How does Masterchef work?
May 14, 2013 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Last week my husband and I were watching the final episode of UK Masterchef and we got into a discussion about the logistics of the show. Basically, they edit the show like everyone finishes cooking at the same time, but they are judged one at a time. But how does one contestant's food not get cold while someone else's is being judged?

One theory we had was that they don't really finish at the same time but are given the same amount of time. But I don't think this is right because the judging takes place in the same room and you can see the other contestants just standing around at their stations while the judges are tasting and commenting.

So then, do the judges just eat the other things kind of cold and just not take temperature into account? That does not seem to make sense to me because surely the serving temperature of dishes contribute to the taste and so how could they compensate for that?

It's also hard to believe that they just keep their food warm either in an oven or re-zap in in the microwave, again as it would give an unfair disadvantage to the later contestants.

Anyone have any behind the scenes knowledge about this kind of thing?
posted by like_neon to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
From working in TV production myself (though not on a food show) I'm fairly certain that there's an enormous gap of time between the deadline to finish and the start of judging. It's all cold. Or room temp at the very least. The beauty shots of the plates themselves might happen right as the cooks finish, especially if you see steam rising off the food or something like that. The judges are food pros, so they know what they're tasting -- i.e., they are able to correlate what it tastes like at room temp and extrapolate what it was like when it was hot -- and they've been told by the producers not to reference food temp in their dialogue.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:38 PM on May 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

This would have been a good question to ask US Season 3 winner Christine Ha at her recent Reddit Ask Me Anything. Maybe someone else asked!
posted by kindall at 12:39 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Having worked on multiple cooking shows, judges eat cold food. Judges are told not to talk about how the food is cold.
posted by banannafish at 12:39 PM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There's a bit of info online about this.

Australia Masterchef winner FAQ: "It wasn’t cold – but it was at room temperature. The re-setting of cameras and other behind-the-scenes things that need to happen meant that the food did have to cool off for a while before it was judged. Often the judges would come around as we cooked and taste things hot before time was up, but the food the viewers see them eating is at room temperature."

Jay from Masterchef: "It is stone cold. The food is cooked about 2 hours prior to the tasting session and is refrigerated in between filming the segments sometimes. As you see on TV, the judges walk around whilst the dishes are cooking and taste the flavours straight from the pot most of the time."

Ted Allen from Chopped: "When you're a judge on a competition show, you have to get, real quick, accustomed to eating cold food. The way you deal with that is the minute we cut after a cooking round, the judges get up from the chopping block, and they go over to the stations and they taste things that are hot. You can't mess up the plates, but you can taste to see whether something is crispy, whether something is cooked through, taste the sauce before it has congealed or anything. But these people know how to judge food. It's something that really concerns the chefs, and we have to assure them, "Don't worry about it. We're not going to penalize you for that."
posted by googly at 12:55 PM on May 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

To reaffirm what others have said:
A few years ago I was a guest on an episode of Top Chef. Before this experience I thought being a judge on a cooking show would be an easy job. But I found it's hard work hard and they are masters at seeing the diamond in the rough. From my point of view every dish was cold (at best tepid) had poor texture and was obviously hastily prepared. There wasn't a single thing I wanted to taste again. (Except possibly some pork that needed several more hours to cook.) Then the judges got their plates. Every single thing the judges said was true, but they were able to see past the glaring defects and give what seemed like a much more honest and definitely more nuanced critique.

In the case of Top Chef they all cooked at the same time, there was no last-minute reheating, and there was at least 30-90 minutes between preparation and serving.
posted by Ookseer at 12:03 AM on May 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

So on things that require being cut hot (say a chocolate fondant, a.k.a. "the downfall of many a Masterchef contestant") it's just editing? e.g. they cut it straight after cooking, and then keep it out of shot 90 minutes later when they're tasting the main course?

This all (possibly) explains why Gregg from Masterchef UK goes into paroxysms of delight when eating a pudding. After lukewarm gravy and cold roast potatoes, you're bound to be happy when you get to the creme brulee.
posted by Hartster at 3:13 AM on May 15, 2013

I was on a low-rent daytime Master Chef knock-off. We were supposed to have an hour to cook - but we had about two hours on set, plus home economists in a kitchen off-set to help. My main ingredient actually had to cook for about 4 hours, and the home economists took care of all that. At one point near the end they had us "look busy" and pretend we were desperate to get our food plated with seconds to spare, and once they got the shots they needed, we had ages to fiddle around and make the dishes look nice for the actual glamour shots of the finished plates. A couple of the other contestants had help from the home economists to make their finished dishes look somewhat less awful for the glamour shots. There was probably another half hour before the judging started. At various points during the process, they would ask me to stand in a certain place or pretend to do something to make a nice background when they were filming other contestants (and would do the same to other contestants when they were specifically filming me), which was quite disruptive and would have made it nearly impossible to actually do what needed to be done within that imaginary hour.

After filming was done, the camera crew and PAs attached the leftover food, including what the judges had picked at. (brag) Mine was the favourite by far - there wasn't a scrap left from about 5 pounds of pork shoulder. (/brag)

Master Chef is probably more principled and honest since it's a much bigger franchise, but I imagine there is still plenty of fiddling and editing to make things look more dramatic than they really are. It is, after all, reality TV.
posted by cilantro at 1:27 PM on May 15, 2013

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