This year, MasterChef The Professionals really took hold of me. I found myself oddly obsessed by a group of people I didn't know cooking food I was never going to eat. In fact, I tweeted that I was looking forward to the final more than Christmas day; a fact that deeply perturbed my Mother-in-Law given that she had signed up to spend the day with us. It's no reflection on her; just that she couldn't compete with the trio of outstanding chefs tasked to create a three course banquet that wouldn't have looked out of place on a pedestal in the Royal Academy of Art.
The reality is that MasterChef is a celebration of something wonderful; the rise and recognition of chefs whose talents may otherwise never have been realised. Ash Mair, this year's deserving winner, was a freelance cook who used to knock up canapés for corporate functions. Of course, we now know that asking Ash to prepare a prawn volovant is like asking Isambard Kingdom Brunel to fix your guttering. Steve Barringer and Claire Hutchings, the runners up, were also insanely skilful behind a chopping board. So good, in fact, that the inspectors at Michelin will surely be forced to part with a star or two in the not so distant future. And these two came second. Were it not for this beautifully produced and executed competition, it's likely that we'd never get an opportunity to view their cuisine let alone try it. And that's an eventuality that no self respecting gastronaut should have to face.
It's odd really, because MasterChef is no more or less of a talent show than a programme like X Factor. But unlike the latter, the format is fudge-proof; you have to have a genuine talent to earn an opportunity to dangle your apron strings anywhere near the final. Half arsed won't cut it. Novelty won't even get you through the door. In fact, to demonstrate anything less than complete passion, humility and a willingness to learn will fast track you back to your lounge with a Pot Noodle for company.
And the whole experience just seems more real, as though the cogs of the TV machine aren't churning towards a cynical end. There's no Abanazar lurking in the shadows of the set ready to take one hundred percent of your soul for five percent of the profits. Of course there are ratings at stake, but I would be mighty surprised if Chef Michel and Gregg didn't feel a welling of satisfaction being part of a process that gives birth to such culinary talent. And as for 'what happens next'; no shonky contracts or bloated promises darken this stage; just a natural progression of life which leads the finalists to a position of their choosing. Look at previous winners; successful head chefs and restaurant owners, all in control of their destinies and all evolving at their own pace. I don't know them, but they look content.
That's why MasterChef grabbed me. It is benevolent television, positive even, striving to find and evolve genuine talent; not manufacture and exploit it. No cynicism, no bitterness, no bickering. It doesn't dumb down or blind the viewer with cheap tricks or gimmicks. It doesn't matter whether you think a ganache is a dessert or Dennis the Menace' dog; it's a show everybody and anybody can enjoy.
In fact it was summed up perfectly with a classic Gregg-ism. "Ah mate...I tell you what, that's the sort of thing I would dip my 'ed in."
I couldn't agree more.