The MasterChef Phenomenon

The first-ever televised cooking programme was on the UK’s BBC in June 1946 – it was called Cookery and it starred Philip Harben. Recognised as the world’s first celebrity chef, Harben’s show was only ten minutes long and in the first episode, he showed his viewers how to make lobster vol-au-vents – not quite your run-of-the-mill Halaal fish dish, but a sign of the times then we suppose.

Never ones to be left behind, the Americans followed suit pretty quickly and their first live television show called I Love to Eat presented by James Beard, was aired on 30 August 1946 – it was 15 minutes long and the weekly show ran until 1947.

Fast forward 50 years and cooking channels had popped up across the world with celebrity chefs like Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver becoming household names and inspiring even the most culinary-challenged among us to venture into the kitchen.

Fast forward another 10 years or so and that cooking channel landscape had completely changed, the new must-have format was rivalry – who could beat whom and claim the crown as Best Chef. And it’s at this point that the MasterChef phenomenon was born. The show initially ran between 1990 and 2001, but was later revived in a different format in 2005 – by 2017 it was announced that MasterChef had officially been crowned the ‘Most Successful Cookery Television Format’ by the Guinness World Records, having been adapted locally in 52 countries and counting. The series also led to three additional versions: MasterChef: The Professionals for working chefs; Celebrity MasterChef and Junior MasterChef for 9-to-12-year-olds.

According to John Torode, the Australian celebrity chef who moved to the UK in the 1990s and started presenting the revamped MasterChef on BBC in 2005, it’s the ‘realness’ of the show that makes it so popular with audiences – the UK version is watched by 255 million people around the world and interestingly enough over 100 restaurants have been opened by people who have participated in the show, and 200 people have become professionals.

It’s the combination of challenge and reward that makes the show work, but what makes it even more successful is the fact that contestants are NOT professionals; they’re everyday people from all walks of life with a passion for cooking and this is what makes them so relatable to the viewers – it’s that feeling of ‘if they can do it, then any one of us can do it too’.

As Torode says ‘the show is about real people doing real things and it’s about something that we all associate with, and that is we all eat, we all love food’ – and at N1, your leading Johannesburg and Cape Town meat wholesalers, we can completely relate to this philosophy!