Master-Chef India Season 4 has come up with a novel idea to make it an only vegetarian cooking show. Some of us who followed the show and constantly compared it to its Australian counterpart hoped it will get better. Little did we imagine that it will take a vegetarian de-tour? Some of us will remember that the three previous winners of Master Chef India had displayed an avid range of cooking techniques with vegetarian and non-vegetarian ingredients. Who would forget Shipra Khanna’s yam mousse, or Vijaylakshmi and Shazia’s challenge with scallop in Hong Kong in Season 2? Having watched, savoured Season 1 and Season 2, it was a dream to pick up and combine leaves, stems, roots, shoots, flowers with red and white meat and work a charm on marine life for many an amateur cooks.
The famed Amul Parlour which once saw home chefs struggling with unfamiliar veg and non-veg ingredients will now see the cooks honing their skills on vegetables. In defence this move one of the judges, one my all-time favourite Chefs of India chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s comments left me awestruck. He acknowledges that India is primarily vegetarian and we have managed to come up with a vegetarian counter-dish to almost all global non-vegetarian dishes1. Is the show’s intent to re-produce vegetarian counterparts from across global cuisines or to train a chef who will be skilled in all cooking related work from having an eye for the ingredients to cutting, chopping, slicing as well as developing new techniques. Dear Mr. Kapoor, every time you smiled and suggested a remedy in your Khana Khazana show aired on Zee TV I remember my mother and aunt meticulously taking down your advice. In other words, while substitutes ( ingredients, techniques or appliances) are one way of cooking, skills of a masterchef lies in familiarity of ingredients and cooking techniques and this was one such platform for amateur cooks to cook with caviar, scallop, snail as well as bamboo shoots, flowers and yams and the past seasons have beautifully showcased some of these ingredients.
The treatment of ingredients over fire, water and in conjunction with air has been the key to cooking techniques across ‘India’ n cultures. Let’s take air. Fermented foods across India have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Air does so much to our food. From dosa- idly batters, to fermented soya bean, fish and even the delicious pork fat which is used for cooking I hear. Fermentation is one of the age old preservation techniques and mastery over wheat crop as Michael Pollan in his work Cooked tells us is a telling tale of our tryst with bread and brewing. Cooking techniques involve a close association and familiarity with our ecology and ingredients. Such associations, in the age of TRPs can also be utilised to be familiar of vegetables, marine life, animals and insects eaten and consumed across Indian geography.
Why do we need to create a show for only vegetarian cooks? What is the urgency? The necessity stems from health concerns. Hang on. One of the officials ( Gourav Banerjee of Star Plus) “more vegetarians means less cholesterol”( see the article Economic Times). Wow!!! I understand the health concerns of industrial food giants and the recent packaging efforts to make us aware of the unsaturated fat we consume to the cleverly packaged probiotic products to Food Safety and Standards Authority of India joining hand adopting Codex Alimentarius guidelines and prescribing food safety guidelines to ensure microbiological count of various products do not exceed a certain limit so that we are safe. Clearly, we have come a long way. Food associated health risks have been created due to multiple factors and our complex work hours, lack of exercise coupled with erratic eating habits particularly of industrial food giant dependent comfort goods has increased the risk. Health concerns of a cooking show in that sense could bring forth these elements and promote a sustainable food supply chain.
No, such expectations from a show which has to meet a requisite TRPs to ensure its own sustainability is a little far-fetched. At least one of the sponsors of the two that has partnered with Master Chef India had a dream parlour to boast off( which included non-vegetarian items). I have already mentioned about the famous Amul Parlour sponsored by Amul- a company with a strong foothold in the dairy market. Media reports suggest that there is a second sponsor Adani- Wilmar who markets Fortune Oil at play here. Media reports suggest Adani Group’s study has shown a move away from meat products and substituting with alternatives2. Do we smell soya here?
The linkages between health and vegetarianism are misplaced here. A cooking show should have shown restraint if not courage in coming up with a better explanation for being an only vegetarian show and by de-facto excluding a large section of amateur cooks who experiment with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. While the previous seasons celebrated fusion food through a combination of techniques and ingredients, the vegetarian move at the outset excludes a lot of recipes, techniques as well. It also restricts the show’s format to be experimental with ingredients. This year I was hoping a lot more variety ( a lot more surprise) in terms of shoots and flowers that would make inroads in Master Chef Kitchen along with silkworm, fermented fish and ants. May be I was hallucinating! May be I represent a minority of the population who has not switched to meat alternatives, not a vegetarian but enjoy leaves, shoots and flowers, eats fish and meat and sadly Master Chef India Season 4 you have left me disappointed.
1 For detailed comments read Vasudha Vengopal’s article “ Why did Amul and Adani sponsored MasterChef go all vegetarian?” http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-11-18/news/56222174_1_vegetarian-diet-adani-wilmar-star-plus; Accessed on 20 November 2014.
2 Rajyasree Sen’s “Dear Sanjeev Kapoor, no non-veg on Master chef is a terrible, stupid idea” http://www.firstpost.com/living/dear-sanjeev-kapoor-non-veg-masterchef-terrible-stupid-idea-1808965.html; Accessed on 20 November 2014