Britain's Best Home Cook wins no points for originality

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Britain's Best Home Cook wins no points for originality

May 06, 2018 - 16:22
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It feels like Britain’s Best Home Cook has been a long time coming. Ever since the BBC lost the rights to The Great British Bake Off and it unceremoniously moved to Channel 4 without Mary Berry, who was arguably its biggest and most popular star, the Beeb have been busy concocting an alternative.

Britain's Best Home Cook

By Matthew Gormley @MatthewPGormley

It feels like Britain’s Best Home Cook has been a long time coming. Ever since the BBC lost the rights to The Great British Bake Off and it unceremoniously moved to Channel 4 without Mary Berry, who was arguably its biggest and most popular star, the Beeb have been busy concocting an alternative.

Having originally been announced last August, Britain’s Best Home Cook finally launched on BBC One last week. It’s a conglomeration of previously successful formats thrown together in the hope of creating a beast. Bake Off meets MasterChef, seasoned to taste with elements of The Apprentice. Oh, and the host of Strictly Come Dancing.

It’s a premise that wouldn’t win any points for originality. Cunningly, the Beeb have tried their best to make it as much ‘the same, but different’ as Bake Off as they can possibly get away with. 10 of the nation’s best home cooks go head to head across 8 weeks. Each week they face three challenges, with one cook departing at the end of each episode. Sound familiar?

As the title suggests, this isn’t about nouvelle cuisine or fine dining, where a couple of chunks of meat are intricately placed in the middle of an otherwise empty plate, save for a drizzle of jus delicately swirled around the edge. It’s proper, hearty food served in the good, ol’ fashioned way.

Claudia Winkleman is your bemused and slightly irritating host and seems determined to convince everybody she’s BFFs with Mary Berry before the series is out. A single man alone couldn’t have replaced Paul Hollywood’s ego, so Mary has gained two fellow judges: award-winning chef Dan Doherty and produce expert Chris Bavin. Whilst a trio of critics seems like a case of too many cooks, they offer constructive criticism without the smugness of Mary’s former sparring partner.

Bizarrely, the opening episode saw the 10 contestants move in together, Apprentice-style. Quite why they all need to live under the same roof is beyond me. It’s a thinly-disguised attempt to create some unnecessary drama, as the rival cooks all discuss the day’s tasks over cups of coffee in the communal dining room. Despite this twee, country-house accommodation, the cooking takes place in a rather empty studio space. Each contestant has their own kitchen area, but it lacks character in comparison to the Bake Off tent. The odd piece of bunting might have gone a long way to brighten the place up a bit.

The contestants all compete against each other in the first two challenges. Round one is ‘The Ultimate’ round, where the cooks are tasked with the creating their very best version of a classic home cooked dish – their signature, as it very much were. We kicked off with ‘the ultimate burger’, but there was no plain old cheese and bacon. It may be home cooking, but this is still a competition and rustic presentation won’t do, as feeder-of-seven Fiona quickly found out. Basically, if it actually looks like it would at home, you’ve no chance.

Instead, there were spicy Indian-inspired burgers, a Moroccan lamb burger stuffed with mint and feta cheese and a wild boar burger with gorgonzola. Sides, of which there had to be two, included tempura battered prawns, sweet potatoes and coleslaw. 90 minutes to turn around a single burger somehow suggests this isn’t quite what you’d be cooking at six o’clock on a Wednesday evening.

At the end of the first round, the three judges select their favourite dish. The winner subsequently chooses the key ingredient for the next round – the Cooks Challenge. For cancer research technician Pippa, who won Mary, Chris and Dan over with her Asian shredded short-rib burger in a homemade bao bun (a new one on me), it was a choice of nuts or berries. The challenge for the cooks is to create a dish with the key ingredient at its core, using the selection of ingredients provided. Basically, it’s the Technical Challenge.

This unimaginatively titled round gave birth to a range of dishes, both savoury and sweet, with Swiss rolls seeming the most popular nut-based dish.

In the third and final round, the show dares to stray from the Bake Off brief for the first time. This is the elimination round. The judges choose the weakest contestants to compete against one another, challenging them to make a quick dish in 25 minutes. They’re given a tray of ingredients which can’t be replaced, so there’s no room for mistakes. Watching the judges locking eyes with the contestants whilst tasting their food in complete silence is rather unnerving.

Poached eggs and asparagus with hollandaise sauce proved too much for Fiona, who was the first to leave the competition following the equivalent of a cooking sudden death.

There’s something appealing about the familiarity of this show, and if you love good, home-cooked, unpretentious food then it’s a thoroughly enjoyable watch, if a little bland.

Given that we’ve already got The Big Family Cooking Showdown (which aired on BBC2 from August to November last year) by way of a Bake Off replacement, I can’t help but wonder why they bothered with another, inferior programme. The Cooking Showdown, hosted by Zoe Ball and Nadiya Hussain with Rosemary Shrager and Giorgio Locatelli as judges, was a more original concept which perfectly filled the Bake Off hole and deserved to be scheduled on BBC One.

Britain’s Best Home Cook continues on Thursday at 8:00pm on BBC One.