Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Torode's All-Consuming Mouth

I'm no foodie and I'm certainly not a whizz in the kitchen, but one entry set in stone on my televisual menu is Masterchef. In an overpopulated market for reality cooking shows, Masterchef stands out amongst its peers. It doesn't teach you how to cook, it doesn't preach healthy-eating mantras, it doesn't even have an A-list celebrity chef. But what it does have, is personality. Bags of the stuff.

For starters, you've got the hosts. There's the gravel-voiced Gregg Wallace, with his orgiastic descriptions and oh-so-sweet tooth, and then there's John Torode, the jowly, straight-talking Aussie with the hanging put-downs and tendency to loiter.

To use the parlance of the show, Gregg and John are "big flavours". Fortunately for us, they compliment each other perfectly. Screw Ant and Dec, this is my favourite TV double-act.

Gregg is your meat and potatoes. The chunk of sustenance that keeps the show grounded and about the cooking. He shouts, all the time, grinding his voice to ever-increasing levels of intensity as the food, and competition, heats up. He's also genuinely excited by food and obviously takes great pleasure in the texture and experience of eating, resulting in some of the best lines in the show. He'll say: "I could literally take a running jump into that pudding", or "I could easily lick the plate clean after this", or (my favourite) "I could polish that off and profess myself happy". Once he nearly had tears in his eyes as he ate a bald man's scallops.

John, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed dish. Sometimes he's the soufflé, a flamboyant, unpredictable scene-stealer. But at others he's the steak, simple, effective and tells it like it is (just consider his book called 'BEEF'). Watch him hanging around the contestants as they cook, peering into pots and pans, striking fear and doubt into the weaker souls, or building a cook's hopes in the feedback, only to shatter their dreams with the crushing blow that their mashed potato is not seasoned correctly. It's masterful.

Torode's ace in the hole, however, is his eating. He piles an impressive amount of chow onto his fork at every opportunity, so much so it teeters on edge of major droppage or shirt stains. Then, he attacks it with a variety of patented manoevres, sizing up his prey before a quick, neat dispatch of unrivaled accuracy and execution. He appears to be an all-consuming black hole at times, and I half expect Gregg and the contestant to get sucked in, unable to escape the belly of the beast.

What both hosts share is a way with words. The descriptions of the dishes and flavours laid before them is really quite entertaining. And you can learn how to speak like Masterchef too. All you have to do is take a mouthful of a dish and combine lots of contrasting adjectives. For example, say: "The sweetness of the X is matched by the bitterness of the Y, while the mellow A, crunchy B and creamy C collide with the spicy yet moist yet dry D, ending on a note of floral P." See, it's easy.

Aside from the hosts, Masterchef has an array of plucky contestants brimming with faux-enthusiasm and misguided dreams. Each week the cream rises to the top, and the leftovers are sent packing, but not before blaming the ingredients, or the time or 'bad luck', insisting that "one day" they will own their own cafe/restaurant/pub to tout their culinary wares.

Mix in some driving acid-techno-rave music from (what I presume is) John's ipod and some tasty editing to keep the pace up, and you've got one hell of a show. But then again, it might just be an acquired taste.


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