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Masterchef

March 15, 2012

I have spent much of the last few months live tweeting Masterchef. This basically involves me watching a TV programme and writing a series of stupid comments. It has helped to pass the long winter evenings.

I like Masterchef. In culinary terms, it’s very much comfort food. It’s stodgy, predictable, formulaic and very enjoyable. It eschews the worst aspects of reality TV; the need to vilify ordinary people or dwell unnecessarily on mawkish backstories. Of course it’s personality-driven, but the touch is light and the focus remains as much on food as on the “journey”. It’s TV that is forgotten almost as soon as it is over, but that is no bad thing. I don’t want to lie awake at night thinking of burnt Thai fishcakes.

I don’t tweet every series of Masterchef – I only do it when I feel like it. I’m not paid to do it, so if it feels like an obligation rather than a pleasure then I don’t bother. I first started a few years ago, by accident. The show was on and I found myself tweeting about it, and realised that I enjoyed both the show and Twitter more that way. Fortunately my followers seem to agree and over the years I haven’t alienated too many followers by bombarding them with 80 tweets an hour that make absolutely no sense unless you are watching the same TV show as me.

My approach to Masterchef is to focus less on what is happening onscreen -because as I’ve said, it’s often very formulaic – and tweet my own imaginary version of events, bringing in time travel, murder, philosophy and writing my own dialogue. In doing so, I turn the contestants into caricatures. In my version of the show, the presenters, chefs and mentors are villains, heroes, sex objects, murderers, clowns and idiot savants. They are my comedy playthings and I use them as I will. In reality I know that Shelina isn’t a sex object, that Andrew isn’t a sentient field mouse and that Tom isn’t a dead-eyed psychopath.

My tweeting of Masterchef is a good example of how Twitter (or my experience of it) has changed. When I first started tweeting it, I had 1000 followers and none of the participants (other than early adopter Gregg Wallace) were on Twitter. I could tweet what I liked in the knowledge that it never got back to those involved – it was the equivalent of me sitting around in private with a group of friends, all of us watching together. But Twitter is now a part of mainstream culture, and both the presenters and half the contestants are on Twitter. When I tweet something silly or rude about one of them, it’s not uncommon that someone will retweet it and copy them in, meaning that they get to read what I am saying about them. I have no real problem with this as what I’m writing is so obviously cartoonish that I doubt it could cause any real offence. Even so, I worry about some of the tweets being taken out of context. A retweet pulls a tweet out of its natural context and places it into an environment in which it is easily misunderstood.

Still, I can’t have been too rude because I am now followed on Twitter by John Torode, one of the Masterchef presenters. This has probably softened my attitude somewhat. Nothing blunts the edge of satire like being accepted. It’s also changed my attitude in terms of how rude or cruel I am. As I’ve said, my humour tends to be cartoonish and I steer clear of direct insults, but the fact that the objects of my derision are now on Twitter is a good reminder that these are real people, with real feelings, and that there’s no excuse for being an absolute prick about them. Knowing that the contestants might well read what I am writing makes me consider what I put on Twitter and whether I want to take lazy potshots about someone’s face/hair/accent.  When I see some of the hatred and vitriol heaped that is directed towards “public figures” on Twitter, it does make me question myself. Obviously, if you’re appearing regularly on TV you can expect some flack, but the levels of bile directed at some reality TV stars is horrible. They’re just people on TV. They aren’t murderers (note: I have no proof of this. Some of them may be murderers)

No mention of Masterchef can be complete without writing about the show’s lynchpin:  garrulous fruit and veg man Gregg Wallace. When I first started watching Masterchef, I didn’t think much of Gregg. He was a comedy bald man, with dubious foodie qualifications, shouting a lot. But over the course of many series of Masterchef and Celebrity Masterchef and Masterchef: The Professionals, I’ve come to understand his role. He’s not there to be an expert in the traditional sense – that is why he is paired with a proper chef. He’s there as someone who knows a bit about food but is essentially an everyman and a cheerleader, there to revel in the food, dispense words of advice and occasionally utter a catchphrase. And he does it well. Many of my tweets focus on Gregg, because he’s the most obviously cartoonish person in the show, mugging up for the camera, spoon plunged deep in his mouth, eyes bulging in epicurean delight. In my parallel comedy universe Gregg is the deluded sun king, overseeing his court of follies. Of course, the reality is quite different. For the purposes of Masterchef I’ve started following him on Twitter and it turns out that he’s a normal person with the same concerns and vanities and self-awareness of anyone else. He seems to know that he’s seen as something of a loveable buffoon and accepts it as part and parcel of his job. I don’t know if I could ever be quite so relaxed about my public image, which is why I doubt I’ll ever have a career in TV.

Anyway, tonight is the final of this year’s series of Masterchef. I won’t be tweeting it as I have a prior engagement. I hope and expect Shelina to win, but I’m not too bothered anyway. My world of Masterchef isn’t really about who wins, it’s about using it as a starting point for my own imaginary ramblings. And in my imagination, I already know who the winner is.

My Masterchef tweets are all archived here. Looking back at them without the show playing at the same time, they make quite terrifying reading.

EDIT: It turns out that just before the final of Masterchef, The Times did a live webchat with the finalists in which they were asked if they read my tweets. It turns out they do. How odd. How lovely, and scary and odd.

Thanks to Kat Brown for the photo.

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15 comments

  1. I’ve loved the tweets! Especially your back and forth banter with John Torode! Shame we won’t be seeing more commentary tonight. Thanks for keeping me amused!


  2. Sometimes I enjoy reading the Storify after the programme – as you said “My approach to Masterchef is to focus less on what is happening onscreen”, so whilst reading the tweets along with the show is great, I find perusing the entire story the morning after is a piece of entertainment in itself and makes tears fall from my face.


  3. This is a perfect summation of all that is brilliant about Masterchef and your tweets about it.


  4. I shall miss watching the show with half an eye on your tweets this evening! Thanks for the many, many laughs and the often spectacularly surreal images. It’s been such a treat.


  5. See look what you did there? You had your OWN journey. I think what I’ve enjoyed most about (belatedly) finding you on Twitter is the surreality. Following the show with your commentary on hand makes the sometimes irritatingly shouty/banality/repetitive nature of MasterChef into something brilliant. You’ve saved the show for me. I watch it BECAUSE I can then read your tweets.
    I thank you for it.


  6. Just read. What a pleasure. Great fun Greg. Great fun.


  7. You have transformed Masterchef into the “Culinary X-Factor” and have destroyed what was originally honest, fascinating and informative. I have watched every series from the inception but now you have lost me as a viewer. I was simultaneously revolted and bored by the last series.

    A major problem is the obsession with the ‘Michelin’ look for the plate. This cliché (poor Michelin whose name is taken in vain) stresses a particular visual style over taste and curiously is stuck on an artistic layou tderived from abstract expressionism (sometimes daubed with the wand of HarryPotter) and in many cases is just as visually confused as the food is ‘fused’..

    Yet, the viewer is led to believe that this is quintessence of haute cuisine. We are told (but are unable to verify) that it is both delicious, even when every flavor and texture known to the palate is found on almost every plate. Who has set up this latter day ‘Académie de la Cuisine’, which thanks to the magic of television can now perpetuate itself through programs like yours judged by the fellow academicians of the movement. No doubt there are some great chefs on your panels, but might there not be certain lack of objectivity on the part of your judges?

    Worse, the whole thing is unhygenic albiet with a perfectly polished rim. How can you possibly herald a plate that has been so fingered, breathed over and sweated upon, that the only digestive possible is an antibiotic? Who in their right mind would want to eat such dirty food?

    And for my final serving I ask you to consider the waste. The hidden waste which one sees in your plates could feed a few starving souls, or is this handled by catered charity events for the world’s starving?

    Perhaps you could redeem yourself by basing a series around Escoffier’s words: Keep it simple!


    • Hello Dorothy, thanks for your comments. You seem to have mistaken me for someone who actually produces the show Masterchef. I do not produce the show Masterchef. I am merely a viewer. However, I will endeavour to pass on your comments to the producers.


    • You’ve made my day, Dorothy.


    • Agree wholeheartedly. This is TV at it’s most repulsive. Bring back real cooks who care about food, not ambitious chefs who are trying to further their careers.
      As for the presenters and judges! Dear god! Spare us!


  8. The Man Who Fell has turned tweeting into an artform. That’s all I have to say on the matter.


  9. [...] all of The Sopranos and tweeting about the episodes as I watch them. The Man Who Fell Asleep has been doing something similar recently, live-tweeting Masterchef; the experiment has been quite a success, and he writes that ‘over [...]


  10. What a load of pseuds!
    Including the presenters!
    Here are a load of ‘wannabes’, not really interested in food, just in their careers.
    TV can turn the most amazing stuff into crap.
    This is crap through and through.
    It does not want to inform us about good cooking, just create ‘provocative’ TV.
    Bring back Lloyd Grossman, he was totally interested in good food, not TV nonsense.


    • Hello Liz,

      You don’t seem to have read my blog and appear to be using it as a forum to attack Masterchef. I suspect this is because the BBC, in their wisdom, have put a link to this blogpost on the official Masterchef website. This leads to people like you mistakenly believing that this is a BBC blog. It isn’t.


  11. This is awful.
    not what i want from a cooking programme.
    Won’t watch again.



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