Dear Sanjeev Kapoor, no non-veg on Masterchef is a stupid, terrible idea

It’s a free world and every TV producer is free to create whatever programme s/he wants, which audiences may or may not watch. However, this isn’t justification to turn a good concept into rubbish.

It’s bad enough that there is a Masterchef India, which has the distinction of making even Masterchef US (a horrible version of the franchise) look like sparkling television. This season, we are getting a shuddh desi version of Masterchef India. What is this pure Indian avatar? No meat shall be cooked, no blood shall be shed, and if there’s any justice in the universe, no high TRPs will be achieved. We are not spoilt for choice by what is on offer in the guise of entertainment on Indian television channels. Must we also start buggering up the few good concepts that come our way?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the new season of Masterchef India is going to be vegetarian. A shakahari special, if you will. Such a decision kills the whole point of a cooking show that is supposed to display contestants’ prowess in cooking various kinds of cuisines and produce. But that’s not the worst part. The reasons governing this decision are even more pathetic.

 Dear Sanjeev Kapoor, no non-veg on Masterchef is a stupid, terrible idea

Courtesy: ibn live

The two sponsors of the show are Amul and a joint venture between Adani Group and Singapore-based Wilmar International titled Adani Wilmar. Adani Wilmar markets Fortune cooking oil. According to Economic Times, “Executives, who spoke on the condition they not be identified, said at least one sponsor was ‘in favour’ of a Masterchef that keeps non-vegetarian food out.” I suppose if I’m dishing out crores of rupees to sponsor a show, I have every right to call the shots and make demands – even if they’re counter-productive. It’s worth noting Amul has been the show’s title sponsor for the last couple of seasons, so clearly it doesn’t have any issue with contestants cooking non-vegetarian food.

An official at Adani Wilmar has said the group was “always in favour of bringing down the non-veg content in the show and has been in talks with the channel for a while now” and that the Adani Group has conducted studies that show “customers moving towards healthy, nutritious alternatives to fat-heavy meat products”. Clearly, the Adani Group has not heard of white meat or lean meat being healthy or nutritious. But you can’t fault their logic when they have arguments like those put forward by Star Plus’ general manager, Gaurav Banerjee: “vegetarian food is more ‘inclusive’ and ‘non-veg food puts off people who follow a vegetarian diet’”. There’s more: “More vegetarians mean less cholesterol...the world is understanding this".

Yes, because pasta, potatoes, paneer makhni and samosas are renowned for their nutritious value.

Or are we to understand that Masterchef India will only have salads and steamed and boiled vegetable dishes? No puris, vada, dahi bhalla or samosas? It always saddens me when Bengalis display such little knowledge of food. It really feels like a slur against my entire community.

Maybe the “studies” referred to by the anonymous Adani Wilmar employee were actually interviews with the programme’s host, Sanjeev Kapoor who displays surprisingly little knowledge of food for someone who’s been cooking since I was in my diapers. According to him, “we are primarily a vegetarian country. Globally too, the trend is to go vegetarian. It is more challenging to prepare vegetarian dishes. And it is said that for every non-vegetarian dish available across the globe, there is a vegetarian option prepared in our country.”

I would beg to differ. To quote The Hindu-CNN IBN State of The Nation survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), “60% of Indians are non-vegetarians, and it is only among upper castes – Brahmins in particular – that vegetarianism dominates”. Little knowledge and delusions are a dangerous combination.

Also, according to Kapoor, “it's contestants’ ability under pressure and not recipes that's the point of Masterchef.” Then why pretend it’s a cooking show? Just make the contestants jump through hoops and take part in Khatron Ke Khiladi. Also, maybe Kapoor could let the Masterchef franchise know his understanding of the show. I’m sure they’d be mighty surprised to know that what was conceived as a cookery contest is, according to Kapoor, Survivor with food.

Using as dodgy logic as Kapoor does to justify the vegetarianism that will be imposed upon Masterchef India, I could argue that kitchens in India are primarily the domain of women and therefore, no self-respecting Indian man will allow himself to be emasculated by cooking food.

Ergo, Masterchef India should be a women-only show. And to make sure we don’t do anything against our culture, most Indian kitchens are primarily divided by caste, so Masterchef India should be similarly segregated (Brahmin cook in Brahmin kitchen, Dalit cook in a Dalit kitchen etc). Also, since it is the age of national pride and so many ingredients we use in our cooking – from chillis to capsicum to tomatoes and even rajma – aren’t indigenous to India, we should not cook using anything that has been foisted on us as a result of Western influence.

So why not a Masterchef India with only female contestants, divided into separate kitchens according to caste, cooking only vegetarian food limited to lauki and tinda. Does that sound like incredible India?

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Updated Date: Nov 19, 2014 09:11:02 IST