My first thought watching the opening credits was, have they dickered about with the theme tune, making it sound like some Star Wars ripoff? My second was, ‘Ooh goody, here’s Gordon Ramsay,’ anticipating some mega-shouting upcoming, the sort that would make Marcus Wareing (before he shape shifted into a ‘Nice Guy’) wobble in jealousy more than the damn panacottas he yarps on about endlessly.
In this iteration, the first heat starts with nine hopefuls who’ll be whittled down to two by the end of the week. This is an improvement, as there was nothing so irksome as watching someone being needlessly offed from a round of supremos, while a duffers round had someone inferior go through simply because of the strictures of the format. With each new face, we’re treated to a little snapshot from their younger days. That’s nice and all, but this isn’t Bake Off. We’re here to see cooking, not how little Eddie emerged from the womb clutching a pestle and mortar, goddamit.
‘We’re doing something different,’ announced Torode (Toady) and Wallace (Shrek) proudly. I sighed inwardly, thinking what are ‘we’ attempting today? Welding? No, they make their signature dish (another Bake Off rip-off term) in the kitchen, then take it through to the judges in a brand new tasting room so wood-saturated it resembles a Swedish sauna, albeit with a few extra whisks.
‘We won’t be watching them prepare the dish,’ marvels Shrek. Excellent. I’m glad he understands how walls work. Good for the contestants, as the gurnometer of Shrek is off-putting indeed. Bad for us, as they stand there pontificating about what the dish might be. ‘The top three go through, the remaining six cook off for the last four places,’ announces Shrek, holding up his fingers so he understands what ‘four’ is.
Instead of Toad ‘n’ Shrek prowling about pointlessly, you have the next batch of three contestants in a circle on bar stools, watching the first three cook. They look a bit uncomfortable, as if they’re at a kid’s party where they haven’t had the rules explained. They call out things to their rivals, such as, ‘I hope you trip up as you make your way through the inexplicably unopened door!’ Joking!
I think the producers looked at Bake Off and realised a certain human touch is missing. Trouble is, Bake Off sensibly divides their quartet into knowledgeable judges and banterers. Here we have just one with knowledge, a large egg, and banter in short supply. To add to the oddity, a faceless voice tells contestants how long they’ve got.
So, onto the tasting and we were barely a third of the way through when we had Shrek’s first ‘amachur’, followed hot on his heels by a ‘yo-gurt’ from Toad. The most memorable person was slightly alarming Pookie with her ‘Seabed’. ‘I want more food and less shells,’ announced Shrek. Yes, you’ve only had nine dishes to wrap your unfeasibly large gob around, it must be a stretch. She created something equally outlandish in the second round and got through. ‘Pookie has landed in Masterchef’ she announced. Indeed. Turn left for Narnia…
Give me the quiet graft of Glaswegian Lisa any day, who missed the first cut by a whisker. Pleasingly they actually said this, because another frequently irritating occurrence is a first round ‘near miss’ contestant messing up the second and being eliminated without knowing how close they were. She made a billion things versus some of the others two and modestly said it would show her kids that if you knuckled down you could achieve. She didn’t make the end of the week sadly, the first of many travesties, no doubt.
Next up was the Market Challenge or ‘Mahhhhhhhket as Language-According-To-Toady would have it. Eddie, (or Mini-Hagrid as I like to call him, with locks that would make Shrek gnash his teeth in rage) and Rishi the dazzlingly toothed vegetarian dentist left the ladies standing.
Tom Posh Boy, sorry Parker-Bowles, did the royal patronage over their food. He managed not to flinch as Lisa mentioned her wife, and earnestly said he hadn’t imagined contestants’ dishes of their best holiday being ‘somewhere like Scotland, but why not a staycation?’ Yes, tactfulness indeed when Lisa’s just said Covid hit her small business hard. Pookie continued to talk about herself in the third person and Mini-Hagrid created a rock band when Shrek was expecting a classical concert. He made a fish stew, Shrek. Turn left for the Albert Hall.
Mini-Hagrid sailed through the last round of the week, as Irini the 2019 champ declared, ‘I want him to come with me home.’ Laura’s wasn’t spicy enough, a continual gripe Toad ‘n’ Shrek have, leading me to wonder why contestants don’t just shove a bottle of Reggae Reggae sauce in their hands. Pookie’s crème brûlée was a bit ropey but her ‘necklace with beef’ was enough to see her progress. Did anyone see Lady Gaga in the vicinity?