Cooking and competing - on TV, anyway - go together like pancakes and syrup, or pasta and cheese, and the creators of the MasterChef franchise are indeed masters of this form of reality TV. Both MasterChef and MasterChef Junior have taken center stage as two of the top cooking competitions on television, and you might be curious about what happens behind the scenes in the making of MasterChef and how "real" the shows and their contestants are.
Is the final cut viewers see on television an accurate depiction of what the contestants actually go through, or is part of it staged? If you're a fan of reality TV, you probably already know that much of what you see is set up in advance, but how much of MasterChef fits that description? Behind-the-scenes stories offer a glimpse into a franchise fans have been sampling with relish for years.
When people and sharp cutlery come together on a television show, you can bet the producers are a little nervous, but knife-handling is not something they can get away from on MasterChef. People need knives to chop, cut, slice, and dice. If you've seen any cooking competition show, however, you know someone slices their finger at least once every few episodes.
You might think the youngest chefs sustain more knife injuries than the adults do on MasterChef programs. But according to Sandee Birdsong, the series' culinary producer, the kids, who range in age from 8 to 13, are more careful than the adults, which was a surprise: "These kids were so amazing that they... didn't cut themselves. They cut themselves far less than the adults did."
When a challenge is completed, the contestants present their food in its final form to the judges, who then taste the dishes and determine a winner. That's not the first time the judges try the food, however. Each episode shows the judges walking around the contestants, making comments about a technique or choice of ingredients, but they aren't seen tasting the food.
Eventually, they taste the final dish and offer a critique, but that isn't fully shown in the version that airs on TV. The judges spend a long time tasting and evaluating the dish before they provide a critique, which often focuses on both the good and bad aspects of what's presented to them. The final cut is edited down to make the process seem faster, and sometimes positive comments don't make it if the dish has a glaring flaw.
As soon as the clock runs out, contestants stop what they're doing, put up their hands, and await their final judgment, but they're not completely finished. They can't continue cooking their meal, or add ingredients they may have forgotten, but they are allowed to beautify their plates while they wait for the judges.
Any changes the contestants make during this time are meant solely to improve presentation, and don't lead to any real changes.
If you've seen MasterChef, you know they explain the rules for challenges in about 30 seconds. This provides an illusion of expedience, and when the cooking starts, the clock starts ticking. But before this explanation happens, it's all laid out in detail for the contestants, which can take hours before the challenge begins.
To prepare contestants, the producers give them reference materials and training related to the specific challenge. They are then told exactly what to expect, and what the rules are. The quick explanation seen on the show is more for the viewers and makes for good television.