The BBC’s new cooking show is not a Bake Off replacement whatsoever – there are three challenges, getting progressively more challenging and ended with a showstopper (sorry I meant Impress the Neighbours but without any neighbours).
All joking aside, the premise of the show was to showcase the home cooks who cook extraordinary food in three challenges; firstly the families must cook a main dish for under £10 in 75 minutes; secondly the families will cook a main course and a dessert in 90 minutes; lastly the families must “Impress the Neighbours” with a starter and a main in 2 hours and 15 minutes.
The one person who shone through last night was the wonderful Torun from the Marks family; you can tell that she is a true matriarch of her family! Finding out a bit about the family when they cook in their own home as well as how they interact with each other whilst cooking is often reflected in their food; on the one hand you have the Marks’ who are proud of their Swedish heritage and then you have the Charles’ who are just very proud!
As we began to progress through the first challenge, I found myself hoping that the judges wouldn’t mention anything about the presentation of the dish – which they did in all 3. I believe that when it comes to family cooking, the presentation is a completely insignificant matter because family cooking doesn’t always have to look great; the taste and flavour is far the superior trait. So what if the pastry on your apple pie is a bit burnt, you can just cover it in custard; so what if the posset doesn’t have a disc of caramelised mango on it, it will still be tasty!
We had mentions of presentation and then came a whole lot of pretentiousness – let’s talk crispy chicken skin, pear and carrot crisps and fish stock.
I have done crispy chicken skin before on a bit of a whim because I was deskinning some chicken thighs to put into a marinade and didn’t want to waste it. I wouldn’t purposely get chicken skin to garnish a dish and I felt like the Charles’ were doing this simply to curry a bit of f(l)avour – I am amazed at how this pun works considering what they cooked at home for their main!
I associate crispy chicken skin with MasterChef when they try to show off for the former finalists! And that’s the same thing with the pear and carrot crisps, it’s just a bit show-off for me and not the sort of thing people cook at home every day. I wish Rosemary wouldn’t have criticised the Marks’ for using a fish stock cube; in a timed challenge and in the real world, many people wouldn’t make their own fish stock because frankly most people don’t have the time.
And that’s where I began to question the show. It became slightly apparent that the show was becoming a bit like a MasterChef quarterfinal with a few extra family members thrown in (and the brilliant Zoe Ball and Nadiya Hussain!). While, yes, the programme is meant to showcase the extraordinary home cooks, I can’t help but feel this format doesn’t really work all that well with the name of the show and I feel it’s a bit confused.
Giorgio Locatelli said that “the most important thing is to see them cooking with joy” and that’s family cooking should be; stressing over a time limit and whether their ravioli is cooked through is not joyous. Seeing Torun’s speak so fondly about her love of cardamom, that is the joy that cooking brings. I wish that was highlighted more in the show, I felt we didn’t get enough of that.
I also wanted to see more rustic food, the comfort foods that our mothers cook for us; where were the stews, the casseroles, the pies or the pasta bakes? I don’t associate family cooking with the seafood bisques , the fennel risottos and the pear crisps. I wanted to see a challenge where we saw the family’s interpretation of a classic family dish such as a spaghetti Bolognese, a bread and butter pudding or a roast chicken dinner, all of which are different for every family and could be greatly influenced by family heritage.
Maybe they could even do a MasterChef style invention challenge where they have to create a dish using up leftovers or things from a half empty fridge and a few cans, something which many families have to (and sometimes struggle) to do – this could certainly inspire viewers at home to give it a try! And if you’re going to do a challenge involving money, let’s make the budget tight to show people what you rustle up in the kitchen for very little money so we avoid things like fennel risotto with parmesan crisps!
Despite my initial bugbears with The Big Family Cooking Showdown, the mere mention of “Brussel sprouts do not belong on pizza” at the end of the show is getting me to tune in next week and probably for the rest of the series. Characters such as Torun are rare to find on TV these days and they make the show a joy to watch and the selection of hosts and judges are second to none! I did enjoy watching the show and the food they cooked was stunning (I mean Torun’s apple crumble and Betty’s mango posset both looked so tasty!). It was a refreshing light show which was warm and in good taste, even if it was a bit slow for me at times.
As a food blogger, I do obsess with getting the perfect photo of my food, the appearance is not the most important thing when it comes to food, it’s the taste and flavour and I wish this was highlighted on a show about family cooking; I think the focus from the judges was slightly off. The premise of the show, while sound, is flawed by the fact that the challenges and judging demand the families to cook dishes which aren’t everyday dishes and use techniques which aren’t everyday techniques either such as making your own fish stock.
But also well done to these families because I know that mine would not be like that all cooking one menu together at the same time!
Comment down below about what you think of The Big Family Cooking Showdown. I would love to hear your thoughts!
Images taken from the BBC and Buzzfeed.