I was watching MasterChef last night, which is, by the way, somewhat enthralling. As with any reality TV show, you can watch people transform from the person s/he would like to publicly project to the person s/he truly is (the cameras wear them down).
It’s mostly awful. But the food. The food is not awful; it’s magnificent.
The plot of the show is to, week after week, perform kitchen feats using selected secret ingredients that normal people would not often use to make a dish. The contestants might have to feature nuts, or venison, or mango in a dish with another combination of products.
They have one hour to cook the dish FROM THEIR IMAGINATIONS, in front of the ever-present cameras and overbearing judges. Stressful!
The part I most envy the contestants, however, is when the clock starts and they all dash inside the “pantry.” The pantry is another kitchen with huge refrigerators and cabinets and baskets, all fully stocked. The room is just brimming with fresh vibrant produce, cuts of meat straight from the butcher wrapped tightly in crisp white paper, creams, wines, and liqueurs, grains and lentils in a wide array of earthy tones and textures, and almost any spice imaginable. It’s breathtaking. And utterly unfair.
Reality TV often is not reflective of, well, reality. And the reality is no one has this type of pantry. When I pull out a recipe with which to cook dinner, I do not have immediate access to fresh vanilla beans and smoked salmon. I’m lucky if I have scallions and half a gallon of milk floating around in the back of my refrigerator.
These shows, and in fact, my recipe books as well, vex me! I want a recipe that gives substitutions right there! “If you’re broke and you don’t have smoked paprika, just use paprika. It will be fine.” Tell me the dish will survive!
Furthermore, I want a reality show where a professional chef has to go into the viewers’ homes and make something magnificent with what they have on hand. Wouldn’t THAT be exciting?! I want to see triumph in the face of true hardship.
Let me tell you: you don’t know a certain type of hardship till you’ve looked in your half-empty cupboards at 6:45 at night and your better half is begging for sustenance and none of your recipes read: 1 box spaghetti and 1 cup of whatever sauce is in the can next to it.” And all you can think is: make something magnificent with these random ingredients FROM YOUR IMAGINATION!
I would fail MasterChef…mostly because pasta IS usually the answer. Not a bad choice, but it does lack certain zip, zest, and zeal of which my heaping mound of food network magazines suggests I am capable.
Maybe if they had some useful articles… “Ground Meat and Smashing Good Garlic Potatoes,” with hints like: use ground beef or turkey, fresh or frozen, whatever color potatoes you have left, and any form of garlic, be it fresh, minced, or powder…or “Shrimp Tacos” can also be made with the much cheaper, yet seldom star of the show, tilapia, and then whatever green stuff is in the crisper drawer and isn’t half-wilted or three-quarters mushy.
So yes, I would fail MasterChef nightly, because my dishes would not create a colorful plate, and they would be missing “essence du lait dans la nuit” or a three to one ratio of curry and cardamom (note: “essence du lait dans la nuit” or “night milk essence” is not a real thing).
But MasterChefs would fail MY kitchen, and the thought is somewhat comforting. Now if I could only find a recipe to use up the eggs I bought on sale and the broccoli rabe I bought on a whim…