The first of the MasterChef Australia TV series went to air on 27 April and kept viewers enthralled until 19 July. The reality TV/cooking show put contestants through a gruelling series of challenges and eliminations. It changed attitudes to cooking and even had 12 year-olds talking about “plating up”. This was to be the first of many MasterChef series. Food writer Matt Preston has been a judge and host of the series since its inception.
The MasterChef concept was originally developed in the UK in 1990 and was revived by the BBC in 2005. The Australian version was the first international airing of the show. It has since been produced in more than 40 countries around the world, from Albania to Iceland to the People’s Republic of China.
In the best tradition of reality TV shows, MasterChef featured a diverse group of ‘ordinary’ people who faced a bewildering range of challenges and ‘pressure tests’, embarrassing feedback from expert judges, and humiliating eliminations. It was Big Brother meets Australian Idol over a hot stove.
It was an instant success. Nearly one and a half million people watched the opening episode and more than four million tuned in for the first season’s finale. Meanwhile, supermarkets saw surges in demand for previously unknown or unfashionable ingredients including rabbit, pink ling fish and even lamb brains. Kitchenware shops reported unusually high sales of exotica like blowtorches, croquembouche cones and potato ricers. The Thermomix, formerly confined to professional kitchens, began to appear in foodie homes.
Subsequent series of MasterChef continued to grip the nation. In 2010 the broadcast of the debate between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, was postponed because it clashed with the Series II final. That final became the third-most-watched television program in Australian history. In 2010, MasterChef won a Logie award as Australia’s most popular reality program.