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Ze Taste, c’est ….setting a new and fabulous benchmark for melodrama in reality cooking shows

Many reality cooking shows, such as Masterchef or the Great British Bake Off, attempt to insert a melodramatic, tense element by playing spiky music, leaving implausibly long gaps before judging announcements and having presenters hover around the contestants bellowing ‘ARE YOU STRESSED? ARE YOU A BIT STRESSED? DON’T BE STRESSED!’

And I’m not saying that The Taste doesn’t do this because it totally does. However, it gains the edge because it barely has to. Instead, it has Ludo Lefebvre:
errhonheehon
I am British, the contestants on this season are British. We have been schooled, over decades, not to react to things with anything more than polite alarm (‘gosh, how awful’ may be employed in the case of natural disaster) let alone anything that could be misconstrued as melodrama.

I want The Taste’s Ludo Lefebvre to follow me around, reacting to things for me. Anyone who saw him in episode 4, screaming at slightly incorrectly portioned beetroot juice in the way one might after having discovered a severed head in one’s desk drawer, or jumping up and down in a kitchen in episode one, shouting ‘PUTAIN’ will know that this is a not so much a man (although at the same time, indisputably a rather glorious man) as a one-person arsenal of all of Tumblr’s reaction .gifs.

He is the drama that you need in the show- Nigella (our lady, our goddess and let this never be seen as criticism) is radiant in dresses that I would probably need to hand over my annual wage just to touch and it would be worth every penny, her slow-mo eyelash sweeps are spectacular, I have never felt more assured that my decision to become her by the time I’m forty is a sound one. And Anthony Bourdain is the cantankerous old friend who is never not fun to be around. The person you put up with dragging you to a ridiculous grill joint because they’re also going to get your meal for free and then you will go and drink bourbon with rock stars.

But they cannot be a genre of television, they can just be on it. Ludo is life and fire, death and slightly overcooked clams, he would set fire to ze world because he urgently needed to smoke some aubergines, he would kill a man just to watch him die if that man was so stupid as to overcook a steak, he would make love to you on a bed of brioche. There is a structural problem with The Taste (which is to say, being the best cooker of small-things-on-spoons does not necessarily make you the best cook) but this is all forgiven in the face of such glorious, blissful subversion of the melodramatic reality cooking competition by literally sourcing the most dramatic person on this earth.

(I urgently want to be on the next season, just so Ludo can shout at me, at least once.)

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Ludo Lefebvre, The Taste

 

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a spoonful of sugar

Hello everyone!  Fanny is back.  Miss me?

Fanny

Oh, OK.

So, after a brief period of hibernation, I decided the time had come to get back into the swing of things – I admit, I’d been sidetracked by Tom Kerridge and Masterchefs Australia and Professional but the triple whammy of Bourdain, Lawson and Lefebvre was too much to resist.  Yes, The Taste has come to town.

Originally created for American TV Channel 4 ditched the four judge idea and the slimmed down panel are the aforementioned Anthony Bourdain (now known as Tony), Nigella Lawson (now known as Poor Nigella) and Ludo Lefebvre (widely known as WHO?).  Having worked together on two seasons for the ABC channel there is clear familiarity between the three with much eye-rolling and banter which, I think, work well.

Nigella

“all I needs is a spoon and the right pot”

The show’s premise is all about simplicity and back to basics; you can learn all the techniques you want or create a five course menu but The Taste is all about ONE SPOONFUL OF FOOD.  So, it’s a shame that the show itself seems a little confusing.  Don’t let that put you off.  Episode one in summary:

  • 25 contestants
  • professional or home cooks
  • one hour to create your food
  • judges taste with their backs to a glass wall
  • contestant can hear the comments then enter the room
  • feedback and verdicts given
  • if more than one judge says yes, contestant chooses which mentor to follow
  • each judge is looking for four contestants
  • successful contestants are given an apron

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it’s chriiiiiiiiiiiiiistmaaaaaaaaas!

With some time off work, this is the time for me to catch up on some writing, you lucky people.  What better time to sit down and discuss the phenomenon of festive food and it’s televisual counterpart.

I began my journey with the legend herself, Ms Fanny Cradock.  There were two quick episodes on Good Food Channel, one focusing on mincemeat, t’other on Christmas pudding.  In episode one, our main ingredient is described as “the Cinderella of Christmas” and such delights as mincemeat pancake, galette and OMELETTE (eggs with flakes of butter, nothing else) are created, right before our eyes through a fog of icing sugar.  Icing sugar on everything and about a centimetre deep too.  The speed in which she works is pretty astonishing: no messing about.  Fanny would do very well in the omelette challenge with James Martin, I can tell you.  Eggs are mixed together, pastry unfolded and costume jewellery glistens in grease.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 1970’s.  The next recipe is for a tart.  Pastry is lowered into a shallow, round cake tin and filled with mincemeat.  Fanny cracks on saying “I’m not going to explain it all to the older people, you know all this stuff.”  Nice to see – basically, “you’re all old enough to know how to make bloody pastry and form it into a tart shape, now let’s get on with it”.

We move swiftly on to a Swiss roll filled with, yep the ‘meat.  The sponge is pre-prepared and handed over by Sarah (aka Poor Sarah) and various maxims are uttered such as “everything is so much better when you know how”.  Thanks.  We are advised that you need a good quality rolling pin – not one with handles though: “that’s the best kind, the professional kind.  Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to get a rolling pin in your stocking”.  If I did, I might be lucky enough to hit my husband round the head with it.

Fanny and Sarah

Delia Smith is a more recent Christmas icon.  Carsmile still swears by her instructions for turkey or goose from the ‘Complete Illustrated Cookery Course‘ 1992 edition (originally published in 1978).  As is the way on speciality channels, we are served up a whole evening of her 1990 series, Delia at Christmas.  This particular episode began with the words “I don’t agree with vegetarianism…” but she humored us with a selection of recipes for cheese terrine, stuffed peppers and ‘sausage’ (cheese and herb) rolls.  An issue with the screening of classic shows is the aspect ratio as Delia invited a friend over to explain the delights of fizzy wine.  “You don’t have to stick to Champagne,” said the very wide sommelier, “there’s other fizz out there like Cava or this stuff from India!”  I’m not sure if I was more excited about the Indian wine or the amazing shoulder pads.

The following installment was the legendary “36 Hours of Christmas” and I started to wonder why programmes continue to be made on the subject of Christmas turkeys.  People moan about dry, tasteless meat but once you know the best way to do it, why bother with anything else (“everything is so much better when you know how”)?  Now we are acquainted with Delia’s technique, I don’t care about Gordon’s recipe or even Jamie’s version.  But the more shows I watched, the more I noticed the seemingly endless ways of cooking the festive bird.  Lorraine places a bag of frozen peas on the breast before it goes into the oven to slow down the time it takes that part to cook, Nigella sticks her poultry in a gigantic red bucket (to match her silky, red dressing gown) with herbs and spices to add moistness and don’t even get me started on the stuffing controversy!

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bitchin in the kitchen

Shit sandwich.

Worst. Programme. Ever.

Worst. Programme. Ever.

 

don’t be afraid of it, it’s only a biscuit!

Dear Katy Brand,

Why oh why oh WHY did you start so well, with your pasta skills and your perfect pastry and ruin everything with a plate of custard and cat poo?  Now, chocolate tortellini filled with raspberry mousse sounded perfect. The white chocolate and cardamom sauce less so but it could have been enough to get you through.  No, what am I saying – if everyone else had a good day, you were definitely on your way out.  *SIGH*  Oh well, at least my other favourite, Shane Lynch is a dead cert for the final three …

Katy Brand

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go big or go home

Having spent a lovely week in Edinburgh seeing lots of Fringey things, the lady occupying the adjacent seat on my journey home decided to catch up with Celebrity Masterchef.  Yep, seen that one – he does something with a crocodile.  Oooh, not seen that one – concentrate on your book, Fanny.  No spoilers!

I managed to reach the comfort of my sofa not knowing the outcome so cracked on with some catching up of my own.

Phillips & friend

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somewhere, Brendan is stroking a white cat…

Celebrity chefs Paul Hollywood and Marcela Valladolid.

Paul Hollywood, the star of the Great British Bake Off, has spoken about his upset and sadness at the collapse of his marriage, saying he might have been happier if he had not become famous.

The baker left Alexandra, 49, his wife of 15 years, amid efforts to launch his career in the US and reports of a relationship with his new co-star Marcela Valladolid, 35.

Hollywood, who returns to the small screen with Mary Berry for a fourth series of the hit programme this week, told the Radio Times that he is tempted to “disappear and hide”. The 47-year-old said that he did not have girlfriends until his mid-20s, described himself as an “egomaniac” and “an old man from the rough end of town”.

Hollywood, who has an 11-year-old son with Alexandra, said: “I didn’t think Bake Off would be like this, although you have to be an egomaniac to do it. Anyone who says they’re not is kidding themselves. You couldn’t put yourself in front of a camera otherwise…

He told the magazine: “I thought I’d spend my life making baguettes, muffins, croissants. I might have been happier if I had.

“One day I’ll disappear and hide in a corner of Britain. I’ll own a bakery in a village, live above it, have a big garden because I like mowing. I want to get up when I feel like it, let people queue for my products and when they’re gone, shut the shop and think about tomorrow. Creating magic – that’s my dream. And I’ll do it.” Hollywood called his heartthrob status “a joke”, adding: “I’m an old man from the rough end of town. Wouldn’t you be [flattered]? I lost my youth because I started baking with my dad at 17, and had to get up and go to bed early.

“I needed the money, was happy to be led, and happened to have a good feeling for it, but it took over my life. I never had girlfriends or went clubbing until I was in my mid-20s.”

There has been speculation that Hollywood’s marriage breakdown could affect Bake Off’s popularity and in May the BBC denied reports that his role on the BBC2 show was under threat. But Hollywood said: “It’s about bakers, not judges. Maybe fame has caused a problem, but it’s not fame as such. To nail it to that would be foolhardy.

 He insisted: “The real Paul Hollywood is shy, likes nothing better than going home, putting on slippers and dressing gown, having a cup of tea and watching telly.”

Read the full story here.  (And have a look at brendanbakes.co.uk too…)

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Baking, Competition Genre

 

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shake your salad maker

Bucks Fizz once said “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”.  I have detested the weather in London this summer but two things have put a smile on my red, sweaty face; return trips to the Olympic stadium for the Anniversary Games (get over it, move on!) and having Celebrity Masterchef back on my telly – right from the start I could tell we were in for a good ‘un.

John: “COOKING DOESN’T GET TOUGHER THAN THIS!”
Gregg: “OI!  THAT’S MY LINE 🙂 ”

Heidi, Gregg, Janet, John?

Heidi, Gregg, Janet, John?

Excellent.  Our first contestants strut towards the camera.  Who have we got?  Professional grump, Janet Street-Porter.  All round sweetheart, Heidi Range.  Funny lady and champion Beyonce impersonator, Katy Brand.  Business woman and ex-Rolling Stone wife Jo Wood completes the first week’s line-up.

CHEESE!

CHEESE!

The eighth series is under way.  Has it really been that many?  I’m seeing clips of this year’s cooks and it’s all feeling a bit samey.  I’m sure I’ve seen Heidi and Katy wrestle with a mixing bowl before.  I know I’ve seen Janet yell at bessie mate Gordon Ramsay and discuss the best way to slaughter animals on Channel 4.  Clearly the show and the celebrities are upping their game.  It’s gonna be hard to top the last series, but you knew that already.

This year’s first week favourite is Katy.  She seems quite awesome and likes to fly by the seat of her cheffy pants.  Ravioli AND puff pastry?  Yep.  She pulls it off too, pretty much.  Heidi is lovely and smiley and her hands shake when holding a knife.  Jo ‘on tour’ Wood tells us how she learned how to cook while travelling the globe with a bunch of old fogies.  Jo could be classed as the ‘experimental’ one.  Crisps with prawn curry, sweet potato in the shepherd’s pie and coconut oil on something or other.  Janet is, well, Janet.

I’m struggling to work out Ms Street-Porter.  Yes, she has a shtick and she does it perfectly but would she continue to yell at those in authority when in a professional kitchen?  Apparently so.  John and Gregg may well giggle as they are told to ‘do one’ or ‘get stuffed’ by the former Independent on Sunday editor but huffing and tutting at a head chef in his own restaurant?  I would have loved to see Marcus Wareing deal with her.

Tales are told of service station pasties, eating at top restaurants and adapting a flight case into a camping stove.  Yes, Jo spent 30 years feeding her family on tour.  Did she mention that?

So, what about the cooking?  Largely it was impressive albeit with the obligatory ‘is it duck or pork?’ moment and the ‘are they really putting alcohol in the pudding when they’re about to fly on a trapeze?’ incident.  There was also a lot of non-cooking.  Possibly more salads in week one than I’ve seen in an entire previous series.  “This is Masterchef, not Master Salad Maker!”  Quite.

Gregg may be the face of Weight Watchers and two stones lighter but some things never change.  “I could much the living daylights out of that dish!”  Easy tiger.  What goes on tour …

 

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2013 in BBC, Celebrity Masterchef

 

oh now paula. I think it’s time that you should go

It was a while ago now but in April we took a trip across the pond to NYC.  This was my fourth visit so I’d been up the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building – I’d done the tourist stuff.  This time I meant business.

Staying in Williamsburg, we took in the sights of Bedford Avenue, the High Line and some art by Chelsea Pier.  Of course, I’m married to a beer freak/geek so we drank at some very nice pubs and as a confirmed wine drinker I was slightly fearful of our guided tour of the Brooklyn Brewery.  It was great; I sampled some beer!  I didn’t really like it!  Never mind.  We previously visited the Ginger Man where I consumed a bottle of the only beer I actually DO LIKE.  I really like.  Carsmile tells me “typical that you like Duchesse de Bourgogne – the only beer that is unlike any other beer!”  Unique.  Classy.  That’s me.

Apart from the wrasslin’, it was all about the food for us this year.  Our flat had the Food Network so I got a chance to witness the goddess of fried, sugary, homely food that is Paula Deen in all her glory.  I was familiar with Ms Deen through watching Top Chef and was chuffed to see her in action.  Wow, so much butter, cream, sugar and syrup.  Still, she looked like she was having a lot of fun.  Maybe she was on a sugar rush – I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that she may not have her own full set of gnashers.  That must help in some way with the awesome amount of sweetness and richness of her desserts.  I really think that if Gregg Wallace met her, it might be love.

“we must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”

“we must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”

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whose Roux is who’s?

“Oooh!  Wotsthat??!” I exclaimed as the 476 bus whizzed through North London just the other day.  A poster advertising what looked like a cookery telly show, thatswot.  But Roux Jr’s lovely, smiley, dark-eyed face was strangely replaced by a frown, a glare – rather scary.  He was joined by a terrifying looking Rick Stein and Angela Hartnett seemed grumpy as heck.  What could this mean?  All these amazing chefs judging one show together – gonna be a-MAZING, amirite?

Nope.

The Roux Scholarship 2013 is a mish-mash of a programme.  After the series opener it seems to be two parts Masterchef: The Professionals and one part The Apprentice.  We return from each commercial break to meet our hosts, Roux Jr and his near incomprehensible uncle.  For some reason they are at the top of the gherkin tower muttering “WHO will be the winner of the Scholarship for 2013?” and “only ONE can be declared our winner!”

Roux Scholarship 2013

I could talk at length about this but, as usual, Mr Danny Baker sums up correctly:   Read the rest of this entry »