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  • Writer's pictureWill Boddy

Critique or Not to Critique: Why Reality Cooking Shows Are Destroying the Way We Enjoy Food

Opinion Piece

As we sit ourselves down of a night-time after a long day at work and begin to unwind, we reach for the remote in hopes of something other than Liam Neeson being taken once again, or re-runs of those old, dated British crime shows.

In a momentary glance at the clock on the wall, realising how quickly three-quarters of an hour can go by, you have been sucked right in, once again, to another reality cooking show.

Brushing Twisty crumbs from your chest, you rearrange yourself and scan the viewing highlights, concluding that Tom Hanks movie on in about an hour is slightly bearable.

“Not long now,” you say out loud.

But wait, what’s this?

The couple on My Kitchen Rules has just started searing their Atlantic salmon SKIN SIDE UP. Twenty minutes ahead of service time.

What are they thinking?

Always skin side down first. Flip. Finish in the oven. That’s how Gordon Ramsey did it when you watched him do that masterclass last year on MasterChef.

Now one of the elderly women at the judging table is trying to articulate how she herself enjoys salmon so much, and how she’ll serve it with a lovely, vibrant Panzanella salad.

Tonight’s episode must be a seafood challenge – but you already knew this because you have been watching the whole time.

Another of the teams is shelling a crayfish, explaining to themselves (the camera) that they need lots of flavour coming through from the crayfish as it’s the hero ingredient in their croquettes.

You say out loud: “I hope you’re boiling those potatoes, mashing them AND THEN putting them through a sieve to get that silky, creamy texture”.

It’s hard to turn away, now that cooking time is over, and teams are presenting their dishes to Ever-Smiling Pete “Caveman” Evans, and Jolly Frenchman Manu “Wow He Got Fat Over the Summer” Feidel.

You're now making digs at how obviously bland and lightly seasoned those Moreton Bay Bugs are, based on nothing but what the camera wants you to see. All the while making crass comments in line with how hideously one of the contestants is eating their seafood risotto – which is a risky dish to attempt in this competition, given the number of times it fails on this show.

Amongst the vicious comments about how the skin didn’t crisp up on the salmon dish, there are some positive and non-pretentious things said around the table by these “reality stars”.

Finally, as you come to agree with the nit-picking and minute details about how each and every element of the dishes served in tonight’s episode were not perfect, the judges finish their scoring and someone goes home.

Get ready to do it all over again tomorrow night.

Except tomorrow night to have a whole new challenge, served with the potential swearword, on a bed of facetious back-and-forth comments between contestants, ever-so-lightly drizzled with the premise of a cooking competition.

Basically, MKR, in its tenth season to date, is essentially at its peak. And by peak, I mean less about cooking, lower ratings, and more a personality contest.

The lines between reality television and cooking show are getting considerably more blurred as the years go on. Contestants are pitted against one another, and daily hype for the next dramatic incident is palpable.

Following last season’s historical event when a team was ‘excused’ from the table, subsequently booted off the show, since when has the drama and conflict become more entertaining in these types of cooking shows than the cooking itself?

Wait. That’s a stupid question. Drama = Ratings!

All the while, when the cooking, presenting and judging does occur, it becomes a popularity contest with strategic voting, and critiques of the most minor of instances: “too bland for my liking” “undercooked” “I just don’t get it”.

The impact this has on the wider population that views the show are vicariously subjected to this normalised behaviour, and in my opinion lasting effects on how we as a society consume food and make judgements toward what we eat.

Going out to a restaurant, for some couples or families can be a treat. For others, it may be a regular occurrence. But it is that joyous spark deep down inside (probably hunger) when you see your food arriving that every one of us has felt.

When every aspect of the food is glorious, every flavour immaculate, and the company even better, some intrusive words may slip out: “these don’t really go together” for example.

Now according to TV Tonight, over 720,000 people tuned in each evening to watch MKR in February/March (those who were a part of the ratings mind you).

This isn’t a whole lot, but when a large audience bears witness to the kind of back-and-forth nitpicking and spiteful critiques the show is so famous for, you can unconsciously find YOURSELF looking for unnecessary faults, where frankly, there may not be.

Sure, there can be some instance where criticism is appropriate, but cooking shows like this normalise it and facilitate this behaviour, to a point where it becomes impossible to enjoy a meal that is genuinely delish.

Whether we like it or not, we as a society enjoy watching people fail, make a mockery of themselves or go a bit ballistic at someone in the name of reality television.

There are no plans to stop this kind of behaviour in cooking shows like MKR, as it is what viewers tune in for.

Without even knowing it, we have absorbed the behaviours of individuals on the show, in becoming critical of food in such a monumental way. It is destroying how we appreciate food, the whole dining-out experience and one of the main antagonists for this are shows that glorify critiquing, the way MKR does.

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Copyright © Will Boddy 2019

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