I was doing some basic market research on television shows so called my expert, Howard Weaver; where the rest of us write down “one-ounce alcohol/day/week" on our doctor forms, Howard writes down “one-hour television/week/month.”
Me: What are you watching these days?
HW: The Great British Bake Off.
Me: Say again?
HW: It’s a BBC cooking show, where all they do is bake.
Me: You’re telling me The Beeb greenlighted a show where arguably the worst cuisine in the First World is center stage… I thought “British chef” was an oxymoron.
HW: Not anymore.. in fact, one of the judges is the well-known English chef Paul Hollywood.
Me: [pause] Well known to whom? Hey...are you grinding your own coffee again? Maybe not adding enough water to the press… letting it sit just a little too long and then nuking it?
HW: No, it’s a well-done show — the last one I watched did a spotted dick pudding with a creamy vanilla custard sauce.
Me: Geez Weav… don’t say that kind of stuff over the telephone, it sounds like code for something that’ll get us 5 years in a Fed Pen.
HW: You should take a look, you’ll be surprised.
I had no doubt I was going to be surprised, but in the same way as when your plumber calls and says, “Are you sitting down because I’m at your house and can’t.”
So, alack and alas, The Great British Bake Off is everything Howard said it would be… and more. Turns out to be real people from all walks of life in Britain, competing to be Britain's Best Baker. And there’s no faked tension between the contestants like you see on American cooking shows and none of the judges are shouting at anyone and pretty much everyone seems sane and having a good time without swearing at each other. What a stupid reality formula, right? Can't last... unless you count the 7 years it's already been on. Worse, now I’m hooked on it.
The judges are Paul Hollywood (got to be a stage name, right?) who seems completely normal; his sidekick is Mary Berry (come on, THAT’S got to be made up for a baker) whose claim to fame is cake queen of England (I just made that up, but she’s a caker… I made that up, too).
Two things you need to know before diving into this one: a) no one on the show — judges or contestants — can pronounce words in a manner you will recognize, e.g., “con-TRAH-ver-see” “frus-TRAY-ted” “boo-ter” (butter) and b) there are both dishes and ingredients that no mortal in the Colonies has ever heard of, so you often have no idea what's going to pop out of the oven.
And they do some oddly British things: the judges called for a suet brioche but in the spirit of The Empire (I guess) allowed a vegetarian version (for those of you not from a cold climate, “suet” is beef fat from around the kidney and is largely used in the US as winter bird food). This struck me as having a rib eye grilling contest and allowing a soy bean casserole to compete.
But, as we all know, that’s why we revolted… we didn’t like their expensive tea and gluten free soy beans were already on the boats headed for Boston. Looking for some Fake News… GOT SOME!
The GBBO is a fun hour, completely G rated (no bleeps on The Beeb) and charming beyond this era of television. It’s worth a watch just to prove to yourself that reality contestants do NOT have to be the worst of the auditioning herd… it would be fun to have coffee with any of them.
And, my apologies to Howard for what I was thinking about this show and his spotted dick. [Don't lie, you were just waiting for that.]