There are so many great food and food-related shows on television at the moment. I love Anthony Bourdain's shows. I have enjoyed shows featuring Jamie Oliver, Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson, Heston Blumenthal. And I love Australian Masterchef, even if I am significantly less keen on the New Zealand version. But the one food show that I enjoy more than any other is not one that I find all that appetising, or inspiring, or even all that good. It is actually kind of ghastly. Quite awful, in fact.
It is the British Come Dine With Me. And, while I have no idea what time it is actually on, it almost always seems to be on. So, with all due respect to Chris Philpott's (excellent) On The Box blog, I feel the need to share with you my love for this most unlovely of television shows.
Picture this, if you will; four strangers go to each other's houses on consecutive nights, giving each other a score out of ten, with the winner receiving £1,000. They are not necessarily good cooks. At least one of them is likely to be a complete moron, one a raging egotist, one a bit kooky-loopy, and the other one, perhaps, quite nice. They are unlikely to have very much in common, which is an essential ingredient in the sort of culinary class warfare that invariably ensues. They poke around in each other's houses, they bitch about each other to the camera, sometimes they flirt, drunkenly. They cook some genuinely demented and ill-judged food. It is train-smash compelling. It is loathesome. I dig it.
Doesn't it already sound like a recipe for and from hell? It is total formula TV, but for me it is a winning formula. I love it. I find it totally compelling. And we haven't even mentioned the narrator yet...
Dave Lamb is his name. He is a British comedian and actor who has been doing voiceovers for the show since it began, in 2005. He is the omniscient, all-seeing eye who says about the contestants what they are too polite (or sober) to say to each other, and what they are too lacking in self-awareness to say about themselves. I find him absolutely hilarious. He admits that while he used to ad lib a lot in the early days, the show's writers are now very good at capturing its gris(t)ly essence. He uses the word "ruddy" a lot, as he is forbidden from swearing.
Anyway, take the episode I watched this weekend just past - the delusional idiot fool taken by a radio DJ called Rick Vaughn, who is a bit like The Office's David Brent, only less charming. There is a woman who is desperately keen for the others to share her belief in, and love of, fairies. There is a silly old duffer who lists one of his many occupations as life coach, although I'm not sure how keen I would be on taking life coaching from a man who admits to over three hundred thousand pounds worth of debt. And there is a brassy redhead who, whilst claiming to be "an ordinary girl from Birkenhead", has "married well" and is "comfortably off" living in a house with a lap pool, fountain and home cinema. An appealing mix of personalities and demographics, who would have had no other reason ever to meet. There is lots of prickliness, lots of snide remarks, some decent, and, mostly, some truly wretched food (the "Baked Alaska" being my pick of the bunch). And at the end of it, they all seem to have rather enjoyed the experience.
And whilst I loathe the idea of hosting strangers at my house and having to cook for them, and, perhaps worse, going to their place to eat is enough to bring me out in a cold sweat, watching it on television is peculiarly riveting. The show has been remade in South Africa and Ireland, but I reckon there is something gloriously British about the original. About Dave Lamb's hilarious commentary, about that uniquely British knack for digging it in and getting along, or, alternatively, drawing the long knives and really laying into each other.
I know that it is bad. I know that it is rotting my brain. I know I'm not learning anything from it. But blow me if I don't find it to be the most compellingly bad food show on TV.
Come Dine With Me - are you a fan? Come on, 'fess up. It's horrid, but it's great as well. Or do you just absolutely hate it? And what other spuriously food-themed shows do you love/hate?
Photograph by Peggy Greb
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