On the sets MasterChef Indiahttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/on-the-sets-masterchef-india/

On the sets MasterChef India

Michelin-star chef Vikas Khanna fields accusations of choosing drama over culinary expertise on the show MasterChef India

Dishing Up A Storm

THE set,upon entry,resembles a godown of discarded items with tables,wires and wooden planks strewn all over. What lies beyond,however,could be mistaken for a gourmet store. The makeshift room is lined with shelves storing a variety of cooking ingredients — fresh vegetables and fruits,olives,blueberries,tahina,icing sugar,chocolates and cheeses among other items.

MEET MR CHEF

In the double-storey hall ahead,chefs Sanjeev Kapoor,Kunal Kapur and Vikas Khanna stand under the spotlight,addressing the contestants during the shoot of MasterChef India season 3. At work,it is interesting to watch Khanna take a back seat and play second fiddle to Sanjeev.

Born in Amritsar,Khanna moved to the US in his 20s. Today a Michelin Star-chef,Khanna’s restaurant Junoon is a popular Indian eatery in New York. The 42-year-old celebrity chef has hosted a banquet for US President Barack Obama and has worked alongside the likes of chef Gordon Ramsay. He has also featured on The Martha Stewart Show and been a judge on Hell’s Kitchen. His role as a judge on MasterChef India is his latest assignment and this is his second consecutive season.

CURRENT ASSIGNMENT

A series over two decades old that originated in the UK,MasterChef debuted in India four years ago when its popular Australian version premiered on Star World. Its high standards and stiff competition with an eye for innovation kept viewers hooked. In 2010,Star purchased rights to the format for a desi version for Star Plus with Akshay Kumar alongside chef Ajay Chopra (now the executive chef of Westin hotel in Mumbai) and Kunal Kapoor (executive sous chef at Leela Kempinski,Gurgaon) as judges. The show has since had two seasons,neither of which was as successful as the third,ongoing season.

KITCHEN RULES

The show started to follow what has become a success formula for reality shows,increased focus on drama and sob stories of contestants,transforming the show into a tear-jerker. Khanna is especially at the centre of the critics’ ire. With quality and technique at the centre of his work,it is surprising that a chef with such credentials should compromise it for a TV show. Khanna says that in a socially,culturally and economically diverse country like ours,emotions are the only binding factor. “Stories like that of Khoku Patra,a housemaid in Delhi,give wings to the dreams of people of limited means across India. And if it encourages them to pursue those dreams,why is it bad?” he says,adding that a contestant from the previous season recently hosted a Punjabi food festival at a five-star hotel in Mumbai. Besides,their diversity also brings regional cuisines into focus.

The show isn’t as low on the culinary quotient as it is made out to be,Khanna says. The untrained participants are put through a grooming process. “They are provided with recipe books and a functional kitchen to hone their skills. The chefs also conduct workshops,exposing them to different cuisines,ingredients and techniques,” he says. The participants are then put through severe tests,such as guessing the 40 ingredients that may have gone into preparing a pickle by tasting it or being asked to attempt a dish using a technique they have no exposure to,such as salt crusting.

HEAD COUNT

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While Khanna’s arguments may seem valid,the show’s claims of finding the best chef in India is far from true. Telecast in the north,west and parts of east India,the show didn’t reach out to south India for auditions. Such a bias only reiterates that the show is merely a business model and the hunt isn’t on for a chef but for TRP ratings. Even as we ponder on this one,Khanna is ready with a new recipe.