Creator and writer of some of New Zealand’s best television drama and comedy

One of the immutable laws of television is that there can never be too many cooking shows. This is why, in this year's iteration of my annual quest to find that popular competition/reality-based format that will whet the appetite of the networks who crave this sort of stuff, I have gone to the kitchen for inspiration. Also it fits on with the theme of this issue of Canvas and makes me look like a team player.

Guess Who's Coming For Dinner is loosely based on the 1967 Sidney Poitier/Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn film in that it shares the same name. My version, rather than being about race relations, is about a group of people around a table who have to guess the identity of the final dinner guest. The show is hosted by someone who is famous for winning another cooking show, who is busy cooking dinner at the time so can only answer "yes" or "no" to their questions. Sometimes, when the guest is a celebrity like Paul Henry, the guessing part will be relatively easy; but other times the guest will be a random person off the street whom no one has ever heard of, which will make things much trickier. Only when the identity of the guest is guessed will anyone get anything to eat.

Tem's Hangipants is a series that combines good old-fashioned stick-it-in-the-ground cooking with good old-fashioned entertainment. Each episode starts with host Temuera Morrison and his guest putting down a hangi. After the hard work is done, there are several hours of Tem and the guest singing and performing amusing comedy sketches before they tuck into the hangi food. Simple, effective food-based entertainment TV with the added bonus of seeing Kiri Te Kanawa on the end of a shovel.

Hammer And Tongs combines a cooking show with a home renovation show with a political talk-show. Each week, in the back-yard of a typical Kiwi home, two politicians will face off on the issue of the day. One of them will be manning (or womanning) the barbecue, cooking up the snarlers and steak and waving the tongs round to make their point. Meanwhile, the other politician will be engaged in a home renovation task like building a pergola, wielding a hammer for emphasis. The show will be hosted by Susan Wood, who will not only ask the questions but also pop inside from time to time to bring out refreshing beverages and insect repellent.


My Kannibal Rules is self-explanatory. Two teams on an island with no source of food other than each other. Each team has only a restaurant-grade kitchen and whatever herbs and spices they can forage to create the dishes upon which their survival (literally) depends. Possibly at the extreme end of the cooking show genre, but with the proliferation of cable TV, there is probably a niche market somewhere - or a Hollywood movie franchise.

The Food-Guilt Truck features a bunch of self-righteous food and diet experts who drive around in a truck and randomly burst into everyday family homes at dinner-time. Once inside, the experts will then criticise what the family are eating and berate them for their food choices. Some weeks the abuse will be about the dietary shortcomings of the food; other weeks it will be about the ecological devastation and/or human suffering caused in the process of growing/harvesting/fishing/slaughtering the foodstuffs in order to get them to the plate. Only when the family cry actual tears of remorse will the self-righteous experts climb back in their truck and drive away.

Gordon Ramsay's You Can't &%$#*% Cook, You Loser is another in the random intrusion sub-genre of food shows. In this show Ramsay bursts into a family home while they're trying to cook dinner and harangues whoever is on cooking duty for their lack of culinary expertise. The aim of the show is either to improve people's gastronomic skills or for someone to stab Gordon Ramsay with a paring knife. Either result will be acceptable.
In Celebrity Cupboards Mike Hosking will go through the kitchen cupboards of someone less famous than him and sneer at the contents. The point of the show is less about food and cooking and more about reaffirming that Hosking is superior to everyone.

Finally, on this all-you-can eat smorgasbord of epicurean TV is The Next Food Fad, in which celebrity chefs battle to turn something we normally wouldn't put into our mouths into the next kale, the next sundried tomato. See Al Brown coddle his bull testicles; watch Michael Meredith do amazing things with slug slime; be astounded at what Simon Gault can do with the humble possum liver.

So bon appetit, cooking TV producers of Aotearoa; dig in to this assiette of genius ideas. I await your calls.