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Masterchef the book – coming to a remainder table near you

June 5, 2009

We’re getting close to a “top ten” in the first season of Masterchef Australia. Barring a Biggest Loser twist, this means that one of the contestants on our screens will be the first winner. In addition to the rather vague promise of either working “alongside Australia’s top chefs”/”in Australia’s top restaurants”, this person will also take home $100,000 and will publish a cook book .

A cook book? It’s as though the show’s creators looked at Idol and decided that the equivalent to a recording contract for a singer would be a publishing deal for a cook. The difference, of course, is that throughout a singing competition the audience hears the competitors perform – they know what they are in for when they buy a recording or tickets for a concert tour. During Masterchef, viewers watch the contestants cook but cannot taste their offerings and – in the case of Masterchef Australia – can’t always rely on the judges to do it for them. There’s also a difference in the level of “investment” – the risk/reward. If you like an Idol winner, the $1.99 you spend on iTunes for the single will have no surprises: you’ve already heard the song. The album – if it’s ever released – will only set you back around $16.00. If it’s utter garbage, no biggie. Even if the Masterchef winner is a particular favourite, a cookbook is around $50. It’s a riskier purchase.

I’ve been watching this series of Masterchef since the beginning and I am finding it reasonably entertaining TV, but it’s not good “food” TV. I am struggling to remember any of the dishes the contestants have served up, and I know that there has been nothing offered so far that has made me want the recipe.

This is going to be a problem when the winner’s book comes out.

It’s likely to be a fairly generic book.  Chances are it has already been written and will just have a few tweaks and pics added to suit the winner (i.e. some Frenchy stuff thrown in if Justine wins, some beer recipes for Chris, some… golf snacks for Lucas? Really, who knows what it might be if any of the others win!). Anybody who has written a book of any genre would be amused by the idea that the end result of their hard work – publication – is a prize to be granted, so having a ghost-writer is the only way this could constitute a reward and not a chore for the winner. There might be some out there who buy it for novelty value, or who need a gift for somebody they don’t particularly like but have a gift-giving arrangement with. Otherwise, I can’t really see a market.

Let’s look at some scenarios.

Sandra wins. Sandra has already stated that she is keen on good nutrition, especially for children, and helping mothers feed their poor fat children properly (won’t somebody think of the children?). Now, Sandra is no pioneer here; it’s a path well-trodden. And there’s the problem. It’s a path well-trodden by people with a high profile based on (in most cases) established form. Jamie Oliver didn’t burst from obscurity and start hectoring people about their diets. He used the celebrity status he’d achieved from his early shows (a celebrity that was born of actual restaurant experience, by the way) as a platform for a crusade. Likewise, Gordon Ramsay didn’t start with teaching Britons to cook healthy food for their families; he started as a chef, built his empire, and incorporated that message into one of his programs. Jessica Seinfeld. Okay, I had no idea the woman existed, let alone ate or cooked, but she has a famous husband and access to Oprah and a book about tricking kids into eating healthy food (which is a completely objectionable and counter-productive idea, but that’s OT).

What will Sandra offer? She has said what she wants , but has no credentials to support this. She doesn’t shine as a personality amongst the contestants. In fact, she comes across as lacking in some essential food knowledge (see her risotto technique at the Easter Show challenge), unwilling to take advice, and rather surly when things don’t go her way. Given that her cookbook will be sold on the profile she’s established during the show, would it succeed? Unlikely.

Julie wins. She says she loves cooking for her family and the cooking she’s done on the show backs this up – she seems like a good family cook without much range. Her pick of ingredient for the British challenge? Lamb, which – instead of stuffing – she stuffed up. She comes across as a lovely person, down to earth and caring, but also disorganised, hopeless under pressure and lacking flair. What would her cookbook offer?

Julia wins. From the moment she won the “Beat the Chef” challenge, she’s been out of the regular competition. Sure, we get glimpses of her honing her skills at The Pantry, but no insight into her “food” identity. Would you buy her cookbook?

I’ve got some fairly strange cookbooks in my collection. I’ve never, for example, cooked from the Roald Dahl book, but I love the anecdotes and illustrations. I have no idea why I own a very earnest wholefoods cookbook, but it sits there on the shelf, unused. I fantasize about making biltong from the South Africa book, but have nowhere to hang drying meat here so I’m hanging on to it in case of a move. Loyd Grossman’s Top 100 recipes is a sign of my dedication to the real Masterchef, and I open it occasionally and read the intros to dishes in my best Loyd voice, but have only ever cooked the kedgeree from it and the result was dire. There is a whole pile of cookbooks that I was given or misguidedly bought from a bargain table somewhere that I don’t have room for on the shelves, or the inclination to cook from. I will not be adding to that with the Masterchef winner’s book.

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This has been cross-posted at Reality Ravings.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. realityravings permalink
    June 5, 2009 9:05 pm

    Great blog post. I think the cookbook will be a bit like the Australian Idol winner’s release. A lot of ghost writing with some small individual touches/recipes from the winner. It will probably include some the recipes they cooked on the show. But then again you can get a lot on the website. I agree it is not a cook book I would spend $50 on.

    Two people who should be thinking about releasing cookbooks on the back of the show are Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris considering all screen time they are getting, now that I may buy.

    Speaking of the Roald Dahl cookbook Vol 1. I “nannied” for the editor for a few weeks while she was editing the book, and I got to go to Roald Dahl’s house which was like a museum in his memory. It is a memory I have longed treasure considering he is one of my favourite authors both as a child and as an adult.

  2. injera permalink*
    June 8, 2009 6:24 pm

    How amazing to have worked for the editor of that very book! Is the house open to visitors, or were you able to go there because of your connection with the editor?

    On the subject of Masterchef prizes, this (sourced from Abstract Gourmet – couldn’t find the actual Sun-Herald link) was interesting:

    More than 7500 everyday folk auditioned to be contestants on the show, where they take cooking challenges for three months until there is one cook left. There’s no prize money or restaurant deal – just the satisfaction of being named MasterChef.

    So it seems that, at some point during production, they were adhering more closely to the UK model. Wonder when and why that changed? You’d think it might be to give air time to a publishing company, but so far no names have been mentioned, have they?

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