Posts Tagged ‘cookery’

In a nutshell: Contrived kitchen crises don’t get much dafter than this…

Popcorn rating: 3/5

BBC1’s MasterChef is a bafflingly long and slightly hysterical series in which mostly middle-class contestants battle it out in the kitchen. As well as studio cook-offs, the would-be chefs also cook in real restaurants and take part in ‘surprise’ challenges… except they’re not a surprise, because they’re essentially the same every bloody series and one of them always involves catering for an event in a field (this year, a Highland Games; brilliantly, the only Scottish contestant disgraced himself by cutting his finger and whimpering like a girl).

I like watching over-confident fools wilt under pressure – a ‘deconstructed trifle’ that ended up looking like a selection of bodily fluids splattered on to a plate was a particular treat in episode one, for example. On that score, MasterChef pleases me. And I’ll freely admit that I find watching anyone cook interesting. Unfortunately, the programme-makers apparently don’t: this is surely only explanation for surplus melodrama they’ve shovelled on. The voiceover is delivered in the style of a judge passing a death sentence. An inexplicably blindfolded contestant sniffs a flabby lump of raw meat to music you’d expect to accompany Jack Bauer defusing a bomb.

Presiding over this laughable nonsense are John Torode and Gregg Wallace. Torode is the Ronseal-faced Aussie who used to cook horrid 90s ‘fusion’ food on This Morning With Richard & Judy. Wallace is… a greengrocer.

Yes. A greengrocer.

So how this gurning barrow-boy is qualified to judge a cookery competition is beyond me. He talks like your nan addressing someone foreign, and his witless appraisals generally amount to saying he likes puddings or simply listing the ingredients he’s just stuffed in his gob. Last night, he critiqued a dish with: “Yeah. Oh yeah. It tastes nice.”

But my most pressing complaint about MasterChef is the contestants. These smug bastards don’t need to become top chefs: they already have cool jobs. ‘Kennedy’ is a professional cellist. Alice is a model. Last year’s winner was a paediatrician – albeit captioned as a ‘children’s doctor’, presumably to ward off torch-wielding mobs of Sun readers confusing paediatricians with paedophiles. This country doesn’t need qualified paediatricians (or indeed qualified paedophiles) dicking about in a kitchen smearing artful apostrophes of celeriac purée on a square plate. I vote that next series, all the contestants are council workers made redundant to make way for the Big Society. Then I might bring myself to give a toss who wins.

Reviewer: JoSheppard


In a nutshell: A lovely step back in time, which is over far too quickly

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5

Let’s face it early evening telly is fairly abysmal. Thankfully, that has all changed with the arrival of BBC’s frankly marvellous Royal Upstairs Downstairs. As I had suspected, the show has proven to be a delight – so much so that I look forward to this dip into England’s architectural and food heritage with something akin to the happy glow a child on being told that sorry, no school today, the teachers are all snowed in.

It is a beguilingly simple premise – two likable experts,  moustachioed Antiques Roadshow primo Tim Wonnacott and Ladettes to Ladies cookery teacher,  Rosemary Shrager take a step back in time, revisiting the houses, castles and stately homes Queen Victoria stayed in during her life. Cue lots of grand old houses surrounded by acres of lush greenery, lofty rooms bedecked in sumptuous antiquary and culinary delights made out of (dare I even say it) full fat cream and other similar stuffs.

Tim and his endearingly posh accent guide us around the upstairs, delivering an enthusiastic peek into how the residents once lived and dealt with the impending horror/privilege of a visit from Her Nibs. Rosemary sequesters herself in the downstairs where, with the help of food historian Ivan Day, she recreates some of yesteryear’s marvellous grub (ice cream moulded to the shape and colour of a pineapple, anyone?).

But – and there is always a but, isn’t there – trying to pack so much into a piddly half hour show is not only frustrating, it is downright shameful. Royal Upstairs Downstairs is quite simply too short and if Queen V were alive I am sure she would agree. We want more! Tim in particular doesn’t have enough time to adequately reveal the joys of the upstairs while sharing his extensive knowledge of past times while poor old Rosemary and Ivan cook a single dish then are left wittering on about how a ten course menu would have been served up, without having enough minutes to give us a fuller flavour of the dishes.

Royal Upstairs Downstairs is a worthy celebration of the UK’s many wonderful county piles and I hope it is only the beginning of many similar shows to come, with or without the royal angle. The lovely Ivan could even have his own show where he recreates historic feasts, which would surely be a wonderful respite from the glut of same old cookery dross currently trotting across our screens on a weekly basis (excepting of course Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers).

Reviewer: KateKearney