The first of a series of guest posts by all sorts of people – the only rule being they have to write about what regularly captures their attention on TV. It can be their fave mainstream hit, their dirty little secret, or something you’ve never even heard of – but it has to be something they’re passionate about. The delightful Wendy Harmer kicks off with her comparative critique of the various international incarnations of Come Dine With Me.
I’ve spent more time than any sane person should imagining what I’d cook if I was on Come Dine With Me and that’s because you’d have to be delusional to think anyone comes out of it smelling like… well, a fluffy lemon soufflé.
You’re more likely to come across as an incinerated pancake with curdled custard.
I love the show to bits and think I’ve watched every episode of all the UK, Australian, Canadian and now South African franchises. That must be hundreds of hours of it by now. And I can’t stop watching.
I’m sure you know the premise: a group of strangers come for dinner in each other’s homes and are scored in secret on their hosting and culinary efforts. Highest score at the end of the week wins the prize.
Obnoxious, boring, rude, pretentious, opinionated, bonkers… there’s not a character type we haven’t met.
And as for the food? Well, let’s just say that I’ve never, ever bothered to go to the website for a recipe. That should be a clue.
Can you make some rash generalisations about the character of a nation from this small gathering of humanity around a dinner table?
I think you can. Here goes:
The original and the best series, narrated by UK comic Dave Lamb who is absolutely hilarious. He has so much scope with his countrymen and women, most of whom are barking mad. You get a lot of eccentrics to the pound in Blighty. The men are often weird musos and magicians, train enthusiasts, flat out snobs and wankers.
The women are especially fond of saying: “I say exactly what I think, and if people don’t like it, I don’t care.” And they don’t.
Surprisingly though, they manage to rub along with a good dollop of British appreciation of the absurd.
They are the WORST cooks. Their kitchens are often scungy and dingy. They have a deep-seated phobia about seafood and a fish with the head on is enough to send the guests to the exits, screaming in horror.
If I were Jamie Oliver, I’d emigrate.
Yikes! Over confident, loud, foul-mouthed, bitchy, the Canadians sure serve it up. Narrator Jamie Carr is a laid-back voice-over guy. Why compete with the guests as they do their worst to each other?
“This is not how I’d cook this. I can’t eat it,” they’re fond of saying to the cook and then, trashing-talking them behind their backs. They drink till they fall off their chairs.
There are often tears or straight up fights before dessert. DO NOT GIVE THESE PEOPLE HOCKEY STICKS!
The food? Meh. Except for the French-speakers who go all out to impress with haute cuisine and fresh “erbs”, even if they mostly make complete a hash of it.
The South Africans
I find this the least appealing of the series. There’s something so brittle and reserved about the guests’ interactions that it often tips over into dull.
Lamb narrates this one too, but often there’s a distinct lack of affection in his voice as he makes very pointed and sarcastic observations. (Memorable was the hard time he gave one woman who farmed out most of the heavy lifting to her black maid.)
Lots of big fancy houses, one-upmanship and rarely any laughter. Not the funnest night out. They should drink more, not less.
The recipes are a selection of indigestible-looking Indian, African and Afrikaner dishes that sit oddly side by side.
A bit like the guests, really.
By far the most laid, back affable mob. James Valentine narrates this series with great affection.
There’s rarely any flat out confrontation and the guests are all generous with their praise. They probably laugh the most, although without the class distinctions that make the Brit version so fascinating, it can lack a bit of drama.
The food? Well, this is where the Aussies come into their own. They’re adventurous and knowledgeable about their tuckers and all fair hands in the kitchen.
They probably don’t get as plastered as the Poms or the Canucks, but they’re up for any kind of malarkey involving singing, dancing and acting like galahs, even when they’re sober.
Throw some prawns on the barbie, I’ll be over in a jiff.
I’d love to watch Come Dine with me US or NZ. Please tell me there’s more to come. And if ever you find out I’ve volunteered to go on this thing, somebody stop me!
Wendy Harmer is the Editor in Chief of TheHoopla.com.au, and a media tart from way back.