A taste to remember, foreign but subtle
26/10/12. Gr8 Day. The day we met George and Gary.
That’s what my teenaged daughters and two of their friends wrote on a whiteboard after encountering George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan, chefs and judges of the Masterchef Australia competitive cooking show.
It’s a television cooking competition that’s taken teenaged and other bits of well-heeled, English-speaking India, by storm.
Food, it seems, doesn’t respect national and territorial boundaries, it crosses sees, oceans and minds easily.
A web checkout would indicate that this show can be seen from Sweden to Vietnam – it’s either dubbed or subtitled – further evidence of its universal appeal and versatility.
To my daughters and their friends, George and Gary are ultimate heroes – “seeing” them on the lawns of the Australian High Commission in Delhi was a moment to be treasured.
They may be different kinds of heroes than mine, but George and Gary are not divisive figures, they are inclusive.
I must admit that I don’t really watch Masterchef Australia and have often asked my girls (and their mother) about why they must hog the TV at prime time for a cooking show.
The girls have just sort of ignored me and gone about their business of watching Masterchef.
On 26/10, I realised that this show is mega, mega big. Children from different schools in Delhi had shown up to cook and compete and their expressions (and those of my daughters) said it all.
I asked George why this show had become popular across cultures and countries.
At a time of economic downturn, in 2009, this was a show the whole family could sit down and watch, he said, adding that food interested everyone.
Also, George believed that the timing of the show was right because Australians were willing to try out new tastes and cuisines. The numbers-in-millions would confirm that the show remains a big hit.
As I watched their show and interaction with young kids, it was clear that both of them – as chefs and judges – were great communicators.
They pointed out that all was not smooth sailing in the making of a TV show – it was a lot of hard work.
The kids hung on to every word. They loved their celluloid heroes in person.
George and Gary heard the young cooks’ proposals, added or subtracted a point or two, but gave them confidence in whatever they were trying to do.
The winners of the smoothie contest on 26/10 were also announced deftly; the effort at showing participation was evident.
Australia has a clear soft power winner in its Masterchef version.
The cooking competition organised for Delhi schoolchildren will leave long, lingering memories for the participants and their parents.
The “connect” was direct; there was no need for explanations and long speeches. Both the cast and the audience knew what they were in for.
Diplomats have long struggled to overcome traditional approaches to influence people. In a world where communication is easy, but content remains a challenge, shows like Masterchef are obviously a boon for diplomats.
Influence in this day and age must necessarily be subtle and unobtrusive. And, food (cooking and recipes) is, clearly, quite underrated in making friends and influencing people.
To reach out to a country like India which has 225 million people aged between 10 and 19 in such a refreshing manner must be a moment to be savoured.
Just remember that my daughters and their friends were the ones who got themselves invited to the Masterchef show in Delhi. The Australian High Commission didn’t have to make any efforts to get them in.
For me, that’s diplomacy at its best.
Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.