Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Britain's Best Home Cook/ the Split

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Britain's Best Home Cook/ the Split

Article excerpt

From time to time, a TV show comes along which is so thrillingly original, so wildly imaginative, that you can't even begin to think where the makers got the idea. Britain's Best Home Cook (BBC1, Thursday) isn't one of them. Nevertheless, it has a serious claim to being the most important new programme of the week -- if only to the BBC which, despite the failure of The Big Family Cooking Showdown (whose title I just had to check via Google), clearly hasn't given up on the possibility of finding a way to replace The Great British Bake Off.

But in fact there's another series that some viewers might feel is lurking in the background here -- and that's W1A. For the past few months, BBC pods have presumably been full of BBC bods discussing how much Britain's Best Home Cook should stick to the conventional formula and how much it should 'refresh' it. Their conclusion, not surprisingly, seems to be that they should keep the refreshment to a minimum, but make a big fuss about any mild innovations even so.

In one excitedly announced twist, for example, the cooks have to live together in the same house, but just in case that's too daring, we don't see them there much. Other radical developments, meanwhile, are having the kitchen areas in a semi-circle rather than rows, and ending each episode with the culinary equivalent of a Strictly dance-off.

Apart from that, it's very much business as usual, with a scrupulously diverse selection of competitors, a deep commitment to overusing the word 'ultimate' and Mary Berry twinkling away as one of the judges.

The presenter, somehow inevitably, is Claudia Winkleman, who's already perfected the key tactic of repeating exactly what any contestant tells her, except in a tone of utter incredulity. The first challenge was cooking 'the ultimate burger', and one woman explained that hers would be made of prawn and beef. 'Prawn and beef?' gasped Claudia, with an unmistakeable 'WTF?' left unvoiced -- although this was as nothing compared with the almost unhinged extravagance of her 'You're making your own burger cheese?' when faced with someone making their own burger cheese.

For their part, the contestants also knew what was required of them, especially when it came to the fearless deployment of national stereotypes in their food. Obviously, this is easy enough for people of an Asian or African background, but what if you're from Wales? Katie, born and bred in the Valleys, didn't hesitate. …

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