MasterChef Australia - One of Cooking Television's Hidden Gems
If you like to watch cooking videos on YouTube, you’ve probably come across videos from the MasterChef channel before. So a few months ago, I found myself going down the MasterChef YouTube rabbithole, watching endless ten minute clips of MasterChef episodes from around the world. After a while, I started noticing that a lot of the most interesting clips were coming from MasterChef Australia in particular, and the food produced on there seemed to be on a completely different level from MasterChef US, which I’ve watched before. I decided to try watching a full season of MasterChef Australia (MCAU) to see what it is about, and before I knew it, I had binged three entire seasons over winter break (oops!).
I was blown away by how much more depth MCAU has compared to the American version and how different it was. MCAU is easily one of the best food competition shows I’ve watched, both in terms of production and the food itself. If you’re a food lover, I’m here to explain why this is a must-watch for you. (Note: I watched the entirety of MCAU seasons 6-8.)
How the show works
The first thing to know about MCAU is its unique structure. Instead of airing one episode a week, MCAU airs six episodes a week, making it an almost nightly affair. Obviously, this means a lot more cooking -- while MasterChef US has two challenges a week, MCAU has a whopping FIVE challenges a week. And they’re all different types of challenges:
The week starts with a Mystery Box Challenge and an Invention Test. In the Mystery Box Challenge, contestants have to cook with a selection of ingredients chosen for them. The Mystery Box winner then gets an advantage that impacts all the contestants in the Invention Test. The Invention Test challenges contestants to make the most creative dish they can under the conditions created by the Mystery Box winner’s advantage.
Winners of the Invention Test then go on to participate in the Immunity Challenge, where they cook off against a top chef. In this challenge, both the chef and contestant must cook with the same set of ingredients. Their dishes are anonymously submitted to the judges. If the contestant has the winning dish, they receive an immunity pin which protects them from a future elimination.
The bottom three from the Invention Test compete in the Pressure Test, where they must replicate a dish made by a top chef. These dishes are often complex with dozens of steps and take hours to complete. The contestant with the worst dish is then eliminated.
The remaining contestants then take part in a Team Challenge. This usually means cooking for a large amount of people. Running a restaurant service is the usual challenge.
The losing team(s) from the Team Challenge compete in the Elimination Challenge, which can take any number of forms. This is the end of the week.
What I love
The judges (and guest chefs!)
While we all love the drama of a Joe Bastianich or Gordon Ramsay, sometimes they’re a bit much and detract from what should be the star of a show like MasterChef: the cooking. MCAU judges strike the perfect balance between having personality and keeping the focus on food. While they’re not shy about giving their opinions, they do it respectfully and as drama-free as possible, and they always rally the contestants when they start cracking under the pressure. Their interactions with the contestants are often the most heartwarming moments of the show and leave you warm and fuzzy.
If you’re not Australian, the judges probably aren’t household names to you. The real star power of MCAU is in its guest chefs. MCAU features names such as Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal, Nigella Lawson, and Curtis Stone on a regular basis (sometimes for an entire week of challenges!). Seeing these chefs express their cooking philosophy through the challenges they set and how they inspire the contestants is one of the most exciting parts of the show.
With world famous chefs regularly in the mix on MCAU, it’s no surprise that the quality of food is so high. The home cooks usually arrive with an incredible arsenal of skills, and the difficulty of the challenges are set accordingly. I’ve found that many challenges on MasterChef US (for example, cooking a perfect medium-rare steak) are usually skills that are just about given for any MCAU contestant; cooking a perfect steak is just an expected component of a much more complex dish. The show’s challenges are engineered for creativity (e.g. Invention Tests) and high-level cooking (e.g. recreating Michelin-level dishes in Pressure Tests), and the dishes produced look absolutely gorgeous. Foodporn for days…
In any cooking show, you watch for two reasons: the food and the people. For a season-long competition like MasterChef, it’s hard to keep watching if you’re not invested in the contestants. MCAU’s structure is perfect in this respect - how can you not be invested in the contestants you watch six times a week? And over ten-to-twelve weeks, we get to see how a contestant’s skill grows, learn their backstory, and see their friendships with other contestants. It’s inevitable that you find someone to root for and keeps you excited to watch the next episode.
Some highlight moments!
Reynold Poernomo's Forbidden Fruit - one of the most stunning desserts I've ever seen.
The time auction elimination challenge - I just love thinking about the strategy behind this challenge.
Passionfruit flower dessert pressure test - just one of many crazy complicated pressure tests!
If you’re looking for a fresh twist to the Masterchef you know and love, I hope I’ve convinced you to give MCAU a shot. There’s innovative cooking, world famous chefs, and lovable contestants. If nothing else, you’ll get to see some gorgeous food (in case you couldn’t tell from those video clips). There’s truly no other cooking show that strikes the balance between all the components of a good cooking competition like Masterchef Australia!