I think we can all agree that there are too many cooking shows out there- in fact, with a little channel hopping, you could spend an entire afternoon doing nothing more than watching them. What fewer people know, however, is that I take a guilty pleasure in watching at least some of them- and even I can’t say why that might be. Anyway, since the purpose of this post is nothing more than to ramble on about the cooking shows I’ve watching over the last few months, let’s cut to the chase.
John Torode and Greg Wallace preside over the annual competition to find the best celebrity amateur chef, with high pressure environments such as high class restaurants, cooking for hundreds of people and preparing four-course meals for the aristocracy testing all competitors to the limit. It’s great fun watching the celebrities cope with these unusual and stressful situations, as they desperately try to prepare meals worthy of John and Greg’s taste buds- not least because it looks near impossible to complete any of the challenges! I haven’t watched the amateur version yet, but I’ll probably try to catch it next series.
Eating With the Enemy
After wishing that the food critics who appear on Masterchef would get their own show, the universe swiftly answered my call with this series, in which amateur cooks compete in a two-course cook-off in an attempt to please the aforementioned critics. Basically a cross between Dragons’ Den and Masterchef with the amiable James Martin in charge, Eating With the Enemy has quickly become a highlight of my viewing schedule- despite the BBC’s insistence on showing us what’s about to happen, showing us what happens and then showing us what just happened.
Step Up to the Plate
A new show hosted by Strictly Come Dancing’s Anton du Beke, Step Up to the Plate is another cook-off- this time between amateurs and professionals, with the former picking the menu and the latter only what they are to cook on the show. Loyd Grossman then acts as adjudicator, criticising the choice of menu backstage but often restricting his comments to “that’s very good” on the actual show. I went to the filming of the first episode, but since that shaky and in some ways dull start (moreso on TV than in the studio), the series has hit its stride, making for solid if unremarkable afternoon viewing.
Chinese Food Made Easy
Ching-He Huang teaches us that Chinese food can be healthy and simple to prepare in this recently aired six episode series, but unfortunately, much as I wanted to jump on her bandwagon, I wasn’t wholly convinced. It wasn’t that the dishes she prepared didn’t look good (and certainly I wouldn’t mind having a stab at preparing them one day), but that it only seemed easy if you had all the ingredients prepared beforehand. Yes, if you’ve got special rice wine in the cupboard and all your ingredients chopped up and ready to add, of course it’s going to be easy, but the reason I get takeaway is because I can’t even be bothered with the preparation phase either. Still, I’ll probably get the accompanying book once the price has gone rock bottom.
Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course
An Irish show now aired on satellite channel Horse and Country, Darina Allen’s 24-episode show takes us through many of the dishes made at her restaurant and cooking school in Ballymaloe. Everything from basic soup to fish dishes and even Japanese food is prepared in Darina’s kitchen, with her no-nonsense manner proving oddly addictive. She may not be the most charismatic of chefs, but there’s something watchable about a woman who gets oddly excited about using knives and cleavers.
Annette Gibbons travels around the country visiting places that produce local specialty foods before stopping by the farmers’ market and preparing a meal (which the original providers of the food are invited to). Since the cooking section is too brief for viewers to ever emulate Annette in the kitchen, the most interesting part of the show is watching her visit everything from a brewery to a gingerbread bakery (or, in lazier episodes, her neighbour’s garden), where she tries and fails to gain access to secret recipes and asks stupid questions so “this is where the water goes in, is it?” of a pipe which has water pouring out of it. Unfortunately, the more you watch of this series, the more boring it gets, which is a shame when there’s something like six seasons.
Very mildly recommended.