What Masterchef Australia Has Taught Me About Mindful Cooking
I must admit, on a cold Australian winter night, tuning in for Masterchef Australia was always a guilty pleasure. Rugged up on the sofa, tea in hand, I was mesmerised by the contestants’ journeys.
Unlike other reality shows, Masterchef has stayed true to itself — supporting talented home cooks reach new levels of mastery and giving them a platform to pursue their ‘food dreams’. But like all good competitions, the way the contestants play the game teaches us a lot about facing challenges, developing skills and ultimately sharing our strengths to spark joy in others.
Now in its twelfth season, this is what Masterchef has taught me about ‘mindful cooking’.
MEET CHALLENGES WITH MINDFULNESS
The clock is ticking. Your anglaise has split, you look over your shoulder. The person behind you is already popping their parfait out of a mould. Your stomach sinks as you realise you’re way behind…There is nothing quite like an elimination challenge to test contestants’ skills and resilience!
Sometimes we see contestants resign themselves to failure — ‘I’ll never catch up…I don’t have time to make another one…’ they say as they sigh into the camera — or we see them make another choice. They may not be able to restart the clock, but they realise they can reset their approach.
Mindfulness allows us “to build greater awareness of the ‘here and now’ — a greater awareness of the changing moment-to-moment experience of our minds and bodies” says Ryan Niemiec, author of Mindfulness and Character Strengths. Rather than allow themselves to be overwhelmed by their emotional whirlpool and the shouts from the gantry, it’s inspiring to see the ‘lightbulb’ moment when contestants realise that all they have is the present. There is still time left on the clock and they can respond to the demands of the situation. They may not dodge elimination, but by staying engaged and drawing on their personal strengths and food expertise, they know they are making the best of the opportunities they have.
BE VULNERABLE TO BE BRAVE
And what about those episodes when a season favourite is having an off-day — despite having made caramel a hundred times before, they keep burning the sugar! It’s painful to watch but what Masterchef teaches us is the importance of not giving up — plate up what you have made and let it be judged. Courage researcher and professor Brené Brown puts it like this, ‘there is no courage without vulnerability’. The real loss would be allowing fear and perfectionism win by not being in the race at all.
FIND CREATIVITY THROUGH LIMITS
From waxed flowers, to horn melons, morels, Buddha’s hand and quandongs, mystery box challenges over the years have included weird and wonderful ingredients. Yet the creativity of participants to produce tasty and beautiful dishes never fails to inspire. How do they do it? They trust their senses. By tasting the ingredients, noting aromas and texture as well as flavour, they find the foods’ best attributes and pair them with complementary ingredients. Ironically, limitations can actually give us the space to experiment, make new discoveries and build confidence.
Season after season, we fall in love with personalities who are willing to work for their dreams, because there is joy and meaning in the process. “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset,” says Dr Carol S. Dweck author of Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success. We can’t help but find role models in people who learn from adversity, with humility.
Michael Jordan once said “talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships”. Masterchef team challenges teach this lesson so powerfully. No matter how talented you are as an individual working with other people exposes a different set of strengths and weaknesses, and can deliver many more rewards helping people achieve something they could not have done on their own. Contestants discover they impact each other’s journey and that delighting real diners is a team effort.
ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE
The episodes I love the most are the ones inspired by the contestants’ personal memories. Often prompted by a family photo, they share stories of early experiences cooking with grandparents or of traditional cuisines. These memories stay with us because food has the power to connect us with our family, culture, history and identity in a deeply personal way. Although we as viewers can’t taste the food the look of delight on the judges’ faces is where the show has its greatest pull, in reminding us that food is meant to be eaten and enjoyed. In the end it’s not about a picture-perfect plate, but about bringing joy and comfort to others.
From de-mystifying unusual produce, inspiring ‘project cooking’ or just getting us to dig out a beloved family recipe, Masterchef has been a driving force in encouraging home cooks across Australia to expand their skills and get creative in the kitchen. And lucky for us, we can cherish its lessons long after the 2020 winner is crowned.
Originally published in Marmalade + Kindness: https://marmaladeandkindness.com/what-masterchef-australia-has-taught-me-about-mindful-cooking/