Cooking on both burners

Going for round two, the immensely popular Hebrew-language "Master Chef" returns for another season.

By RUTH BELOFF
July 22, 2011 17:00
4 minute read.
This season's 'Master Chef judges.

master chef judges_311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Following on the heels of its own success, the Israeli cooking competition Master Chef returns to Channel 2 for a second season. Still at the audition stage, thousands of amateur cooks proffer their culinary creations in the hope that their dishes will be distinctive enough to please the palates of the four discriminating judges and qualify them to enter into the contest.

This season’s panel of judges is comprised of chef and restaurateur Haim Cohen; chef and restaurant owner Eyal Shani, food writer Michal Ansky; and chef and restaurant owner Yonatan Rochfeld. Each judge approaches the food, takes a taste, looks the aspiring (and often perspiring) candidate in the eye, smiles, puts down the utensils and returns to his/her seat.

Two yeses are not enough to make the grade. With three or more nods from the panel, the wannabe chef gets official approval and is outfitted with a Master Chef apron. Like the Golden Ticket on American Idol, that apron shows the anxious family and friends waiting outside the door that their loved one has been accepted. No apron calls for a lot of hugging and placating as the crestfallen candidates have to console themselves with humble pie.

But they are not all so humble. One woman, who had touted herself as a consummate cook but was turned away, said to the camera, “They don’t understand food.”

Another contender came with a lot of hoopla, a magician who performed a few magic tricks as he presented his dish. However, he too did not possess the magic formula. He couldn’t conjure up a qualifying creation and was sent packing, hat in hand.

One of the things I love about this show, though, is the warmth and genuine caring that the judges demonstrate for each and every candidate. Even if they don’t get accepted, the judges make them feel valued and appreciated. A hug, sincere words of encouragement and a gentle “It’s not what we’re looking for” provide the sustenance to cushion their disappointment.

So imagine the emotional outpouring when an applicant is accepted. It’s great! Food is often associated with love, so to have their food be venerated and validated is a powerful feeling – and the audience shares in that elation as well.



Young, old, women, men, Ashkenazi, Sephardi – they all step up to the plate, so to speak, to have a chance to vie for the title of Master Chef.

Most of the candidates come to the studio to present their dishes. But in some cases, the applicants couldn’t make it to the studio, so two of the judges surprised them at their home or place of work to give them the opportunity to cook for them on the spot. It was obvious that if the judges went to so much trouble, the aspirants would garner the coveted apron, but it was still exciting to watch them cook under pressure and present a winning dish.

In one twist of scenarios, a man came into the studio and presented the judges with a pot of his wife’s meatballs.

“Where is your wife?” they asked.

“Oh, she doesn’t even know I’m here,” he told them. “But once you taste her meatballs, I know you will want her to enter the competition.”

“Wow, do you ever love your wife,” said Ansky before she even picked up her fork.

“Why didn’t she enter herself?” they asked.

“She’s too modest,” he said.

“But what do you want us to do if we do like the food?” said Cohen.

“Call her and she’ll come,” said the confident husband.

“I can’t sit here another second in front of that covered pot of meatballs!” said Shani, and the four proceeded to taste the tangy morsels as the husband stood by with tears in his eyes.

Needless to say, the meatballs were a unanimous hit. Cohen called the wife, and after several shrieks of disbelief, she got into her car and rushed down to the studio, where she whipped up a fish dish from a bagful of groceries the judges had supplied for her.

“You cook with love for your husband, but let’s see what you can make for us,” they said.

Suffice it to say that the woman will be joining the aproned cooks on the next episode of Master Chef, which airs on Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Channel 2.

Can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

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