Did we like it?
A show that lends more indelible evidence that the rumour that TV programmes are concocted these days by drawing names of others out of a hat might not be so apocryphal after all – in this case the more predictable Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook/ Masterchef has been mixed with, peculiarly, Eggheads. And while many elements suck on the teat of food show banality, the saving graces are bemused host Anton Du Beke and the common sense of Loyd Grossman.
What was good about it?
• Assuming the role of a televisual Sherlock Holmes to deduce the shattered fragments from which Step Up To The Plate is hybridised. There’s a chunk of Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook – the two competing teams – Masterchef – the winner determined by the palate of an expert arbiter – and Eggheads – the way in which the amateur ‘cooks’ choose the menu that they and the professional ‘chefs’ will have to make, with a bit of contrived CJ De Mooi bravado thrown in to spirit up a sense of adversarial, irascible conflict.
• The bane of cookery contest shows for a casual audience – is there any other type? – lies in the insistence by visiting chefs to smother the inevitable talky bits while waiting for food to cook in their opaque culinary cipher. But rather than attempt to be swept away in this esoteric argot, Anton Du Beke simply ignores it.
• Whether it’s his inexperience as a presenter of not listening to what people are saying because he is forming the next platitude in his head, or a wilful disinterest in the coma-inducing dialogue of chefs, the way in which Du Beke parrot-like repeats the impenetrable verbiage that’s been tossed his way or strides over to the workbench of the amateur ‘cooks’ is very amusing as it seems as though he is enduring a fit of exasperated pique with the ‘chefs’.
• Loyd Grossman must feel like a deposed King Zog slumming it on daytime TV while his two usurpers savour the novelty of celebrity on the more prominent Psuedo-Celebrity Masterchef. But we certainly prefer Grossman to that pair of jabbering twonks.
• Rather than try and bury the audience under an avalanche of more pretentious terminology, Grossman acts as a welcome antidote; clearly and in plain English detailing what makes one dish better than the other – it doesn’t dispel the main problems with the format, but it’s the best solution we’ve seen so far (and was probably how Grossman acted on early Masterchef).
What was bad about it?
• It’s quite astonishing that TV cookery contest shows exist at all – perhaps it’s the fervent devotion to the words of experts that beguiles the viewer, or maybe it’s just the thick gloss and deceit of elevating production of food to an artistic talent equivalent to the eternal beauty of music or literature – two areas that are currently shrivelling away to nothing on TV.
• The persistent blight is that of the five senses, the three that will be most used in cooking – taste, smell and touch – are not available through a TV set while the less relevant sight and sound are. This dislocates the viewer from the contest in a way that is not seen elsewhere – you can scream at Simon Cowell’s interpretation of a song on X-Factor, judge for yourself the dexterity of Dancing on Ice, and be instructed on the finer details of old paintings by Andrew Graham-Dixon.
• With cookery contests you can only base your own view on how delectable the dish appears – and the folly of this was emphasised when Loyd awarded overall victory 2-1 to the ‘cooks’, despite their courses looking much uglier than their professional counterparts’, thus estranging the viewer completely from the process.
• While we trust Loyd’s views on food, scrutinising his malleable visage for each grin and grimace leaves you with a sense of cold detachment to the judging. The only involvement came with the expressions on the faces of scorned chefs James and Richard as Loyd lambasted their beef and potatoes (it had a fancier name, but it was just beef and potatoes), which only filled you with even more apathy as it was as pathetic a way of illustrating emotion than at the Men’s Final at Wimbledon or the fallacious melodrama of Last Choir Standing.
• Despite the best efforts of Du Beke, the preparation of the courses sometimes turned into a turgid chef monologue about minutiae of food that holds no interest to anyone who wasn’t born under a stove.
• The title Step Up To The Plate. America has provided the English language with many marvellous idioms and words, but all baseball phraseology is as welcome this side of the Atlantic like a Biblical plague. Step up to the plate is perhaps the second worst after Three strikes and your out (after this cliché was appropriated to form judicial procedure), but Left field, First base etc, Ballpark (figure), Cover all the bases, Curveball, Play hardball and Touch base are almost as bad. The only response can be to unleash the apocalypse of Ronglish on Uncle Sam.