They’ve changed the rules on MasterChef (BBC One), which is back for what feels like its 3,000th series. John Torode and Gregg Wallace no longer hang around the contestants’ work stations in the opening round, pulling faces or bellowing: “You’ve got three minutes!” No doubt this is good for the contestants’ stress levels, but makes for boring television. Torode and Wallace are reduced to surveying the menus and commenting from afar, while we watch the amateur chefs cook their signature dishes without interference.
The producers clearly feel the show is getting tired, but they’ve made it even more dull. There have been various minor attempts to freshen it up over the years, including a slide into X Factor territory. Thus in this episode we had contestants dedicating dishes to their granny (RIP), telling us they want to make their children proud, or declaring that “it’s now or never – I have to give it 100 per cent”. “I’m very competitive. Win or lose? No, it’s win every time, ”said one woman, who has watched too many episodes of The Apprentice.
A montage of highlights-to-come promised Gordon Ramsay later in the series, the only time I’ve ever looked forward to his appearance in anything. There was no jeopardy – even the worst cooks were reasonably competent, including the man who had never spun sugar in his life but decided to test it out on his MasterChef debut, having watched an online tutorial the night before. Nor were there any disasters, unless you count a brandy snap basket going a bit soggy under the weight of a fruit salad.
Torode gave a dozen variations on his “Will it work? It might. It might not. We’ll have to wait and see, ”pronouncements, while the Gregg Wallace Adjective Generator praised the“ smoky pepperiness ”and“ sweet, comforting creaminess ”of dishes. Thank heavens, then, for Pookie, a contestant who delivered more personality than the rest of the show put together.
Pookie once spent 70 hours preparing a nine-course Valentine’s Day menu for her husband. Her savory MasterChef offering was titled “Shallow Sea-Bed Life ‘and looked like a painting. Her dessert di lei was a pina-cotta-lada – see what she did there? – and was equally impressive. She tried not to cry at the end because she feared her false eyelashes would fall off and “I will look like a steamed bun”. “Pookie has landed in MasterChef kitchen. Cocktail time! ” she beamed. Cocktail Time with Pookie is a show I’d rather watch.