the mouth watering food that the contestants come up with. I’m glad that both the Australian and American seasons have been renewed.

Winners of the Australian edition receive chef training, a book deal and A$100,000. Champions for the US version receive $25,000, a book deal and the title.