Britain is in even more trouble than we thought, judging by Mary Berry's new cooking show. Calum Henderson samples it.
Mary Berry, the television personality formerly known as "the Queen of Baking", has had a change of title. Arise, "the Queen of Home Cooking", which is how she was introduced on Britain's Best Home Cook, the BBC's baffling attempt at recreating the magic of The Great British Bake Off following its great 2017 network shift.
The far broader culinary scope doesn't do the format many favours. Contestant Trevor, a farmer who self-described as "an ingredients-led cook", laid out the show's biggest flaw during Wednesday night's series premiere when he couldn't decide whether to make a pecan pie or a chicken korma for a dish in which nuts were supposed to be the star ingredient.
His eventual korma, served with potatoes instead of rice, mingled uneasily with Chinese egg noodles, a butter chicken and three different types of swiss roll on the judging table. You shudder to think what that kind of medley would do to a judge's guts – Berry had the right idea, tasting only the tiniest forkful of each.
Her fellow judges were less cautious. There was Chris Bavin, "the King of Produce" – a low-ranking member of the food monarchy if ever there was one, like an obscure royal you only ever see at weddings or funerals. Dan Doherty didn't even have a title, merely described as an "award-winning chef". Host Claudia Winkleman, doing a job usually performed by two people, tried hard to get either of them to say anything remotely interesting but predictably it fell to Berry to do most of the heavy lifting.
"You've made an absolutely beautiful swiss roll sponge," she told Katie, which was enough to make the Welsh mum burst into tears. Whizz kid Pippa's winning beef short rib burger on a bao bun was "sheer brilliance". When told how Josie was making a prawn and minced beef patty for her burger, she said it all in a single word: "Really?"
If these are 10 of Britain's best home cooks, then it seems Britain is in even more trouble than we thought. Watching the elimination challenge, in which the bottom four had to make asparagus, poached egg and hollandaise on toasted sourdough, Pippa confessed: "I've never made hollandaise." Katie went one better: "I can't poach eggs." The 10 of them are all dossing down in a big mansion for the duration of the show. "There has been a lot of talk about food so far," a surprised sounding Tobi reported after the first night.
The elimination dishes, for some reason, were tasted without comment by the judges – just thirty seconds or so of very serious, near-silent chewing. It was all a bit of a shambles, really, and the harder it tried to pull off the trademark whimsy of Bake Off, the more it felt like a revived Ready Steady Cook.
"That was quite weird with the tasting with no words," Winkleman whispered once it was over. Almost as weird as seeing Berry eating a burger – 10 burgers, one tiny mouthful at a time.
• Britain's Best Home Cook screens on Wednesdays, 7.30pm, TVNZ 1.