In the overstocked world of culinary competition shows, a network needs to deliver a well done product or risk losing customers to tastier alternatives. Such is the likely fate of Fox’s “Masterchef,” which places network favorite Gordon Ramsay in a sour blend of “Top Chef” and “American Idol” to unappetizing results.
Inspired by the Australian format of a competition series that originated in the U.K., “Masterchef” kicks off with 100 amateur chefs auditioning for three judges charged with winnowing the competition down to 30. The structure of the opening hour will be familiar to any “Idol” audition viewer — open with weak wannabes before segueing to hopefuls who actually make the cut, and intersperse short family-oriented profiles of a select few.Worthy prizes — $250,000 in cash and the opportunity to publish a cookbook — helped attract a wide spectrum of contestants, but the series prioritizes reality TV theatrics over any factors relevant to food and cooking. Aspiring chefs line up before the judges to cry, joke, flirt and sometimes just humiliate themselves in an ominous sign of where the show is headed in post-audition rounds. Before you know it, one of the competitors has already declared, “It’s on like Donkey Kong.”
Judges establish themselves as perfunctory slot-fillers rather than unique “Idol”-style personalities. Restaurateur Joe Bastianich scowls menacingly as the “tough” guy, while celebrity chef Graham Elliot Bowles plays the softie and delivers the opener’s most eye-rolling critique: “There was one key ingredient that I did taste in it … love.”
Ramsay seems content to sit back and pick up a paycheck as the headliner. It remains a mystery why Fox keeps trapping the charismatic chef in second-rate incarnations of series executed much better overseas.
There’s potential in a show devoted to Average Joes achieving their dreams, but even with “Top Chef” currently in the midst of one of its weaker seasons, there’s no reason to sample what “Masterchef” is serving.