Last year in France I tuned into my first viewing of the French version of Master Chef and, Mon Dieu, what a revelation it was. No faux emotions, no smell of fear, no bull-neck bullying or smart-arse asides to camera (the sneer, the raised eyebrow, etc) - just amateurs cooking at their best to win the accolade. Amateurs in the dictionary sense of the word – not expecting to be TV ‘slebs or gastropub owners, but keen to show their skills.
It was bad enough in England in its early days of the Boston Boy’s ’cogitating and digesting’ with inexperienced celebrity guests but – the gentle and delightful genuine master chef Michel Roux Jnr aside - has it plumbed new depths of reality TV?
To be fair, the very title ’Master Chef’ is dumb because master chefs they’re not, nor will ever be. Cooking in a gastro-pub doesn’t call for master chef status or ability.
To assume the mantle of Master Chef is to demeen those who have gone before as Maitre Chefs – Bocuse, Troigros brothers, Pic, Blanc (Georges), Barrier, Outhier and before them Ferdinand Point and others. Worthy as it is, winning the 100 metres on school sports day isn’t an Olympic gold achievement.
Here’s the one simple, and essential difference between the French version and the English. The French contestants aren’t trying to emanate restaurant cooking. Quite why any untrained amateur enthusiast thinks they can bring to the camera and the judges a Michelin star preparation is beyond me. From one ‘macaron’ upwards restaurants have several people involved in every dish. Gastropubs they are not.
In France their Master Chef moves at an engaging, educational pace. The programme finishes for that evening and you have learned a few tricks – something you didn’t realise or had forgotten. It matters not. It’s entertaining and educational without the gladiatorial dimension.
That’s why cooking in the UK is in difficulties – too many people think to impress you have to bring restaurant food to table – smears, swirls, towers, water baths, cling film, low temperatures and more. That’s before we consider the vast array of showy ingredients involved to make every dish. Faites Simple - never forget that maxim expressed by Escoffier and the other greats. It takes real confidence to present simple food.
For me, a dish that has to be dismantled to eat is a failed presentation – the mark of the inexperienced chef, not a master. The delight should start with the eyes, then the aroma and texture, not the amazement of the physics that it has been ferried to table without falling down.
We go out to eat to be delighted. We eat at home to share the wonder that is food with friends and family. Simple food at a family table – such as we show throughout this blog.
Food on our table would be a contender on French Master Chef. It would, more likely, be sneered at on English TV. C’est la difference. Long live the difference. It’s the difference between ‘fruits et legumes’ and ‘fruit an’ veg’ – you know what I’m sayin’ me ole’ mate?
With Blue Collar Gastronomy, I’m on a mission to change all this in the months and years to come. No more of the Emperor’s new clothes.