TV cookery is all about trickery. With the magic of 'here's one I made earlier' and extensive preparation, an elaborate meal can be "cooked" within a ten-minute TV segment. We're so used to it now that we don't even think to question it.
But what if that trickery extends to a legitimate competition? I am totally addicted to Masterchef Australia. I waited ever so patiently while it played out on Australian TV and then made its way up and over to UK screens in September. I'm expecting to write a lot about it as the series progresses and I become even more involved with the contestants.
But last week, something troubled me. My dad, who seems to be even more enamoured with this show than I am, launched into a spirited rant about how he believed Masterchef Australia was trying to dupe him as a viewer. Now, I should point out that my dad regularly forgets that television is television and a certain amount of artistic licence is to always be assumed. I've watched several episodes of 24 with him where he's blurted out phrases along the lines of "What? No way did that happen in eleven minutes! That's not believable at all!" At which point I would respond "Dad. It's television. Relax." After which he would profess further about how if they don't stick to the fact that everything's happening in real-time it spoils the show. Long story short, I was expecting this latest allegation of cookery TV shenanigans to be mountain and molehill stuff.
On this occasion, Big Daddio was absolutely right. He had already watched this particular episode and I was all set to watch it on the Sky+ when he informed me that I should watch it "extremely carefully." Drama-drama! If you're not familiar with the format, the day after the contestants take part in an 'Invention Test', the winner is allowed to cook-off against an established chef to win an immunity badge. This means that, should they find themselves facing elimination from the competition at a later date, they call cash in their immunity and survive to face another day of high pressured cooking. The judges then score each dish without knowing who cooked it. Although realistically, it's usually pretty obvious which was cooked by the chef who invented the dish.
This cook-off involved Callum, a 20 year-old kid who had been alive for less years than his professional opponent had been cooking for a living. His formidable opponent was Phillipa Sibley, a chef for 22 years and a highly respected pastry chef for 15 of those. She presented Callum with the challenge of cooking a Caramel Parfait Glace with Salted Peanut Caramel and Milk Chocolate Mousse. And yes, it was as impressive as it sounds.
So they cooked, they stressed, they sweated, their hands shook (even Phillippa's) and eventually they plated up for the judges. Even though Callum was permitted more time than Phillippa, he still didn't manage to finish plating before the time ran out. Bad times. The platforms of tempered chocolate didn't make it to the top of the dessert, making it pretty obvious to the judges which dish belonged to Callum. It was supposed to look like this:
Errrrm, Callum? Did you re-plate that dish after the clock had run down? Eh? EH!?!?! Hmm. I'm going to assume that without the cold pieces of chocolate to hold the mousse together, it may have melted under the hot studio lights. Without the chocolate he was never going to win anyway, so why not allow him to give it a second crack.
I'm in two minds. OK, so he wasn't going to win, but it's still a competition. He's still being judged on his cooking ability. I'll let this one slide, but I'm keeping my eye on you, Masterchef Australia. Do me wrong again and I might have to cut you loose, even though it would hurt like flaming hell. Then again, I said I wouldn't keep watching X-Factor after I heard they used auto-tune on the TV audio during the early auditions. If my excitement at tonight's episode where they reveal who gets to be on the live shows is anything to go by, Masterchef Australia's going to have to do something downright despicable before I dump it.