‘The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice’ – Channel 4

With this new series of The Great British Bake Off Channel 4 is spoiling us. Can you remember way back to last year when we watched the first series after Love Productions split from the BBC through our fingers as the nation waited to be able to say “I told you it would be rubbish!”. Can you remember our collective confusion, bewilderment and joy because it was still good, maybe even better than before? It was very much the London 2012 Olympics of food-based competitive TV shows. What a glorious time to be alive (and able to properly digest gluten)!

And with Sandi, Noel, Prue and Paul making a glorious return to the tent on Tuesday nights there’s a new generous helping of sister show An Extra Slice on Fridays. Fortunately Jo Brand, the consummate professional that she is, was fine with the move from the Beeb to Channel 4 and nothing much changed at all. But now the show is settled the programme makers can confidently make some long-overdue changes. Extra Slice suffered because it always felt very rushed in the half hour format that Channel 4 inherited from Auntie Beeb, and of course the adverts we were all loath to accept ate into that time, so it was 23 minutes of telly at best. Speaking of adverts in Bake Off, who would have ever guessed we’d miss Dr Oetker and his choir of irritating singing cakes. Amazon spent £5 million on the prestigious slot to advertise the Echo and all they can come up with is forgettable line drawings? “Alexa show me an advert worthy of 6.1 million viewers”.

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‘Somebody Feed Phil’ – Netflix

Phil is friendly. Phil is kind. Phil is funny. But those qualities count for very little over at foodie magazine Eater where Somebody Feed Phil, the Netflix travel documentary eating its way around the globe was cruelly slated as “too cute”, “annoying” and having “no discernible point of view”. Conde Nast Traveler is much kinder, praising the positivity and optimism wrapped up in each delicious bite. So, which one is it? Sweet or sour?

This new to Netflix series is fronted by a gangly beaming Phil Rosenthal, a television writer and producer, best known as the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond. He had a similar show called I’ll Have What Phil’s Having on PBS in America, but this is the first time an international audience has seen his culinary adventures.

And what a road trip he’s on. In six hour-long episodes he covers Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) Bangkok, Tel Aviv, Lisbon, New Orleans and Mexico City. I’m immediately jealous of his experiences and his air miles. He begins in the exotic east, but this isn’t just an American on a gap year, as he’s keen to promote food closer to home too, understanding that not everyone can afford international travel. Each episode also runs the full gamut of food available for the budget conscious backpackers and the money-is-no-object crowd. We seem him try street food out in the road on plastic chairs, befriend old ladies in shopping mall cafes, try all sorts of strange things in cafeterias off the beaten track and other hole-in-the-wall cafes where you’d need a local guide just to find the place.

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‘The Bug Grub Couple’

Even the most ardent carnivore must admit that now, in 2017 our desire for big fat burgers and crispy chicken is not sustainable. We don’t have the farmland, the water, or the grain to feed all these animals. Now meat consumption is increasing rapidly in Asia and India we really have a problem. A protein innovation is required and fast. So, inspired by South East Asia (and I’m sure many other countries too) how about insects?

Meet Sarah and Andy. She’s an entomologist and he’s a chef. They met and fell in love while working in a restaurant and never expected their career paths to cross. Together they run a farm in St Davids, Pembrokeshire and, alongside the beef herd, their main concern is their busy farm cafe. It’s a real one-off. Welcome to Grub Kitchen. Fancy a pan-fried locust or a bug burger? This is the place for you. The locusts look like how you’d expect but the bug burger looks quite normal and insect decorations have to be added to make it look special. One customer calls it a “suspiciously tasty veggie burger”, but there’s no hint of suspicion here. This couple are evangelical about their bugs and the new way of eating we should all be embracing to give poor old planet Earth a break.

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‘Santa Clarita Diet’

I think we can all agree that 2016 was rubbish, punctuated by the occasional depressing shitstorm. So far, 2017 is just bleak, barely registering on the Shrug Scale of shit-we’ve-all-just-got-to-get-used-to a.k.a. the new normal. So it’s the perfect time to turn your brain off, get grizzly and relish some zombie face-munching fun.

Welcome to Santa Clarita, a deeply boring middle-class suburbia somewhere in dull dry Southern California. Sheila and Joel are good-looking super-normal upwardly mobile estate agents (or realtors as they say over there) quickly sliding down the slippery slope into a totally ridiculous situation. Poor Sheila dies, only she doesn’t. Life goes on as normal, as best they can, while she, Joel and their teenage daughter Abby deal with the fact she is now a zombie.

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‘Horizon: Clean Eating – the Dirty Truth’

Sometimes the BBC’s flagship science programme serves up a well-timed piece of investigative journalism, and this was a doozy. Dr Giles Yeo is a geneticist studying obesity at Cambridge University, so is well placed to investigate ‘clean eating’, a recent diet craze and social media sensation. He nicely separates fact from fiction in the bizarro but strangely attractive world of green juices, spiralized vegetables and Instagram meals.

Dr Yeo is a bit of a superstar, with a calm demeanor in the face of utter nonsense and appalling pseudoscience. I would not want to play him at poker. He looks super cool driving a Mustang around America. His style reminded me of Louis Theroux; he’s very kind to nutters. He is measured and thoughtful;  willing to engage and break bread with crazy people (although of course not actual bread – it’s got the twin evils of gluten and grain in it and it will KILL YOU DEAD!!) He seems patient and doesn’t get riled easily. I’d just want to shout, which sadly doesn’t have the desired effect on idiots. He on the other hand is happy to listen and then explain with empirical and measurable data exactly why your claims are nonsense.

The first person he meets is food writer and clean-eating superstar Deliciously Ella (seriously, I’m not about to accept advice from anyone with a cutesy baby name, on any subject, ever). Her cookbooks and philosophy seem like entry-level woo. It’s largely sensible advice about diet – eat more fruit and veg, eat less processed stuff, cook from scratch more. However she then claims she cured a rare illness she was suffering from by making changes to her diet. This big change to her diet seems to have worked for her, and good for her. But what works for one person may not work for another. In fact, a radical change in diet may be significantly unhealthy if you discount your doctor’s advice and just work by what’s popular on the internet or what looks pretty on Instagram. Can you see how easy it is to slip into nonsense?

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‘Delicious’

There’s something about a flirty Dawn French pouting at Emilia Fox over a chopping block with a massive shiny cleaver sticking out of it that cannot be ignored. And that’s precisely why Sky 1 covered massive billboards with their likenesses. Mmmm delicious, I thought to myself, I wonder what that’s about. And then I thought about dinner, because obviously.

Well, episode one was at great pains to tell us, unfortunately via the means of a lengthy and extremely dull exposition not even saved by Iain Glen’s mellifluous tones. Yes, that’s another Game of Thrones graduate, more recognisable as Ser Jorah Mormont getting sunburnt and heartbroken in the desert with his Khaleesi. Mate, she’s just not into you. In Delicious he plays Leo, head chef at a fancy hotel in Cornwall. Beautiful skinny current wife is Sam (Emilia Fox) and his ex-wife who strangely seems to live in the exact same tiny village is Gina (Dawn French), the only person in it who actually looks like food is a pleasure not a burden.

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‘The Great British Bake Off: Series 7’ – On the Box

“I have cried over cake. I have shouted at a pie” admit the contestants in the pre-credits introduction. I myself have sulked at a chocolate brownie (too runny, even after hours in the oven) and thrown a hissy fit about a millionaire’s shortbread (Mr H had to take over and do caramel batch number three. It was impossible!). If baked goods make you emotional too, you know you’re in the right place. GBBO, episode 1 of series 7. Strap in for high-octane oven based excitement!

It’s week number one of the contest and it’s cake week. Which should in no way be mistaken for a cake walk – it’s quite the opposite. Blue-eyed silver fox Paul Hollywood promises the judging will get harder. I’m not sure that’s actually possible. Every year I enjoy watching the optimistic people who try to hide their failures with extra icing sugar, another layer of ganache or hidden at the bottom of the stack. Don’t they realise by now that Mary Berry has laser-guided vision for anything overbaked, underbaked or a bit shitty looking?

Almost like the producers read the internet too, Mel and Sue dive straight in and say the unsayable word ‘moist’. By itself it does sound sticky, sexual and faintly smelly. But in terms of sponge cake, it’s absolutely key.

Back to basics, says Paul. Good, says I. I’m sick of people using ingredients you can only track down on the Dark Web and have to purchase in bulk with a stash of little blue pills to make it look more harmless. And yes to creativity but enough with creating concoctions that seem like a mixologist’s fever dream. Shame then that the back to basics proclamation lasted for just about one task.

The Great British Bake Off

Surprisingly the technical challenge was jaffa cakes. What? I thought that was a brand name. To be fair, I’m no expert because they are revolting. I’m hoping next week it’s Tunnock’s Tea Cakes – giant dancing ones like at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The ‘show-stopper challenge’, which is a term that gets slightly more annoying each time you hear it, was mirror cake. WTF? This is week one people! It’s meant to be relatively easy – for the contestants to put them at their ease in one of the strangest kitchens in the world, covered from bunting to tent flap with cameras and microphones. And it’s meant to be a nice gentle welcome back to the returning audience, inspiring us to get back in the kitchen and cover every surface with flour, not trying to put us off with such complicated creations. The only nod to the beginners was that so many contestants restarted their Genoise sponge cake I was surprised everyone managed to finish in time. Maybe they had to give them all an extra half an hour?

So, the guy with the dryest, saddest-looking cake lost and was booted out of the tent. Lee, we hardly knew you.But Jane, who won the ‘star baker’ accolade shouldn’t rest on her laurels. After watching all the previous series my advice is to aim for fourth or fifth place for most of the challenges until the last few weeks. Don’t set the judges expectations too high, but do solid work. Mid-table results until you’re in the final 6 and then you can show off what you’ve learnt from the judges and your fellow contestants. everyone loves a contestant who has ‘been on a journey’. Goosbery fool-proof!

Episode one of GBBO is now available on iPlayer