Have you ever felt nervous at the prospect of friends coming over to dinner, wondering whether your cooking will be up to scratch? Now imagine doing the same with four complete strangers coming to dinner.
Welcome to the marvellous world of Come Dine with Me, surely the most under-rated of TV’s numerous food programmes. It is a hidden gem in Channel 4’s daytime schedule.
Some may moan about yet another cookery show, but that misses the point. Come Dine with Me is not just another dreary cookery show. It is more about how best to throw a dinner party and how a diverse group of people interact with each other.
Every week five contestants take turns to host, with the other four contestants as the guests. Each party is marked out of ten by the guests, and the person with the most points at the end of the week wins £1,000.
At this point you may be wondering what the fuss is all about – surely it’s just a reality show operating on a limited budget? Well, the genius of the production team lies in their ability to dredge up some truly remarkable contestants. They seem to fall into four broad categories:
* The dynamic young executive, keen to impress with his – and believe me, it is always a man – knowledge of classic French food and the fine wines of the Bordeaux region
* The geezer who can turn out a mean chilli and who tries to convince his guests he is a good host by plying them with enough cheap lager to sink a battleship
* The person so fond of a country’s cuisine that they insist on making everyone eat in an appropriate style, ie preparing a Moroccan meal to be eaten sitting on scattered cushions with a belly dancer for entertainment and a hookah pipe for afters
* The fairly competent chef who enjoys cooking for friends but finds the pressure of being appraised by strangers a bit too much and who hits the cooking sherry
Here’s some of my favourite moments: the boozy old fella who drunk so much that by the time he came to make crepes suzette for dessert he couldn’t tell that he was using a green liqueur instead of orange – they didn’t look too appetising; the socially inept woman who refused to let a woman in her house as she’d arrived 15 minutes early; and the insane woman who hated puddings but who insisted on trying them, and then when she didn’t like the first mouthful, spitting it out and putting it in her handbag.
Let loose in each other’s houses the contestants invariably show a childlike glee in snooping around, generally behaving like the worst sort of house guest imaginable. That is why I love Come Dine with Me, it’s almost like a social experiment, forcing people to mix with other obnoxious people to see how they cope. Occasionally there is even someone who can cook a decent meal.