Thursday, 13 January 2011

cooking for royals

another masterchef post today, for those who are following the UK version that's screening on tv1 these days.

tonight's episode had the constestants travel to india, to cook indian cuisines in a variety of settings. really happy to see the show go in this direction, present another country & it's cuisine to viewers in a pretty positive way.

but. while they dealt so positively with diversity in one way, i was really frustrated at the way the show dealt with class issues. the first task for the contestants was to cook breakfast for "VIP" guests at an outdoor location in jaipur. these guests very presented as select & very important, and wouldn't you know it, they consisted to a large part of successful business people.

my beef (pun intended) is with the definition of important here. these people aren't any more important than any other person in jaipur, or anywhere else in the world. i know i'm not in the majority here, but as far as i'm concerned the street sweepers and rickshaw-drivers of jaipur are just as important as these business people, and just as deserving of a fine-dining experience. possibly they wouldn't be as good in terms of being food critics (which is what the show is looking for), but i'd even dispute that for this challenge, as the menu was pretty standard indian fare with the pooris, parathas and kachauris.

but it got worse. the third challenge had the contestants cooking for the maharajah of jaipur, and if they all weren't practically in tears at the end because they had cooked for "royalty" and royalty had approved of their food. again with the royalty. born into privilege, with no requirement to show any kind of talent or ability. i'm not sure what kind of political power the maharajah has, nor what he contributes to the community. but even if he did, the fact that he is royalty makes him no better than the waiters who were serving his food. what he does with that position and privilege would certainly be a cause for respect if he used both in the service of others, but not the mere fact that he is royal.

i'd really love to live in a world where these same contestants were moved to tears because the waiters had liked the food. i know there are cultural factors at play here, and that someone growing up in the UK would have a different view of royalty than us in nz who are so far away from our sovereign. even so, i found it difficult to watch.

i'd compare this to cooking for professional food critics, who have a considerable degree of knowledge & experience, and possibly talent in terms of their palate. it's possible that the maharajah had developed all these, from the fact that he can afford fine dining and appears to indulge in it (based on what was shown in the programme). in which case, just present the guy as a food critic, and stop fawning over his royal status.

another thought: while they showed some really beautiful settings in the show, particularly the maharajah's palace, it would be nice if people actually got to see how the chefs live & how the waiters live. i know that's not what the show is about, but a quick 2 minute look at how the other half lives could have added a lot more to the experience of watching the programme. cooking as social commentary.

i'm surprised at myself that i haven't really noticed the whole class thing inherent in masterchef -whether it's the aussie, nz or UK version. it is all about expensive ingredients, expensive restaurants and an experience that is restricted to a small sector of society. until now, i'd focused on the skills, the artistry and the talents that contestants display.

this doesn't mean that i'll stop watching - there are so few shows i enjoy on tv as it is. but i'll definitely be watching with a much more critical eye.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

India's princely rulers enjoy no political power, but most of them have managed to retain the wealth they maintained prior to independence in 1949. The Nizam of Hyderabad was once the world's third wealthiest man, and his descendants still do very well.