CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Christmas chestnuts on dry ice? Talk about tricky trimmings!
Great British Christmas Menu (BBC2)
Our New Puppy (C5)
Turkey in the oven, check. Brussels sprouts peeled, check. Lemon gel pearls dropped into basin of liquid nitrogen, check. Christmas dinner preparations get more arduous every year.
For anyone planning some extra-special festive trimmings, the pro chefs competing on the Great British Christmas Menu (BBC2) offered recipes with more flourishes than Mariah Carey, backed by the King’s College choristers.
We were served plastic baubles containing cherries made from turkey pate, and sherry-marinated mushrooms on green rice crackers shaped like holly leaves.
We sank our teeth into dishes with punning names like ‘Shrimply Having A Wonderful Christmastime’, and ‘A Christmas Quacker’.
The chestnuts roasting on an open fire were really resting on a bed of dry ice, and the snow globe was made from celeriac with glittery flakes of crystallised walnut.
With presenter Andi Oliver presiding, the cooks split into two groups of four and took it in turns to judge each other’s creations (Pictured: Andi Oliver with this year’s Christmas contestants)
Even a simple dish like poached eggs and salmon was a masterpiece of complexity — the eggs were cooked for 90 minutes in a pan of water at exactly 62c and presented with flakes of gold leaf on top.
For much of the year, the baroque excesses of shows such as MasterChef and Bake Off: The Professionals are too rich for my taste. But Christmas is a time for overdoing everything.
If we’re not wearing Gyles Brandreth silly jumpers and playing party games like Larry Grayson on the Harveys Bristol Cream, we’re not doing it properly.
The chefs were taking it all very seriously, though. With presenter Andi Oliver presiding, the cooks split into two groups of four and took it in turns to judge each other’s creations.
This exposed an interesting dynamic. When the maestros were battling it out together in the kitchen, they were generous and complimentary — praising each other’s efforts and even lending a hand when time was tight.
But as soon as they were shunted into a side room and given dishes to sample without first seeing them prepared, their judgments became merciless and scathing.
One chef pulled out every stop for old-fashioned vol-au-vents, even having them served on a hostess trolley by waitresses in maxi dresses and floral bows.
They looked like extras from Abigail’s Party.
But the verdict was savage. ‘That tastes like something that belongs in the Seventies — it’s quite boring,’ sneered one. Another ranked them as among the worst she’d ever eaten.
In Ch 5’s Our New Puppy, narrator Ashley Jensen voices the puppies’ thoughts (stock photo)
It all gave a deeper insight into how difficult the job of judges really is on TV’s knockout cookery contests, when they’ve watched the competitors give their all for weeks.
Far be it from me to be complimentary about Gregg Wallace or Paul Hollywood, but staying fair and detached can’t be easy.
Now that Advent has officially begun, there’s a blizzard of Christmas shows — How To Spend It Well At Christmas with Phillip Schofield, Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas and many more.
Dogs are never just for Christmas, of course, but it can’t hurt to get a little soppy over the baby labradoodles and chihuahuas on Our New Puppy (C5).
Narrator Ashley Jensen voices the puppies’ thoughts as the camera watches them bounce and tumble.
This is ideal viewing for pet-loving children, entirely innocent viewing with no sarky jokes or adult asides.
There’s a little bit of educational science too. We’re genetically programmed, Ashley told us, to go gooey when we see a creature with a large head, round eyes and floppy limbs.
That’s why Sasha the eight-week-old Bernese mountain dog captured the hearts of everyone she met.
Who wouldn’t be smitten?