Monday, June 21, 2010

How do you like your food? Dressed to thrill or nude?

For someone who ignored MasterChef for the first 42 or so eliminations, I’ve talked about it a lot in the past week. We’re down to the final eight of which there seems to be two main contenders, two possibilities, and four who can’t seem to work out how they got there. Neither can I. Except that everyone on this series cooks too well.

For a nation of people who, according to various media outlets over the past five to ten years, have forgotten how to cook, these contestants are tempering chocolate and making elaborate pastries with the best of them. Julie’s homemade chicken soup wouldn’t get a look-in this series – it would be deconstructed, reconstructed, foamed and flambed with one of those little blowtorches before being garnished with an ice statue and a lemongrass twist.

I was watching the episode tonight where the contestants attempted to re-create Heston Blumenthal’s Snail Porridge (pictured) and Meat Fruits. I know it’s not fashionable of me, but all I could think was ‘ugh’. The chocolate candle with the salted caramel inside – big yes. The meat parfait enclosed, mandarin-like, in mandarin jelly, not so much. When one of the contestants chortled with glee about having Heston’s cookbook at home, I could only gaze in awe. Imagine attempting something like that for next Saturday’s dinner party. I’d have to start, um, let’s see… last June.

It was the second time I’d seen Heston and his handsome spectacles in less than a week. Last Thursday he appeared in a documentary about Tetsuya, waxing lyrical about ‘Tets’s’ genius with food. Here, Heston and I are in complete accord. I enjoyed one of the most memorable meals of my life at Tetsuya’s eponymous Sydney restaurant, in the company of good friends. A lunch that lasted about, ooh, five hours and then continued long after we’d left the restaurant.

On Saturday night, I shared a steak in a local pub with two of the friends from that lunch, and we reminisced about the joy of it all. A lunch that we enjoyed about seven years ago. That’s one hell of a meal.

I agree that eating Heston’s Sound of the Sea, complete with iPod in a seashell so that you can listen to the ocean as you eat, would be memorable. It’s memorable just to watch. And I know that he’s taking food to a whole new level. But it all just seems so tricky. And so fiddly. And so damn hard.

The other British chef we’ve seen in the first two nights of MasterChef’s London experience is Jamie Oliver. The Naked Chef. Mr Slap-a-bit-of-oil-and-pepper-on-it-and-lovely-jubbly. The opposite end of the spectrum.

It’s towards this end of the spectrum that I fall. The end where the meat and the fruit are not blended into a smoothie and then moulded like play dough. The end where dishes such as ‘Sausage Hotpot’ are served and there is no irony involved. The end where the food is not dressed up to the nines, but, rather, rocking a smart casual look.

I don't think MasterChef will be calling any time soon.



  1. Am totally with you. There is a place for foam, and that is in my bath, not on my plate.

  2. I'm so glad I read this. I went to bed feeling quite out of sorts after watching the tail end of this episode. You articulated why perfectly. And I have Jamie Oliver's cookbooks nestling on my shelf. I think I'll drag one out later today (it's 2am here and I've been up with a sick child) and make some good old home food.

  3. Heston's food is pure performance art, not to be tried at home. I must say though, this London Masterchef jaunt has really been good television and a great culinary education for the average Aussie viewer.

  4. I didn't watch Masterchef last year, but I wish I had. I was only wondering out loud about the difference in "vibe" that I felt between seeing Julie in this series, in comparison to the current contestants.

    Heston is a hero of mine from way back, in as much as he is self taught & a great bloke. (And seeing him again last night reminded me of his utterly natural charm.) BUT his food, whilst I find it fascinating, doesn't do it for me.....

    But I hate to say it, Jamie doesn't do it for me either. (I love his recipe books, but his puckerness (and his recent botox?!) icks me out. But again, he is a marketers dream........

    Which makes me realise that so many of these chefs that have risen to stardom and riches as a result of celebrity chefness are a commodity.

    Which brings me back to Masterchef and begs the question: will it be the best cook that wins, or the contestant who is the most marketable? (Or possibly both?)

  5. Totally agree! Give me a fancy steak n' chips over braised pig's trotter with asparagus mousse any day.

  6. Yes Yes Yes I totally agree with you here. I love the way Jamie O cooks - fresh simple ingredients. I hate the way food is deconstructed and reconstructed into something else - I just love natural and fresh. If I want a mandarine I want it to taste like fruit - NOT MEAT! - Great blog post. x

  7. I think I have a little bit of a crush on Heston. Is that weird? Not so much his food. He just does something for me!!!! I can say that safely here right???

    Jamie is our national hero. if it wasn't for him, my son would still be eating turkey twizzlers at school. I much prefer his style of food. Bish bash bosh. Please tell me he hasn't had Botox??

  8. @In My House - agree that Heston's food is art and that London Week has been great TV so far. I also agree with @Deer Baby that he is strangely crush-worthy. Might be those handsome specs.

    @Lucy - there's always one eye on the bottom line. I think all the contestants this year seemed to be chosen for how they'd look on a cookbook cover, not in a kitchen. I find myself even trying to decide if I should get my hair cut like Claire's.

    As for the botox, I'm not getting involved in scurrilous rumour... but if anyone has updates, please share. :-)

  9. Makes me think of the cake decorated to look a hamburger in the Women's Weekly Birthday Cakes book. It's either a cake or it's a hamburger, people!

  10. The sea foam one nearly made me cry it was so spectacular but the meaty fruit grossed me out! I think Heston's a spunk...Jamie's a bit of a wanker!!! There, that about sums up my view...oh and I wish I could be reincarnated as Marion...she's so cool looking and I love her specs.

  11. I love watching Heston perform his magic with different ingredients, but would I eat it, probably not. Jamie I think was the first "celebrity" chef..... not counting Peter Russell Clark or Hewy. Whilst he may be a bit naff at times he is passionate about cooking with fresh seasonal produce... and hey if he can get my son to eat vege's he's my hero!!! Jo

  12. I am so totally with you on this. I'm also only coming in to the whole MasterChef thing now. And even on occasion. But I agree - everyone is a MasterChef this series. How do these people find the time to master their craft?! Beats me.

    I'll be honest. I've NEVER heard of Heston. And Hubby finds Jamie Oliver annoying, so we won't be watching him either.

    Hubby and I have made some pretty good meals, but nothing in the same spectrum as these contestants. Good luck to them. May the best foodie win!

  13. I think I prefer a cook to a chef. Maggie Beer, Stephanie Alexander, even Jamie Oliver... simple, fresh ingredients done well sorta stuff. I might go out for Heston frills... maybe.

  14. Oh gosh, yes, my family loves to watch Heston. I'd love to go to The Fat Duck, his restaurant. Last week I had a dream about Giles Coren, who is a food critic for the Times. I tried to get him to read my blog, even though it's not a food blog. That's kind of weird, isn't it? But when it comes to cooking for my family, Jamie's cookbooks are the ones I use most and I love what he did for the school lunches.

  15. I am clearly missing out by not being a Masterchef watcher? You know me though, I'm a no-frills kind of gal. I'm at my best in the kitchen when I have to whip up a meal from nothing. Yep. Definitely nude cooking for me.

  16. Even Jamie Oliver is a stretch in this kitchen. Heston - well that is just a whole 'nother planet!

  17. I love the idea of Heston's food - as long as someone else is doing the tricksy business and all I have to do is take an exotic tastebud holiday, I'm there with my passport.

    I like experiencing the weird and wonderful and have been known to chow down on the odd fried bug or larvae.

    But dinner tonight? Cheese and tuna toasties!


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