Culture

People Are Annoyed That A Gentrified “Curry” Sent Home A Talented Asian Cook On ‘MasterChef’

"Imagine getting eliminated because you had to recreate a fake curry made by some white dude even though your usual curry slaps."

masterchef gentrified curry sarah

Last night, we had to say a sad goodbye to Sarah Tiong, one of MasterChef: Back To Win’s most talented Asian cooks.

As the competition is getting to the pointy end, it’s no surprise that we have to say goodbye to the best of the best. However, what was surprising was that Sarah was sent home on a curry challenge despite being a very competent curry cook.

The problem, you see, was that Brendan, Poh, Reece and Sarah were tasked with cooking a white man’s version of a curry, without a recipe. Calling in Benjamin Cooper from Chin Chin in Melbourne as the challenge guest judge, Cooper asked the contestants to blindly replicate his take on a Thai jungle curry (kaeng pa).

Introducing the chef to the competing cooks, Melissa described Cooper as the one who “revolutionised Thai dining in Melbourne” and a “Thai food master” — a huge call to make for a man who isn’t of Thai descent.

Throughout the cook itself, the bottom four struggled with balancing the flavours of Cooper’s curry, which made the chef become extremely smug. This made for a very uncomfortable viewing experience, instead of being an enjoyable challenge.

For example, when trying to figure out whether the untraditional amount of 40 chilli’s per serve (!!) was correct, Cooper decided to give Brendan some advice. But instead of actually helping Brendan out, Cooper just told him to “smile” and “bring the cheekiness back”, which came off as creepy and hollow.

In the end, Reece — a white cook, who had no clue what he was doing during the Pressure Test — ended up nailing the challenge, which in itself said a lot. Brendan also managed to create a pretty impressive take on Cooper’s jungle curry.

Meanwhile, Poh and Sarah, the two cooks who specialise in South-East Asian food, totally bombed out. Poh ended up cooking a curry that was too thick, while Sarah’s ended up too thin.

This is because the pair were cooking their curries in the traditional way, where the paste is cooked down over a long period of time to build flavour. Unfortunately for Poh and Sarah, Cooper revealed in the last few minutes of the cook that his chefs at Chin Chin actually just mix the uncooked curry paste in stock 10 minutes before service.

Throwing an obvious spanner into the works, Poh kept her thicker, more traditional curry while Sarah scrambled to use her remaining raw curry paste in an attempt to better replicate Cooper’s version — and this last-minute decision to make a new curry is what led to Sarah’s elimination.

This obviously didn’t sit right with people watching at home, who felt that the MasterChef judges were punishing Asian cooks for cooking Asian food the traditional way.

It’s strange that a show that has put representation and diversity at the forefront so much this season, would boot out one of the competitions most talented Asian chefs in a curry challenge.

More specifically, it’s pretty questionable to have a white man make a gentrified version of South-East Asian food, then have him try to school South-East Asian chefs on the basics of curry for an hour and a half on national TV.

Basically, this whole challenge felt like a missed opportunity.

The MasterChef producers could’ve easily used this challenge to highlight a chef of Thai descent to craft a traditional dish — especially during the time of COVID-19, where anti-Asian racism is so rampant and local restaurants are struggling to stay afloat. Instead, producers chose to showcase an overpriced Thai restaurant run by white men, who have a history of underpaying their staff.

But this gentrification of cultural dishes in the food industry has been a problem for a long time. The hospitality industry is dominated by white cooks adapting cultural dishes from around the world in an attempt to make them ~trendy~. Hell, it was even the reason for the celebrity cook feud between Chrissy Teigen and Alison Roman just last month.

Closer to home, we see it with Benjamin Cooper being the executive chef of Chin Chin, a Thai restaurant, or Scottish MasterChef judge, Jock Zonfrillo, becoming the face of indigenous cooking because of his restaurant, Orana.

This isn’t to say that Cooper or Jock aren’t talented chefs. All were saying is that Benjamin Cooper is not a Thai chef — and that could’ve made a world of difference last night.

You can watch MasterChef: Back To Win tonight at 7.30pm on Channel 10.