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Jamie Oliver’s ‘Great Cookbook Challenge’ Arrives at a Crossroads

With the initial pitches done, the series must now dig deeper into the publishing process

Jamie Oliver shows off one of his cookbooks in 2017.
Lex van Lieshout/AFP via Getty Images

The Great Cookbook Challenge With Jamie Oliver is the TV chef’s newest show on Channel 4, in which budding cookbook authors compete to win a deal with his publisher, Penguin Michael Joseph. They must impress Masterchef judge and Evening Standard critic Jimi Famurewa; PMJ managing director Louise Moore; and Taverna cookbook author Georgina Hayden. Here’s how the third episode went down.

Jamie Oliver comes face to face with an old foe

Contestant Zena’s recipe for a Thai green curry brought presenter Jamie down to earth. In the face of its paste using a solid twenty chillies, Oliver said “wow, okay!” doubtless remembering the roasting his own received from Nigel Ng’s Uncle Roger. And aside from the curse of the word “authentic,” Zena’s idea is one of the strongest of the series: a book that tells cooks to riff after they’ve respected the identity and culture at the heart of a given dish, by presenting a deeply researched recipe alongside some jumping-off “twists” inspired by that recipe.

Won’t someone think of the chefs, no really this time

For the third time in three weeks, a contestant ran afoul of being too “cheffy,” despite there being an awful lot of restaurant cookbooks. On this occasion, it was ingredient cost and availability were the concerns, both of which are important considerations for the mass market audience that the show appears to want to target. That doesn’t make it any less disappointing that a dish containing ingredients easy to find either online or in international supermarkets is immediately deemed a problem.

How does the series evolve from here?

It’s now got its six finalists, with cookbook concepts that might not yet be finished, but whose initial ideas have convinced. One of them will leave with a cookbook deal, atypically boosted by the clout of Jamie Oliver and winning a TV show (the benefits of which make the show’s incessant focus on selling, selling, selling ring a little hollow — surely a book with this backing can go beyond what publishers normally want?)

It’s now that The Great Cookbook Challenge faces one of its biggest challenges, akin to that of the authors whose careers it hopes to launch. It’s made a first impression — but how far can an initial idea take it? Are the nuts-and-bolts of cookbook publishing conducive to good television? Check back to find out.