Along with 3.7 million others on Sunday night I sat gob-smacked as 38 year old mother of three Julie Goodwin was handed the title of Australia’s first “Master Chef”. The show’s producers must have a very low opinion of their audience if they think we could not perceive the blatant favouritism shown toward the eventual winner.
In the week leading up to the finale Julie presented undercooked, sloppy, and at times downright awful dishes. Her ridiculous “puddle pie” will hopefully never be seen again. The judges could barely move the goal posts fast enough to keep up with Julie’s wayward cooking output and to ensure that she remained in the competition.
The finale continued in the same vein. Julie prepared what were variations on a familiar theme: roasted meat, simple and tasty, yet poorly presented and lacking inspiration. This is essentially the same home-style cuisine which impressed the judges at her initial audition.
Meanwhile, the other finalist, Poh Ling Yeow, presented meticulously prepared and visually stunning dishes with a startling array of accompaniments and sauces. Throughout the competition she demonstrated a creativity, intuition and artistry that set her apart from the other contestants. This originality would be her downfall.
As the finale proceeded it was clear that the fix was in. So much screen time was given to Julie as to make it appear a one horse race. On several occasions the judges stopped by her bench with helpful suggestions – sorbet too grainy, pastry too thick – whereas Poh received little assistance. When it came time for tasting, the judges lapped up Julie’s simple, dinner table fare, while Poh’s innovative dishes were greeted with raised eyebrows. With hindsight, the result was a fait accompli.
The reasons for this are clear enough. Ultimately it is the goal of a television show to make money, through advertising and the sale of related merchandise. From early on it was apparent that Julie’s story – her “journey”, in reality TV lingo – was the most marketable. And unlike other reality shows that are audience judged, the winner of MasterChef was determined solely by the show’s presenters, with the producers standing in the wings. Julie had the prize handed to her on a plate, no pun intended.
What is most preposterous is that no head chef or restaurateur in their right mind would want Julie in their kitchen. She trembled and sweated her way through every cooking challenge, rarely completing the assigned task and often presenting dishes clearly below the standards expected, not qualities suited to the frenetic bustle of a commercial kitchen.
Perhaps Julie has shown that she can cook Sunday dinner for a family of five, but she is certainly no Master Chef.