Television review: ‘MasterChef’ on Fox


Gordon Ramsay, the foul-mouthed, short-tempered and yet still somehow lovable English chef, restaurateur and television star, whom Fox will apparently exploit until there is no cut of him left unused, raises his tousled head yet again in “MasterChef,” which may be easily and completely described as “American Idol” with food, or “Top Chef” with amateurs.

There are no great claims to be made for this series, the American franchise of a format already popular in Australia and the U.K. and more than a hundred other countries. It begins Tuesday with an “Idol”-style “audition” show, as the hopeful masses present their best messes, either to be shot down or put through to the competition proper. (As judge, Ramsay — less of a Simon Cowell than might be expected and surprisingly cuddly at times — is joined by Chicago chef Graham Elliot and author-restaurateur Joe Bastianich; the people do not have a vote.) But there are no great claims to be brought against it, either.

Its pleasures are simple and familiar. There is the usual mix of boastful losers and shy winners, of tiresome cutting remarks and delightful delighted approval. Any spark of a backstory — he’s doing it for the kids, she’s doing it for her folks — is blown up, for at least a little while, into a fire. We meet the talented, the untalented, and the more or less talented who swear on their mother’s spatula that if they’re given a chance they will work harder than anyone has ever worked before, or who promise, implicitly, to bring the sort of drama the producers crave as much as, if not more than, pure capability. In reality television, every contest is also a soap opera.