At the moment there are so many UK TV food shows that are compelling enough to watch that it’s hard to find time for them all. Thank goodness for DVRs and torrents. Here’s a rundown, in no particular order of preference - all of them are worth watching for different reasons, and most are far better than almost anything that U.S. TV has to offer at the moment.
- The Restaurant: If you ever saw the Australian reality show My Restaurant Rules, this BBC2 show’s format should be familiar. Nine couples compete against each other running real restaurants. The ultimate prize is a real restaurant, which will be part of two-star Michelin chef Raymond Blanc’s empire. I did see most of season one of My Restaurant Rules a couple of years ago, and I think the editing and challenge format for The Restaurant is a lot better. And Raymond Blanc is a fair yet stern taskmaster. (His inspectors are pretty harsh…especially the woman.) This show airs two hour-long episodes per week plus a “You’re Fried” show (get it….you’re fried…) in the style of The Apprentice. (show link ) [Edit: This show gets better and better!]
- Hell’s Kitchen UK, season 3: Hell’s Kitchen originated in the UK, with Gordon Ramsay. It’s different from the US show though since it airs every day for a couple of weeks. It also, unfortunately, uses hapless B and C-list celebrities as the amateur chef wannabes. However, it’s worth watching because the head chef for this season is the legendary Marco Pierre White - the guy that allegedly made Gordon Ramsay cry and Mario Battali wet his pants (or something like that). I watched the first episode last night, and while the celebrity-chefwannabes were as lame and annoying as I thought they’d be, the chef, or Marco as he wants to be addressed, was quite compelling to watch. He looks like an aging, battered rock star, he doesn’t swear nearly as much as Ramsay does, and he’s very scary. (show link ) [Edit: Unfortunately, Hell’s Kitchen deteriorated rapidly into the realm of Celebrity Big Brother and other such silly shows centered around ‘celebrities’. ]
- Nigella Express: The Domestic Goddess is back with another series of food porn on BBC2. This time it’s quickly prepared food porn! A must for Nigella fans, and of course there’s a book to go with the series. Watch Nigella balance a plate of saucy pork chops and gnocchi on her lap while sitting on her sofa! (show link )
- Kitchen Criminals: Another BBC2 reality show, the premise of this one is that two top chefs, Angela Hartnett and John Burton Race, attempt to train two teams of totally inept cooks to prepare restaurant quality food. This one is actually in its last week I think (or maybe there is another week), but I just caught up on it. It’s much more fun than it might sound, and the recipes are quite nice and doable. (show link )
- Cook Yourself Thin: At first I was wary of this Channel 4 show, which promises that you will ‘drop a dress size in six weeks’ while cooking the way four female food professionals (a chef, a food writer, and I forget what the other two do) with posh boarding school accents and nicknames to match (Harry, Gizzi, Sal and Sophie) do. The for ladies have the ability to stay reasonably svelte (sizes 10 to 14) and also cook while dressed for nightclubbing. It’s awfully girly and cutesy in a somewhat tacky way. However the women actually do make some very tasty looking food, and offer lots of good calorie-cutting ideas. I am almost tempted to buy the ubiquitous companion book .(show link )
- Finally, two shows that have finishes airing (but I just recently finished catching up on with my DVR) are Indian Food Made Easy and Rick Stein’s Mediterranean Escapes, both on BBC2. Indian Food Made Easy (show link ), presented by food writer (and, well, total Yummy Mummy) Anjum Anand, was terrific with a light, modern take on various Indian classics, and Rick Stein’s latest show was as usual a terrific mix of travel, people and great food. I did buy the Indian Food book , and it’s quite nice though a bit on the slim side. (You could just get by with the online recipes).
I guess I should say something here about high profile starred chefs like Raymond Blanc, Marco Pierre White, Angela Hartnett and John Burton Race appearing on reality food shows. (Rick Stein is also a high profile chef and restauranteur, but he’s been presenting food shows for years now and is a real pro doing it.) But I guess we should be resigned to the fact that chefs are now rock stars, and that some of them love, maybe just need, the exposure they get on the small screen. And to give them credit, all of them do pretty well there.