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The Big Family Cooking Showdown struck a formulaic, if occasionally absorbing, note - review

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 16/08/2017 By Michael Hogan
© Provided by The Telegraph

Welcome to the BBC’s post-Bake Off era. The Big Family Cooking Showdown (BBC Two) was the Corporation’s first attempt to replace the sweet-toothed smash hit, which debuts on new home Channel 4 in a fortnight. 

In a bid to fill the marquee-shaped hole in its schedules, the Beeb hasn’t looked far for inspiration. A cosy cookery contest airing midweek at 8pm, presented by two women, judged by a veteran female cook and a silver foxy fiftysomething man…. Sound familiar? No wonder one tabloid trilled “The oven gloves are off!” to whip up a GBBO vs BFCS rivalry.

Forget soggy bottoms and showstoppers. This 12-part contest was savoury rather than sweet and based around home-cooked family favourites. Each heat sees two clans go head-to-head to impress the judges: Michelin-starred Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli and matronly cookery teaching doyenne Rosemary Shrager. 

Challenges took place both in the family's own homes and the studio: a swish barn, kitted out in twee, shabby chic style to resemble something from a glossy interiors magazine. Proceedings were helmed by the ever-engaging Zoe Ball and former Bake Off champion Nadiya Hussain, just to hammer home the cakey connection.

The opening episode saw a culinary clash between the Marks family from Shepherd’s Bush and Bridlington’s Charles family. The Markses cooked Scandi-inspired dishes, helped - or more accurately, hindered - by 86-year-old grandmother Torin. This Swedish-born former fashion designer was a sheer joy: partial to gin and dancing around the kitchen, thrice married, with two boyfriends on the go. "

The Charleses were more consistent and made, said Locatelli, "one of the best risottos I've ever tasted". High praise indeed.

© Provided by The Telegraph

There was much to admire here. It was absorbingly paced and slickly produced, while the family dynamic lent instant warmth to the contestants’ interactions. The standout star was craggy-faced Locatelli, who loomed intimidatingly when anyone dared attempt Italian fare, then raved passionately about the results. Ball and Hussain were smiley, matey and sported a selection of printed blouses which will have female viewers Googling where to buy them.

However, the format also had its flaws. Forming emotional attachments to contestants, as Bake Off fans annually do, could be tricky. There are simply too many of them (a whopping 48, in fact) and we won't see the victorious Charleses again until October’s semi-final.

It lacked a little humour, mainly due to the fact that Ball and Hussain, unlike Mel and Sue, aren’t a long-established comedy duo. Bake Off-esque innuendo was deliberately avoided, even when meatballs were on the menu

Most of all, it felt formulaic. There were three rounds, just like Bake-Off. Everyone was kind, supportive and firmly middle-class, just like Bake-Off. Music swelled, fingers trembled and tension built as the clock counted down, just like Bake-Off. 

Maybe it’s the way with all cooking contests nowadays - MasterChef is much the same, only with more shouting - but it tasted rather reheated.

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