Giving confidence: a masterclass on masterchef

Last night’s penultimate episode of masterchef saw the three finalists cooking a three star Michelin meal for a gaggle of top chefs, under the direction of Clare Smyth.  It’s not often you see such a clear demonstration of taking responsibility for giving others the confidence to succeed. How did Clare do it ?

  • presence  – she got in close enough to see what was happening and for the contestants to know she was there – but without getting in their way.
  • appearance: an alert, upright posture, and a neutral expression, careful not give away her own misgivings.
  • tone and delivery: assertive and factual, using short crisp and clear sentences, pausing between points.
  • choice of words: accentuating the positive, painting the contestant in as the person who was going to make the dish work. So focusing the contestants’ attention on what they needed to do next, rather than criticising them for being slow.

“You’re not feeling stressed now are you ?” she asked Shellina, who was visibly struggling to hold it together during the final assembly of her dish. “You know it tastes good. You know it tastes good.” How do we get messages to sink in? Repetition, repetition, repetition.

At the end, for each contestant, she gave unstinting praise for a job well done, recognising what each achieved.

Though she didn’t say it, her reputation was on the line as well. Her behaviour modelled what she required of the contestants, and each, at moments of crisis, found something to follow.

Clare’s obviously a very gifted chef;  in this programme we glimpsed someone who is also very good at helping people under enormous pressures  – of time and of the consequences of failure – to perform outstandingly.


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