Bland fare, needs spice

Last updated 12:22 27/09/2012
Masterchef All Stars
NO PRESSURE: Masterchef's notoriously nitpicking judges have cut out the criticism for the show's All Stars spinoff.

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REVIEW: Masterchef All Stars. TV One, weekdays 4:45pm.

If you've still got an appetite for more Masterchef after devouring every morsel of the British, American, Australian and Kiwi versions of the show, this early evening spinoff from television's most successful food franchise might be to your taste, but expect a few variations on the tried and trusted recipe along the way.

With a lineup of contestants comprised of a healthy serving of winners, a handful of runners-up, and a dash of memorable also-rans from the first three seasons of Masterchef Australia, All Stars sees the cooks return to the kitchen in a bid to be crowned the best of the best.

If you were expecting the crème de la crème to fight it out an ultra-competitive, high stakes showdown, then think again.

The first thing you'll notice about this version of the show is that the ambience couldn't be more different to that of its prime time predecessor.

Gone are the dramatic moments of tension, the catty comments and moments of one-upmanship; replaced by an atmosphere of culinary camaraderie and matey co-operation that will have you checking the listings to confirm that you've tuned into the right show.

A far cry from the usual winner-takes-all battle for personal glory, All Stars is a team-based affair with no nail-biting eliminations, no withering put-downs from the judges and very little of the pressure-cooker atmosphere normally associated with Masterchef.

With cookbook authors and restaurant owners among the contestants, a bundle of cash or flash kitchenware prize would have been unseemly.

Instead, in the time-honoured fashion of celebrities appearing on reality shows, the smiling chefs are challenged with raising money for their chosen charities.

All very commendable of course, but the fact that it's all for a worthy cause immediately cools any heat in this particular kitchen and removes any rivalry that might have emerged among the tall poppies.

Resident judges Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston also return to cast a critical eye over proceedings, but while the cravats and smug grins remain the same, the kid gloves are well and truly on and the appraisals of the creations set before them are more constructive than condemning.

Even when Jonathan approached the judging table with a disaster of a dish, understandably nervous at the prospect of offering up a plate of Lebanese kibbeh that resembled deep fried cat food, Gary still managed to find a way to praise its texture, embracing the kind of positivity and glass-half-full attitude previously unheard of from Masterchef's notoriously nitpicking panel of judges.

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So with elimination, rivalry, criticism and negativity all off the menu, what are we left with? Well, the food, as you'd expect, is pretty impressive. With an increased focus on quick, simple meals that can be prepared at home, the recipes are a bit more accessible than some of the demanding dishes more commonly associated with the show, and its 5pm slot means that it is vital viewing for anyone looking for a bit of pre-dinnertime inspiration before heading into the kitchen.

The pick of the crop approach also means that the lineup is pruned of some of the egotistical bores, and heavy on the likeable types and those with a bit of personality.

The team-based structure allows for a bit more banter between the contestants, and with the pressure off, there's more focus on the food, and less on the manufactured drama and tension you'd normally expect from a reality show cook-off.

Still, it's impossible to shake the impression that Masterchef All Stars is a programme stripped of its vital ingredient, the very thing that most viewers expect when tuning in. Masterchef without the aggro is like Police Ten Seven without the slack-jawed boy racers or Shortland Street without the terrible dialogue.

Perhaps the light-hearted tone is more suited to its earlier slot on the schedule, but the overall flavour is a little bland for those who prefer their food shows with a little more spice.

COMING UP:  Homeland. TV3, Monday, 8:35pm. Barack Obama's favourite psychological thriller returns in an inspired piece of scheduling, airing just days after it swept the board at the Emmys, and mere hours after the show's US premiere.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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