MasterChef: The Professionals

New judge ... Marco Pierre White, right, was introduced to the show’s contestants as a figure of menace who might strike at any moment.

Last year all sorts of names were being bandied around as talent for Network Ten's debut edition of MasterChef: The Professionals, but did anyone foresee the casting of Hannibal Lecter? Eyes narrowed, preceded by his long shadow and thumping dismemberment music, Marco Pierre White was introduced to the show's 16 contestants as a figure of menace who might strike at any moment.

''Hello Matt,'' the renowned English chef half-whispered to co-host Matt Preston, who it appeared would be providing his liver for the first challenge so it could be served with fava beans and a nice Chianti.

White has to bare his claws when necessary. 

White relented to a degree, although a smile does not come easily to his brooding features, and that's what the show needs. If The Professionals is to succeed, then it needs to raise the stakes. White, once the youngest chef ever awarded three Michelin stars, is integral to that.

There were moments in the very first episode, resourceful editing aside, where the kitchen was humming with activity and genuine pressure was apparent.

Bar one contestant, ''Outback'' Matty, who looked out of his depth and was rightfully the first to go at the end of the opening episode, the show's entrants know how to cook.

Some run their own kitchens, others work for venerable figures. There are still back stories to be uncovered, but this is not a series where unknowns with a passion will be recognised.

The motivations include ego, recognition and, in some cases, greed (first prize includes $200,000) and MasterChef: The Professionals needs to let that inform the show. The final episode of the first week had a fascinating conclusion, when the eliminated contestant was sent packing. The blow to his ego was apparent as he mumbled self-serving comments and invoked Penelope Cruz's praise for his souffle.

For now, audiences like what they see. Short of a New Year's Day episode, the show couldn't have kicked off any earlier, and despite starting while Channel Seven's Australian Open tennis was still on, White and Preston drew more than 1 million capital city viewers on three consecutive nights.

Whether The Professionals will prosper is unclear, but the show does have the jump on Seven's My Kitchen Rules, a ratings juggernaut in 2011 and 2012. Coming off a truly horrible spell, Ten has learnt the lesson inflicted on it by Channel Nine two years ago, which pre-empted Ten's The Renovators with rival format The Block and never looked back.

My Kitchen Rules works because the domestic setting provides a fascinating intimacy - little beats seeing a cocky amateur reduced to tears on their own kitchen floor - and MasterChef: The Professionals can't hope to match that. They need to show us what happens when people who cook for a living are pushed to their limits.

That's where the show can stand apart and be fascinating, and while they need to vary the format so it doesn't ape too much of MasterChef, Marco Pierre White is definitely an asset. His exhortations come in martial-voiced bursts of ''Work quicker! Work quicker! Work quicker!'' - that could cure indigestion.

MasterChef: The Professionals needs to be competitively and emotionally firm, and White has to bare his claws when necessary. It's a simple necessity: Be tougher! Be tougher! Be tougher!