Masterchef as an educational tool?

With the announcement last week that Celebrity Masterchef Australia would be starting this evening (Australian time), it made me think about the role of food-tainment (yes, I made that word up) and education.

I was thinking about it more since I was listening to Dave Chang of Momofuku on his podcast, The Dave Chang Show.

Dave, Chris, Noelle, and Isaac congregate once again to debate the merits of recipes (or the lack thereof) (0:24) before sharing their thoughts on a variety of topics, culinary or otherwise (18:46). Hosts: Dave Chang and Chris Ying, Guest: Noelle Cornelio, Producer: Isaac Lee.

Now that debate of the importance of recipes was an interesting one. I tend to agree with Noelle’s point of view, in that recipes are important for not just learning how to cook a specific thing, but also understanding flavour combinations. It was David who pointed out that the best recipes are those that are handed down from older generations that didn’t write recipes down – it is all about the constant tasting of recipes and having that fundamental understanding about the flavours.

David also highlighted the importance (at least from my point of view) of understanding substitute products. If you don’t have salt, you can use soy sauce. If you don’t have sugar, you can use agave. If you don’t have lemon, you can use lime. There are ways to balance flavours while understanding the wide variety of substitute options.

Where does Masterchef fit into this?

I believe that it is important that programs like Masterchef informs its viewers about the importance of different flavours and different flavour combinations. While the competitors do their best when they are doing pieces to camera, it would be interesting to remove certain staples from the pantry.

For example, removing salt would force the competitors to look at the alternative options. While the contestants may grumble about it, they would be forced to think creatively about how they introduce salt into their dish, particularly when it comes to seasoning the dish towards the end of the cook. This would also show home cooks that they don’t need to buy an enormous range of exotic ingredients – they can use what they have at home as a substitute.

On a similar note, the need to create a recipe for winning dishes is a challenge for the contestants. They are primarily operating by taste, rather than strictly measuring things out… Well, that is the perception we have on television. It may be the case that they are clearly measuring and weighing things out when they are preparing their dishes. However, reviewing the recipes for the purpose of publication may remove some of the tiny intricacies that people would otherwise miss.

Is there a solution?

I’m not sure that there is a solution, but there could be a way forward.

Recipes are, in my opinion, important as a learning tool. You can learn new techniques and flavour combinations from them. However, it’s important to also think of them in terms of sweet/savoury/bitter/sour/umami – that will make things easier for people to think about when it comes to cooking.

Once they have that thinking in their head, the actual ingredients are no longer the most important thing. It is like Josh Niland (Saint Peter, Fish Butchery, Charcoal Fish) said – think about fish as another form of protein, and it opens up different opportunities for cooking it.

What do you think about this assertion? Leave a comment below!

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