I don’t believe I need reiterate my hopeless devotion to The Great British Bake Off. Like Adele, even its blockbusting, world-beating success cannot wither my love. It’s bigger than all of us. And yet, it retains its ancient charm: the marquee, the repartee, the good-natured competition, the squirrels, the judgely dynamic, Mel and Sue, the puns, the fun, and, at the end of the day, its joy of baking. The frangipane franchise’s latest and first conceptually apart Great British Spin Off is with us, Bake Off: Creme de la Creme (BBC One), and it’s soured before it’s started. I actually fast-forwarded the first show to the end, just in case there was a delicate hidden layer of fondant pleasure to be had from the stupid confectionery skyscraper round. There wasn’t.
It’s held in a stately home. Already, this is less welcoming than a tent. (By the way, I understand that it’s not the Bake Off, but Masterchef seems more than capable of extending its brand without – usually – tainting it. I currently subscribe to three versions of it, and that’s a big commitment.) Secondly, Tom Kerridge, a TV chef I’ve long been drawn to for his Gl0ucestershire twang, his odes to eating, and his achievable gastropub style, is not yet ready to host an arena-style TV show. Talking us through his recipes over the kitchen table, one on one, as it were, no problem. But he lacks the authority and the shirt of an actual presenter. (Did he think this was just a run-through? Surely a producer could have nudged him towards trousers?) Thirdly, the judges, who claim to have reached the top in pastry by cooking “from the heart”, but who come across as superior and nit-picky and entirely free of “heart”. I suppose that comes with the territory – it’s Bake Off: The Professionals by a sillier name – but it’s the show’s downfall.
There is nobody to love, or to root for in this contest. The three teams of three top desserters have nothing but contempt for their competitors. They are in it to win it. When the first round of trays were presented to our unsavoury judges, subtitles allowed us to hear the bitchy comments from the other cooks. (I will not be the first to make comparisons with The Apprentice.) One particularly arrogant gentleman with sticky-up grey hair and “30 fucking years” in pastry, swore twice, lowering the tone further with each “****”. While the Bake Off – and I know it’s not the Bake Off! – runs on a rare, renewable energy of niceness and neighbourliness and lending each other a cup of raising agent, Creme de la Creme is Thatcherite in its sense of cutthroat competition, and should be held in the City, for people who work in the City and still wave wads of banknotes around. That one of the teams comes from a firm that caters privately for City oligarchs who can afford not to fraternise with the wider populace says it all. We are the wider populace; they are literally not for the likes of us.
If this entire show was an elaborate hoax set up by a psychology department to see if a pastry chef would actually kill another pastry chef in order to win a cake-off, I’d find it easier to understand. (By the way, the subtitling was woefully inconsistent: the English-speaking cooks were subtitled when they whispered nasty things to each other, but not the French judge, or the one from Singapore, or the Scottish team captain, all of them literally incomprehensible at points.)
It’s a show about food. It should be mouth-watering. It should be moreish. It’s not. It should make you want to cook. It does not. Because the endless identical rows of laser-guided concoctions of preening silliness do not make you hungry. (Or at least, they only make you hungry for an M&S-bought fancy out of a box.) Who wants to watch a competition that involves metal rulers and, at one stage, a piece of cutting equipment that looked surgical by nature. I don’t watch Bake Off – and I know it’s not the Bake Off – to be reminded of David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers.
I shan’t be watching this show again. Mean-spirited contestants making stupid food that is judged numerically, like ice dancing? It stuck in my throat.