In its first episode, MasterChef reminds us that food is inseparable from family

Today is my birthday, and Channel Ten decided that it was the perfect day to bring back MasterChef. I completely agree. I had a great birthday. I went out for dinner with my family last night, I went to the Pancake Parlour with my friends this afternoon and ate so much food that I didn’t need dinner. I shared meals with people I love. Then I spent my evening live-tweeting MasterChef, and this beauty popped up in my feed because former contestant Alice Zaslavsky retweeted it.

It’s no secret that I don’t like MKR, it’s advertised as some sort of Mean Girls horror show. I only ever saw the last five minutes of an episode when I was waiting for Last Resort to start. In its least successful season, MasterChef tried to incorporate some more traditional reality show elements with its ‘Battle of the Sexes.’ When MasterChef tried to capitalise on what made MKR successful it failed, and when it went back to basics, people started watching again. This tweet got me thinking. I don’t think that MasterChef puts the story second. Yes, it’s a show about food first, but the stories of its contestants are woven into their cooking – it’s about balance.

MasterChef is rough. In order to follow your Food Dream (©MasterChef Australia), you have to spend time away from the people you love the most, and those people are why you cook. Every year they bring in the contestants’ families for the finale, and every year it makes me cry. So it makes sense that the first episode of the show is all about family. I mean, it’s about the food, but we all know it’s about family. The top 50 contestants cook a dish for the judges while their friends and family watch on. The family usually waits to find out if their loved one made it, but there’s more to it than that. The judges are meeting the contestants for the first time, and they don’t just eat food, they talk to these people. The first contestant to cook in the premiere was Cecilia Vuong. She made it into the Top 24 two years ago but had to pull out because she had a brain injury. Coming back to MasterChef isn’t just for her, it’s also for her children. She wants to show them that a setback isn’t the end, and she succeeds. Two years ago she made black sesame macarons, and this year she built on that. She’s not as good as she was two years ago, she’s better, and that’s a great lesson to teach to your children. These are the stories that form MasterChef. The stories that inspire the judges to bring in a family member to present the apron. Suffice to say we’d seen one contestant and I was already crying.

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Cecilia’s Flight of Sesame

This wasn’t the only story of the night about family. Zoe Konnikos brought her grandmothers with her, and made a stunning panna cotta. George didn’t say anything, he just went outside and the next thing he knew he was being hugged by one of Zoe’s grandmothers. The seasoned MasterChef viewer (and everyone in that shed is a seasoned viewer) knows that the judges coming out equals an apron, but it’s special every time, because every story is different. One of the biggest compliments I can give MasterChef is that it’s a family show, and a contestant’s grandmother giving all of the judges hugs even before she gets the apron is proof that this show resonates with families.

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Zoe’s white chocolate panna cotta

Nineteen year old Nicolette Stathopoulos made a dessert with lemons from her grandfather’s lemon tree. She even brought some lemons for the judges. The dish was special to her because her grandfather died two weeks previously, and she was moved that her grandmother came to the audition. It was the first time she’d left the house since her husband died. The food and the story are inseparable. The food is part of the story, and more often than not the story is family.

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Grandpa’s Lemon and Raspberry by Nicolette

Contestant Miles Pritchett is a Park Ranger from Central Queensland. He hasn’t made it through to the Top 24 yet, but he has a second chance to cook for the judges. He lives in an old service station, which he hopes will one day be an eatery run by his family. His son is doing a chef’s apprenticeship on the Gold Coast. Together they would cook while his daughter runs front of house.

The narrative of the night was family, and it finished with a bang, as MasterChef‘s first brother-sister combo made it into the Top 24. Siblings usually enter MKR as teams, but not this duo. Theresa Vistintin and her older brother Jimmy Wong are both fantastic cooks. They can deliver on taste and presentation, and a sibling rivalry is something I can’t wait to see this year. MasterChef puts the food first, but the story is inseparable from the food. Theresa and Jimmy are our reminders of that. They’ll miss their family, but they have each other in the house, which is an early advantage over the other contestants.

Other thoughts:

  • My ex-boyfriend had a crush on Alice Zaslavsky during her time on the show, so I was inclined to dislike her. She quickly won me over with her puns on Twitter and wit on Ben Pobjie’s short-lived webseries MasterChat. Bring back MasterChat!
  • Welcome to my MasterChef coverage for this year. I won’t be posting every day. I’m going to miss tomorrow night’s episode because I’ll be at Captain America: Civil War.
  • Other highlights of the evening include someone getting through with risotto, aka ‘The Death Dish.’ The segment was complete with flashbacks and everything. Has he single-handedly changed the risotto narrative on this show? Probably not, I’m sure there will be failed risottos to come.
  • The lady from the Devondale ads in The Great Australian Bake-Off is back because Devondale is sponsoring the show.
  • All images are courtesy of Channel Ten.
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