Planned Mandarin MasterChef Singapore panned

Singaporean cook Woo Wai Leong (left), who won the first edition of MasterChef Asia, the Asia-wide edition of the show in 2015, says having the Singapore show shot in English would be the most inclusive for home cooks keen to join the show.
Singaporean cook Woo Wai Leong (above), who won the first edition of MasterChef Asia, the Asia-wide edition of the show in 2015, says having the Singapore show shot in English would be the most inclusive for home cooks keen to join the show.PHOTO: ST FILE

Television broadcaster Mediacorp's intention to produce the local spin-off of the popular cooking competition in Mandarin will alienate non-Chinese-speaking participants and viewers, say Singaporeans

News that the inaugural local edition of hit cooking television show MasterChef will be aired in Mandarin has angered Singaporeans who feel that it would alienate non-Chinese-speaking participants and viewers.

The MasterChef cooking competition format, which originated in the United Kingdom in 1990 and has seen local spin-offs produced in more than 40 countries, pits amateur cooks against one another in various challenges.

Last week, local TV broadcaster Mediacorp published an online casting call for contestants for the upcoming show, asking potential applicants to rate their fluency in Mandarin. The notice also stated that the show would be broadcast on Mandarin-language Channel 8. There is no air date yet.

The language issue did not sit well with many who believe that the show should be produced in English so it can better involve everyone in multi-ethnic Singapore.

Many Singaporeans took to social media to voice their unhappiness.

Twitter user @chickenfrommc tweeted: "MasterChef is known widely and English appeals to all races. How do you expect the Malays and Indians who do not understand Chinese to watch it?"

Facebook user Steve Chia wrote: "Does that meanMasterChef Singapore is going to be racially restricted only to those who could speak Mandarin?... Wouldn't it be better to use the official working language of English instead so that people of all races who can cook can apply?"

Singaporean cook Woo Wai Leong, who won the first edition of MasterChef Asia, the Asia-wide edition of the show in 2015, agrees that it would have made better sense for the Singapore version to be in English.

Calling the decision to air it in Mandarin "odd", the 29-year-old tells The Straits Times: "There is precedence for MasterChef to shoot in non-English languages, but Singapore's multicultural background is not accurately represented by having the show shot in the language of one particular group.

"English is the language of administration in Singapore and that would be the most inclusive for all aspiring home cooks to showcase their skills on the show."

He adds that even though he is ethnically Chinese, his family speaks English at home. "My lack of confidence in conversational Mandarin, let alone technical business or kitchen Mandarin, would have stopped me from joining the show."

When The Straits Times contacted Mediacorp, the broadcaster said in a statement that "the series is shown on Channel 8 to reach out to the largest audience base in Singapore".

It also added that for contestants, fluency in Mandarin is not a prerequisite as interpretation can be provided during the show.

Meanwhile, the series will be subtitled for television audiences.

The furore over MasterChef Singapore is reminiscent of the brouhaha last year over how the home-grown edition of the hit TV singing contest, The Voice, would be in Mandarin.

The producer of the show, mm2 Entertainment, had said at the time that it had acquired the format licence to produce the show in Mandarin "based on the assessment that it is most commercially viable".

• Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2018, with the headline 'Planned Mandarin MasterChef Singapore panned'. Print Edition | Subscribe