"MasterChef" off to a tasty start

Mon Jul 26, 2010 9:31pm EDT
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By Barry Garron

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Watching "MasterChef" is like tuning in to "American Idol" on mute.

The new Fox show, premiering Tuesday, is based on a popular international format now washing across American shores.

Tryouts in a handful of cities earned more than 100 amateur chefs a chance to advance to the next round in Los Angeles. During the first two episodes, the three judges -- Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot Bowles -- pare the number of contestants to 30.

After that, a series of challenges -- from feeding an army to cooking a wedding dinner -- will produce a single MasterChef. In addition to the title, the winner gets a quarter of a million bucks and a recipe book deal.

It's a proven format, but, unlike "American Idol," viewers can't judge the quality of the performances. The taste and the texture of their food is unknown to all but the judges, who frequently differ among themselves about these qualities. Who's right? Who knows?

On other cooking shows, like Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen," contestants are professional chefs. There is an assumption that their food is palatable. In "MasterChef," cooking talent varies dramatically, which makes taste a more important unknown.

Even so, the show manages to be hugely entertaining and involving thanks mainly to the judges' personalities and the ability of the producers to spot emotionally charged stories when they see them.

Sometimes these elements work together. A fleeting note after the closing credits said "decisions were made by the judges with input from the producers. Some deliberations occurred off camera." In other words, taste might count for a lot less than this series would have you believe.   Continued...