MaHB / TV: A Universal Language

Esquire Malaysia, December 2015

MasterChef Asia

A Universal Language
Will the international gamble on MasterChef Asia pay off? The judges serve up their thoughts on the show’s diversity and upcoming season finale.

By Sophia Goh

In a television world of far too many culinary shows, MasterChef ranks right up there among the industry’s most recognised brand names. It’s the McDonald’s of competitive cooking shows, appealing to all demographics with even its own distinctive logo to boot, fine dining and elitism be damned.

Originally created in the UK in 1990 and subsequently revived in 2005, the franchise has become a global phenomenon, spawning several other major versions and currently produced in more than 40 countries. So when it was announced that we were getting our very own MasterChef Asia series, well, you can imagine the excitement – and the pressure. With audiences already mostly familiar with the American series, the bar was set pretty high, for both the judges and the contestants.

If the key to success lay in distinguishing itself from the competition, MasterChef Asia, in drawing from a multi-national pool of contestants spanning a continent, was off to a good start. It was up to judges Susur Lee, Bruno Ménard and Audra Morrice to carry the inaugural season on their shoulders, and the trio, themselves as multi-cultural as the contestants with their varied backgrounds, knew MasterChef Asia was going to be an interesting challenge. But, as Ménard put it, there might be eight different countries represented in the competition, but there was only one language – “the universal language of cooking, where everyone can express his or her passion for food.”

Speaking on the diversity of the contestants, Morrice noted how truly proud they all were to be representing their respective countries. “It’s not just the cultural differences; it’s the nationalistic pride along with personal pride,” she said. Ménard concurs: “Everyone was fighting not only for themselves, but also for the pride of their nation. You can feel the intensity, the pressure, the winning spirit of these home cooks.”

For Lee, one of the biggest surprises was the growth he witnessed in the contestants. “I was amazed by the amount of learning they did,” he said. “By the end, they were no longer home cooks; their understanding of food was so impressive.” And, as it turned out, the learning process was mutual. “I also learned so much from them. Watching them cook and grow was so inspiring; it was life changing for them. Judging MasterChef Asia required compassion and empathy, and I felt like I was helping the home cooks transform their lives.”

Both Ménard and Lee agree: having different and diverse cooking competitions on TV is a good thing. Not only do they give people opportunities that they normally wouldn’t have to follow their dreams, they can also stimulate and inspire viewers to become professional chefs. In fact, said Menard: “I’m certain that many of the younger generation of home cooks are inspired by these TV shows.”

That may be so, but MasterChef Asia needs to do more than just inspire. From a business perspective, it needs to attract (and retain) viewers. It would be unfair to hand down a verdict without giving everyone a chance to settle into their roles and iron out the kinks, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say there’s a lot riding on the season finale.

Perhaps knowing that you cannot please everyone with a show like this, Lee would only say that the finale was “a fair and professional judgment.” Describing it as “exhilarating and stressful at the same time,” Morrice added: “It will test [the contestants’] personal abilities in new environments. All I can say is there is never a dull moment in the MasterChef Asia kitchen. Watch and be blown away!” For everyone’s sake, we hope to be.