TV review: Bake Off: The Professionals makes you hope the petit fours will be with the chefs taking part
- Credit: Love Productions
It's the Bake Off competition which separates the pro-fiteroles from the amateur-fiteroles - you have to be tough to take the criticism from judges Cherish and Benoit who make Paul Hollywood look like a pussycat.
I used to think that the problem with any professional version of a cookery programme would be that the contestants involved would be too good.
They are neither amateurs, who are likely to make hilarious mistakes, cry and babble on about 'journeys', or celebrities, most of whom don't even pretend they can cook and are only there for Twitter followers. The contestants here are people who can, by definition, actually cook and cook so well that they get paid to do it.
Then I watched the show and realised that, if anything, it is far more satisfying to watch a professional mess something up than it is to watch a bunch of home cooks making countless completely reasonable mistakes - if the pastry chefs can't cook pastry, it means the rest of us are completely off the (bread) hook.
I require a cheer if I so much as reheat a shop-bought pie in the microwave, so am perfectly qualified to sneer at the work of experts – I am not, however, equipped with the kind of brutal takedowns which have been perfected by judges Cherish Finden and Benoit Blin, who are sharper than volcanic glass or a thankless child (that's Shakespeare, that is).
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For anyone who thinks the judges are too harsh, be appeased: it's nothing in comparison to what these professional chefs have heard before.
Working in a professional kitchen normally means long hours in a hot, physically demanding and pressure-filled environment working for low wages with few, if any, benefits and living with pain, both physical and mental, working shifts that keep workers away from their friends and families and close to source of alcohol.
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And then there are the bad bits: such as when your chocolate axe starts drooping or your conversation tarts (like Bakewells, but French) explode – THESE AREN'T EVEN EUPHEMISMS.
In comparison to some of the chefs I've spoken to, Cherish and Benoit are positively tame – their criticisms aren't attached to a plate that's sailing though the air, for example. Yes, they are razor-tongued killjoys who live to destroy the hopes and dreams of bright-eyed patisseriers who have toiled for years in kitchens as hot as the sun to create breathtaking masterpieces, but at least they're not about to ask you to clean the staff toilet to teach you a lesson. Or so I am lead to believe.
Back to the action – six teams of pastry chefs face two challenges: making 24 miniature tartes aux fruits and conversations and then a show-stopping reinvention of a Black Forest gateau while being watched like hawks by the judges and hosts comedian Tom Allen and former Bake-Off contestant Liam Charles ('does this mean I make it to the final?' he said, in a reference to his crashing out of GBBO).
Emmanuel and Sam from the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane made a vertical tart (we've all met a few of those in our time), Hideko and Theo from Sweet Art Lab in London made conversations that Cherish wouldn't eat because she thought it would give her tummy ache and their fruit tarts showed they had 'lost control completely'.
Marta and Julie from Bom Bom Patisserie in Loughborough's fruit tart was too yoghurty and Mikey and Becky from St David's Hotel in Cardiff made a tart filled with 'flavours of a Pina Colada' which boasted mango crème patisserie, coconut mousse, pineapple jam, lime caviar and a coconut rum caramel. The judges? Yes, they liked Pina Colada (no news on whether they're equally fond of getting caught in the rain) – even Cherish cracked a tight smile.
Chris and Bjarni from The Warren in Tunbridge Wells – who looked like they'd stumbled in from an all-nighter and talked about foraging sea buckthorn and loving Bear Grylls – made cakes that were 'dull, boring and uncooked' and Cherish added: 'if I'm a professional chef and brought this up, I'd be so embarrassed'.
Darryl and Bharat from Resorts World in Birmingham had a built-in problem, namely that Darryl is allergic to eggs which are the centrepiece of most patisserie and desserts – like a King from many centuries ago, he requires a professional taster to tell him if the food he's making is any good. And judging by Cherish and Benoit, he'd picked the wrong one.
'Doctors said 'give it up! You could kill yourself'. I did think about it, but then I just carried on,' said Darryl before Cherish made him wish that he'd taken medical advice when she told him his 'execution was poor' and 'disappointing'.
'Slightly soul-destroying, but we're not going to let it kill the vibe,' said Bjarni, optimistically, as he reflected on the day outside.
Next up was the show-stopper round – there were chocolate cuckoo clocks complete with singing chocolate cuckoos, sugar marble runs, chocolate axes, abstract towers, pastry forests and boiled sweet trees. It's a regular complaint on the professional version of Bake Off that the studio kitchen is too hot to support the spectacular patisserie creations which are called for – so we can only surmise that the programme makers deliberately refuse to install sufficiently strong air conditioning to ratchet up the pressure another notch. Nice touch.
By the end of it, the chefs looked as if they'd completed in an ultra-marathon and Darryl was in tears after Cherish said 'everything in there is just not right' about his Black Forest dessert, which doesn't leave an awful lot of room for improvement. But it was Chris and Bjarni who got the (chocolate) axe while Darryl lived to dice with egg-based injury another day. Rather him than me.
* The best bit of Bake Off: The Professionals? Gemma Correll – who studied Graphic Design in Norwich and is one of my lovely colleague's best friends – has created the fab cartoon idents which follow each advertisement break. If Cherish or Benoit start on her, they'll have us to answer to.