Gordon Ramsay must have a thousand cooking shows, including Hell’s Kitchen and now, MasterChef. Food Network has been running The Next Food Network Star for six years now, and it’s snazzy, diverse, appeals to the home cook, and features likable contenders. Ramsay’s MasterChef features the same home cook contenders but the flavor and flow of this cooking competition has Ramsay’s personality all over it.
Both shows are cooking competitions with contenders chosen from across the fruited plains, people of modest home-grown talents coupled with a love of cooking. The Food Network gives its winner his or her own show, although not necessarily a weekly affair. MasterChef gifts its winner with a quarter of a million dollars and best wishes.
I like and respect Gordon Ramsay as a culinary expert; it’s his love of the curse word that tends to grate on my ears. In MasterChef there isn’t all the cussing one would find on Hell’s Kitchen but there is his customary tendency toward drama and pathos.
There are two other judges on MasterChef, rather weird sorts. Graham Elliot is a nice enough soul who amusingly resembles the Bob’s Big Boy icon and I don’t know what’s with those white eyeglasses. Joe Bastianich is a snooty sort; he looks positively disdainful every time he must put a wretched mouthful of a contender’s offering into his haute cuisine-trained mouth.
Food Network Star has its melodrama too, but nowhere near the Ramsay level. This show has a panel of regular judges, most prominent being king of the grill, Bobby Flay. These judges are more subdued than Ramsay but on occasion lips will be pursed and disapproving looks given.
Each of the shows features an opening mini-challenge. In a recent MasterChef the challenge was to create a dish out of a “mystery box” featuring a combination of unusual ingredients that would cull the creative and culinary quick-thinking from the boring and pedestrian. This particular mystery box contained rack of lamb, cauliflower, rice, fava beans, eggs, and peaches.
Food Network Star had a mini-challenge that had the contenders preparing a dish with a Kellogg product, also a sponsor of the show that night. The show does have a dual emphasis in that its winner will be expected to cook, present, and taste on camera, something not expected of the MasterChef contenders. In the Kellogg mini-challenge, presentations included All-Bran in soup, Cheez-It in macaroni and cheese, and Rice Krispies with crab. Contenders are judged as much on how they present their culinary delight as much as they are on their creation.Each show moves on from the early mini-challenge to the elimination round, a more serious bout which often allows the introduction of guests to the contests. Recently Food Network Star had the cast and crew of Cougar Town on the show to sample meals prepared by assigned teams of contenders. MasterChef had a beach/motorcycle/barbecue event that had motorcyclists sampling sausage sandwiches prepared and stuffed by contenders, also divided into teams for this challenge.
MasterChef had an elimination round on one show that had the contenders preparing a dessert, all of the contenders except one assigned coffee as a main ingredient in their presentation. The submissions included a coffee-flavored crème brulee, a mocha brownie, an espresso cheesecake, and beignets filled with a coffee-flavored custard that Ramsay described as feeling in the mouth like a “coffee blood clot.”
Right now the Food Network contender to keep an eye on is Mary Beth. She’s a good cook whose meatloaf was a star of the Cougar Town challenge. She has an All-American wholesomeness the Food Network people seem to like and she does a good job on camera. The MasterChef contender to watch is Alejandra. She consistently prepares good food for both the mini and the elimination challenges and seems to be a solidly basic cook.
There’s a reason why these two cooking contests run head-to-head. These shows are very different and yet quite similar in many ways. From now until the final winner, we’ll be following these series, the contenders, the fights, the disputes, the heartbreaks, the laughs, the disappointments, the gaffes, and, of course, we’ll take a look at the food.
MasterChef airs on FOX on Tuesdays at 8/7c (check your local listings).
Food Network Star airs on the Food Network on Sundays at 8p/9c (check your local listings).