In a week when I interviewed a chef who ate raw cow meat as part of Christmas festivities in Ethiopia for a TV show, I also learn that MasterChef India will be going all vegetarian. And some of the reasons for this, according to what Gaurav Banerjee, general manager, STAR Plus, told Economic Times (Why did Amul and Adani-sponsored MasterChef go all vegetarian?), were: “We want to debunk the myth that non-vegetarian food offers more creative options than vegetarian food. Health, too, will be promoted by a 100% veggie MasterChef. More vegetarians mean less cholesterol...the world is understanding this." And then chef and host Sanjeev Kapoor puts his foot in the mouth by proclaiming that “It is more challenging to prepare vegetarian dishes. And it is said that for every non-vegetarian dish available across the globe, there is a vegetarian option prepared in our country." Mr Kapoor, it is neither more nor less challenging to prepare vegetarian food over non-vegetarian food. Preparation has less to do with ingredients and more to do with technique and the recipe. You can make chicken curry in 100 ways just as you can make aloo curry in 100 ways, but what makes the difference is how well you blend your ingredients and which recipe you choose, not whether you are using aloo or chicken. Surely you know that.
Meanwhile, someone needs to sit Banerjee down and explain that healthy food is not always equal to only vegetarian food. Healthy cooking is a sum total of how you cook and what you use while cooking. Deep-frying vegetables, serving or eating processed soya, for one, is not healthy. For Banerjee to justify going vegetarian because “non-veg food puts off people who follow a vegetarian diet", is equally stupid because the show hopefully is meant to be seen by people who eat both. Cooking with something does not necessarily always mean you have consume it too. Should Banerjee or anyone else, change the concept of a show because it supposedly “offends" one section of the audience? Unless of course this “platform for people to exhibit their culinary expertise" is open in India for only those who can cook and eat vegetarian food. If that is the logic, why should anyone bother with amateur chefs? It is better to stack up on more than 150 Tarla Dalal books which celebrate vegetarian cooking or visit their website, which is supposedly the largest Indian food site with over 17,000 recipes and close to 2.8 million monthly Web views.
In principle, I have no problem with vegetarianism and a cooking show based on such a concept, but from what I seen I have always thought that MasterChef as a format is about amateur chefs exploring all aspects of food and learning from their experiences to become as close to professional chefs as possible.
In fact ifood.tv in their concept note for MasterChef says “MasterChef is a cookery show to honour the great people who love to cook good food. This show is basically for amateur cooks who do not have any experience in cooking. MasterChef recipes are not the ordinary recipes; they are blend of different cultures and cooking styles."
What kind of tampering with the format is this where you don’t allow wannabe chefs to learn, to explore and to understand different kinds of ingredients and how to use them. And why would you do that in show where the format is such that it allows amateur chefs to experiment under the tutelage of experienced chefs and learn from that experience.
If you are going to tamper with the format of the show, might as well call it something else—not MasterChef India—because your contestants are not people who will be exploring, understanding and adapting different cuisines from different parts of India, where vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism exist side by side.
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