Wednesday 21 February 2018

'La creme de la creme of celeb reality shows' - Pat Stacey talks Celebrity MasterChef

Celebrity MasterChef contestants Ken Morley, Amanda Burton, Alison Hammond, Emma Barton, JB Gill
Celebrity MasterChef contestants Ken Morley, Amanda Burton, Alison Hammond, Emma Barton, JB Gill

Celebrity MasterChef is the show that just keeps on giving, year after year.

While the straight version of the franchise, including the frankly rather po-faced RTE incarnation, has grown stale and curled-up around the edges — an inevitable consequence, I suppose, of being a television fixture for almost a quarter of a century — Celebrity MasterChef continues to provide solid entertainment.

The original has lost a lot of the good-natured feel of the early years. It’s partly because of the way the ridiculous macho posturing of celebrity chefs has disfigured cookery shows.

For a time, the roaring, red-faced Gordon Ramsay and his ilk managed to convince viewers that restaurant chefs aren’t simply blokes in white coats who make rather nice food, but fierce, whisk-wielding warriors on a culinary battlefield.

This nonsense has gradually drizzled down to MasterChef. Contestants used to be keen amateurs with a flair for cooking. Now they’re more likely to be hard-nosed careerists with one eye on a future in the restaurant business and the other, perhaps, on a television series of their own some day.

Is it any wonder that the gentle, spongy Great British Bake-Off has become one of the most popular programmes in the UK? (TV3’s Great Irish Bake-Off is doing pretty well too.)

Mercifully, none of the usual rules apply to Celebrity MasterChef, which is what makes it so much more fun than its parent. Nobody taking part is there to show off their great culinary skills; if any of them have an agenda at all, it’s more likely about getting their mugs back on the box after a long time away. Part of the programme’s pact with viewers is that we know that too. If anything, the fewer of them who can boil an egg without setting the kitchen on fire, the better the series is likely to be.

You can confidently bet your house that mone or more of the 20 celebs taking part will, at some point during the series, cut or burn a finger; break crockery; drop food on the floor; overcook or undercook something; forget to add a vital ingredient to a recipe, or else add an entirely wrong ingredient.

And then there’s the ultimate Celebrity MasterChef moment: the full-scale disaster — the ambitious dish that’s perfectly formed, perfectly textured and perfectly edible when it’s cooked up in the celebrity’s head, but ends up on the plate looking like something deposited from a great height by a large bird that’s eaten something that disagrees with it.

In an age when the term ‘celebrity’ is as elastic as the waistband of an elderly American tourist’s leisure pants, Celebrity MasterChef stands apart from the pack by featuring people that at least some portion ofthe audience will actually recognise.

Last year’s winner, for example, was Ade Edmondson, the late Rik Mayall’s long-time comedy partner. Tonight’s fearless five include original Silent Witness star Amanda Burton, who knows her way around a mortuary slab and therefore should have little trouble handling raw meat. The next most famous face is probably Ken Morley, who used to play supermarket manager Reg Holdsworth in Coronation Street.

Reg was a great comic character, but any time Morley has appeared on TV as himself he’s come across as the kind of insufferable, self-consciously wacky individual you want to strangle after 10 minutes in his company.

It could get very heated in the kitchen.


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