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 sixth episode went down.
Cook and chat
The first test for the four semi-finalists was the chop-and-chat, site of some of British television’s greatest moments. Dominique, Ian, Zera, and Rex had 15 minutes on camera with Jamie Oliver to not just cook — or in some cases, finish — a dish, but to really sell the idea of their cookbook. No-one was left saying that if there grandmother had wheels, she would have been a bike...
... But the challenge highlighted how this show is as much a media challenge as a cookbook one. Not every and indeed very few cookbook authors will achieve the fame necessary to ever have to appear on a TV show, but the winner of a competition hosted by Jamie Oliver? They definitely will. All four did well on the dishes, with Ian’s deadpan sense of humour coming across on screen more than any other episode.
USP! USP! USP! USP! U ... SP?
Last week, this writer finally reached something of a verdict on why The Great Cookbook Challenge works without feeling like a particularly fulfilling show:
Perhaps this is an accurate portrayal of a cookbook industry that sticks to its statuses quo and asks authors to be accessible, unique, and remarkable all that once, individual avatars for entire cuisines they could never really hope to understand. But then that asks bigger questions the show can never answer: is that a cookbook industry people should want?
The final three are Dominique, with a book for people looking to start using “Asian flavours,”; Rex, with an introduction to Filipino food; and Ian, the “skint roofer” with recipes on a budget. The contestant to leave was Zena, whose book offered both faithful recipes for international classics and twists on each one (the idea being that you can break the rules after you learn them.) She went home because, Moore said, the judges didn’t quite “get” her USP, even though her idea was the most singular of the four. The reality is that the other three ideas are easier to understand at large, and will therefore be more likely to sell.
It’s not really fair to criticise a show that was shown it is overly commercial from day one and aims to be so for being overly commercial, but again: Is that a cookbook industry people want?