I love the show because, beneath the absurdities that make it an indulgence, its bones are nourishing. Masterchef offers an innocent and healthy vision of the good life. It serves its audience a rich, complicated dish in which competition and creativity, business and pleasure are all brought together.
Take this year’s finalists: one solicitor, whose parents run their own restaurant, a family business started by his grandfather; one serial entrepreneur, who left school at 16 and started his own recruitment firm, now turning over £1.2m a year; and the co-founder of London club night Mooch. These are people who understand the creative opportunity business can provide, as well as the discipline and focus on serving the needs of others that it requires. They know that there is no conflict between that world and the world of beautiful plates of food. And it is a point hammered home by the constant celebration on the show of the achievement of professional chefs and commercial kitchens.
Masterchef also glories in its competitive nature. Competition gets short shrift from the all-must-have-prizes view of those who lean to the left, a group whose tastes tend to predominate in Britain’s cultural industries. But this show, and others like it, blow such theories out of the water. Torode and Wallace return us to simple truths, among them that competition is a gift: an opportunity to be made better by the challenge.
The left’s battle to promote its culture is an endless one, because it goes against common sense. It is hard to persuade people they do not enjoy the thrill of improving themselves through competition, that beauty, precision and excellence are not worth striving to achieve, that expensive cuisine is somehow frivolous and shallow.
The growth of reality shows that celebrate competitive achievement and dignify business is one of the most cheering trends in mass entertainment. From Dragons’ Den to the Great British Bake Off to Country House Rescue, these shows reject the notion that commerce taints invention or that competition stunts achievement. The market success of British television formats themselves, licensed today around the globe, is testament that they are answering a universal appetite.
My only regret is that in its visits to London restaurants, Masterchef hasn’t spent more time in the City, home to many fine restaurants, cultivated palates and hard workers who appreciate its view of the world.
Perhaps bankers remain too out-of-favour with the public to feature in a Masterchef challenge. If so, here’s a tastier offer for Masterchef 2014 – come and cook for City A.M.’s hungry and discerning journalists sometime. We’re all on the same page.
Marc Sidwell is managing editor of City A.M.