Reality TV - Boo. Another cooking programme - Boo. The death of culture - well no actually, it's really rather enjoyable, sorry. I don't know why it works but it does. Come Dine With Me is on Channel 4 and the basic premise is that five amateur chefs cook for each other over the course of the week, award each other marks for the evening and the winner gets £1000. The word amateur is what worried me, why would I want to watch ordinary people cooking a three course meal, especially when I consider myself a bit of a gourmand. Well, food is just one of the elements of the programme, what seems far more important is the actual hosting and that of course brings one of our national obsessions into play: class.
Oh yes, those clever programme makers have carefully selected their contestants of course and assembled a mixture of ingredients which they hope will combine into a heady stew of tasty TV (no more cooking metaphors I promise). This isn't like Holiday Showdown where two families generally try their hardest to argue and ruin a perfectly good holiday with each others prejudices, this a far more subtle and nuanced affair. First of all you have the dilemma of the host: what to cook, how to impress, what does a vegan eat (there always seems to be one contestant with special dietary needs). But the fun really starts when the guests arrive, usually as the host is still making final preparations, and start to snoop about the house. This is where we start to hear the clash of the social strata and it is often amazing to see people literally prepared to search for the skeletons in the closet. As the week develops the contestants begin to learn more and more about each other and it is fascinating to see them grapple with their first impressions and gradually get a better idea of their guests. Let's not pretend that this is a social experiment but rather than endure watching celebrity wannabees whore themselves for 5 months in the Big Brother house just spend 5 days eating dinner with some starngers and you'll learn all you need to about the people of Britain. The class thing always seems to reflect badly on those looking down. You only sound prissy when you complain that the bread was served in a chipped pyrex dish, and you just sound ignorant when you call mutton 'peasant food'.
Many contestants make the mistake of thinking that if they get everyone drunk enough then the high marks will flood in. This is a particularly bad ploy if you are cooking later in the week and tensions have already begun to build as we all know that a little too much vino in those circumstances and all hell can break loose. We have already seen one host reduced to tears as her guests had a truth telling session. We have also seen the odd stirring of lust but the first fully fledged Come Dine With Me romance has yet to bloom (unless I've missed it). The marking is interesting of course and we have already had our first scandal where one particularly repugnant contestant, Isabella, decided that she would mark everybody with either 1, 2 or 3 out of 10 so as to walk away with a grand. Boo. She was rumbled naturally and forced to mark again which thankfully lead to her coming second. Hooray.
You see, I find myself caring about who gets the £1000. After all the effort expended in the kitchen and the theatre of what happens at the table you want to see justice done. I should also mention that the programme has one of the finest purveyors of the sarcastic voice over in Dave Lamb. It's worth watching just for his withering comments alone. If your week's too busy then you can watch an omnibus on Sunday, what more could you ask for?