Dom Stroud picks his favourite food shows of the moment…
Some say that Gregg Wallace and John Torode are the stars of this show, and it’s undeniable that their camaraderie, catchphrases and fluttering eyelids elevate viewer interest, but seeing amateurs and their often self-taught, exploratory gastronomy develop through time spent in some of the world’s best kitchens is what really makes this a primetime must-see.
The champions produce some genuinely incredible dishes. Tim Anderson, winner of the 2011 series, cooked an astonishing three-course meal to earn his gong, and was the best I’ve ever seen on the show. His starter alone was a huge undertaking: a dish of tri-city slider burgers inspired by Los Angeles, Tokyo and London, complete with multiple complex toppings. His London restaurant, Nanban, will be opening soon and I can’t wait to visit.
Also of note is the American series’ most recent winner, Christina Ha. Nicknamed ‘The Blind Cook’ because of a medical condition that severely affects her eyesight, her MasterChef experience was obviously more challenging than that of the other contestants. Nevertheless, her cooking and advanced palate saw her through to win in an inspiring journey to the top.
Naturally, there’s still plenty of daft moments, and, like a lot of cookery competitions, sometimes you just watch to see what can go wrong. The producers clearly know this too – the current UK series has each episode start with a teaser segment where some poor sod drops his chocolate soufflé (or the like) and Torode screams his head off. Hello, guaranteed viewing.
Come Dine With Me
Where MasterChef picks amateur cooks with something to show off, Come Dine With Me just puts amateur show-offs on the telly. And it’s bloody brilliant.
Although the poking-around-your-house part of the show is pretty awkward (and arguably unnecessary, as it’s eschewed for time in the all-in-one programmes), seeing people like your bonkers Aunt Susan burn a beef carpaccio or something that should otherwise be impossible, is the epitome of car-crash TV. As far as I know, that hasn’t happened, but we have had smörgåstårta (Swedish sandwich cake), which the Come Dine With Me website lists as ‘butter, mustard, cheese, paté, gherkins, ham, eggs and prawns, all layered up in a giant sandwich, iced with mayonnaise and decorated with cucumber, eggs, ham and seafood sticks’. Yum!
There are the nice episodes where normal people get along and enjoy some pretty good homemade food as well, but, let’s be honest, while they’re fun, they’re not as interesting as the disasters.
Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA
The American version of Kitchen Nightmares takes certain liberties with the restaurant-fixing-show format – namely when events are shown out of order for comedic or dramatic effect. In the past, Kitchen Nightmares USA has even faced accusations of staging some of the problems ol’ Gordon encounters.
Again, you’re likely to be watching this for the disastrous events that gives Ramsay a reason for a trademark verbal storm, and, if you’re really lucky, to ‘SHUT DOWN THE KITCHEN!’ Yeah, you tell ‘em!
It’s interesting to see how he always manages to turn around what are some pretty shonky establishments, even if the magic of television has a large helping hand in it. No ailing business could hope to carry out renovations that would normally cost thousands of dollars for free, but seeing a place turn its fortune (and often, attitude) around and get back on its feet is gratifying regardless. The episodes where Ramsay goes so far as to help out in parts of the restaurateurs’ personal lives are too much, though.
Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals
Of the programmes in this list, Jamie Oliver’s showing is the only one that viewers can hope to follow with any success, chiefly because it’s the only actual this-is-a-recipe, this-is-how-you-do-it show.
I’ve said before how I think the underlying philosophy of 30-Minute Meals is the true winner rather than the quickie nature of it all; that being able to rediscover your kitchen and find that creating a three-course meal isn’t a complete slog is much better than saying you’re able to bash out a chicken pie in a time trial.
The show is easy to understand and follow, and Oliver’s natural kookiness shines through, so when you end up using a soy sauce bottle to roll out some dough because you don’t own a rolling pin, you don’t really care about it. Hey, you’re cooking here.
Even though James Martin isn’t my favourite presenter on the box, Saturday Kitchen provides enough stimulation to support the segway from arising from my crypt to the point where I’m shaving some truffle onto my eggs royale.
The omelette challenge is definitely the best part of the show – give a celebrity chef two cubes of butter, three eggs and a screaming hot frying pan and apparently the result is an aberration nearly every time.