“too many chefs spoil the (reality television) broth”

At the risk of posting too often and setting a pace I can’t keep up with (and let’s face it, I should just accept the inevitable now), here’s another article I wrote for Feature Writing.

It was a backgrounder assessment, where we were to write a follow-up story to an article we had chosen from the ones provided to us for a particular day. The catch? We were only given three hours to find an angle, do research, write and submit.

The article I chose as a starting point was on the declining ratings of Masterchef. Plenty of sweat and tears – and one mini mental breakdown later – and this little article was born.

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Lawyers. Students. Journalists. Mothers. Artists.

They came from all walks of life, but they all had one thing in common: they loved to cook.

And audiences loved to watch them cook. As they learnt, we learnt. As they succeeded, we cheered. As they stumbled, we felt their pain. Everyday Australians became household names and inspired a nation.

Many chefs suddenly saw the word ‘celebrity’ added to their name. Matt Moran, Adriano Zumbo and Curtis Stone all benefited, just to name a few.

Masterchef was the show that saw a home cooking revolution in Australia, proving to be so popular it spawned two spin-off series, Junior Masterchef and Celebrity Masterchef.

Rival networks created similar programs in hopes of riding on the cooking juggernaut’s success. Channel Seven’s My Kitchen Rules just finished its third season.

Yet, despite all this, Masterchef premiered its fourth season to just under 1.4 million viewers, which
sees the show’s lowest rated premiere to date. That might seem like a big number but not so much when looking back at previous years. Back in 2009, the series premiere managed to draw in over 1.4 million viewers before the whole phenomenon began.

Are Australians moving on from the cooking revolution, or are they simply making the shift from virtual to reality?

Local foodies say that despite the disappointing ratings, they continue to cater to the growing number of people knocking at their doors.

Jackie Richards of Brisbane’s Black Pearl Epicure said that the cooking school continues to expand, with a increasing variety of classes being offered.

“We do a lot of different things, from dessert all the way up to sushi and curry,” she said.

As the first cooking school available to Brisbane residents, Richards said she sees the classes only continuing to grow in the near future.

A spokesperson from James St Cooking School, in Fortitude Valley, said that it’s difficult to learn from television.

“Cooking is all about using all of your senses,” the spokesperson said.

“You need to get involved…so you really learn.”

They offer a variety of classes, from BBQ-ing techniques to perfecting Asian flavours. They also offer corporate classes for what they describe as the “perfect balance between education and enjoyment”.

Taste Trekkers, a Fairfield-based company, offers classes that take participants out of the kitchen and out and about in Brisbane.

From their Asian Food Shopping Trek to Food Styling and Photography class, founder Sally Lynch also recognises that people are not growing tired of the food phenomenon, but rather are in need of a broader range. Her website invites people to submit their ideas to her for trialling.

In fact, there are more cooking schools present than before, with specialist cooking classes also becoming available, such as the Gluten Free Cooking School in Samford Valley and the Brisbane Vegetarian Cooking Classes being offered in West End.

It’s not just the skills that people are wanting. It’s also the exotic ingredients that they see being
used in shows like Masterchef. As stockists of ingredients such as caviar and truffles, Black Pearl
Epicure is no stranger to exotic produce.

Richards says that people often come looking for the same products.

“I think they get their ideas from reality cooking shows and books,” she said.

Speaking of, cookbooks have also seen a revival thanks to the reality cooking television phenomenon.

A quick browse on Dymocks’ website shows that cook books are among the best sellers.

Masterchefs Julie Goodwin, Adam Liaw and Kate Bracks have all released their own cookbooks.

Masterchef hosts, and chefs in their own right, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris have also released several cookbooks in recent years, both independently and collaboratively.

Other chefs are also capitalising on the trend. More people are willing to try fine dining experiences, evident with the expansion of Moran’s Aria restaurants into Brisbane.

Calombaris has opened several new restaurants since his rise to Masterchef fame, including his newest venture, Mama Baba, in South Yarra.

It all goes to show that, despite flagging ratings, Australia’s food obsession continues to grow. Maybe it’s just a case of too many chefs spoiling the (reality television) broth.

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Twitter:  @missaprilchan

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