Here is my column for The Boar this week.
I hope I’m not alone in saying that I like business based reality TV programs. I shouldn’t be: ‘The Apprentice’ is one of the nation’s least guilty pleasures. People seem to prefer it to hating on John and Edward (who, incidentally, need to win the X Factor), copying Victoria Beckham’s hairstyle (just FYI, it’s a little bit wavy at the moment), voting in elections and other trivial activities. Because everyone cares who that awful man with the pointy finger is going to propel to the dizzy heights of helping run a section of his recession-hit company that I think only makes computers for people who are still living in the 1980s. Correct me if I’m wrong, but every single winner of ‘The Apprentice’ always looks slightly disappointed. If Sir. Alan is the Willy Wonka of the business world, he’s giving the winners some rotten chocolate.
Of course, the contestants are all idiots. They are all infused with the passions of the Gods to achieve their lifelong dream of working with a cranky old man. Which kind of brings me to ‘The Restaurant,’ a program that could not be more obviously filling the Apprentice sized hole left in the BBC’s schedule even if it tried. The similarities are striking: another unlikely dream, another fairly cranky boss and another threat that all their dreams to feed the fat and take people’s money could be quashed at the snap of the ever-so-French Raymond Blanc’s fingers.
Kitchen based TV was always entertaining. I used to love Hell’s Kitchen! I used to love Kitchen Nightmares! I used to be vaguely interested in Ready, Steady Cook! However, I can’t help but feel that kitchen dramas are dying a slow and painful death. I really had no interest whatsoever in Jamie Oliver trying to make chavvy ingrates eat vegetables. The whole Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall loving chickens so much that he’s going to look after them but eat them anyway was, as a vegetarian, a little bit annoying and patronising. Anthony Warrell Thompson, in fairness, has always looked like a fattened, plucked turkey that someone accidentally freed from his cesspit, but that doesn’t mean that I want to see him every Sunday morning telling us how to frisson our porridge. Heston Blumenthal, the newest recruit in the TV Chef roster, encapsulates my growing disdain with his shiny, smug potato head smile. Instead of having a decent cause like not poisoning his customers, Heston decided to ‘save Little Chef,’ that great cornerstone of British civility. He is as greasy and charmless as the full English breakfasts he taught people who already knew how to fry an egg to cook.
However, this is not to say that ‘The Restaurant’ is awful. If anything, I believe that it is Kitchen TV’s last hurrah. A crossbreed of Kitchen Nightmares, Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook, The Apprentice and, improbably, Property Ladder, The Restaurant is much more than the program that fills the gap where the Apprentice wasn’t. On the very first episode, we saw couples try to open tins with knives, a prospect that was already more thrilling than watching Heston criticize pies. On the second there was macho posturing, there was a heartbreaking romance and, most importantly, not one person has mentioned how owning a restaurant is THEIR LIFE. Sure, they all seem fairly excited about working with Le-Blanc, but none of them have the same death-stare intensity as any given Apprentice contestant, which is oddly refreshing. This is Kitchen-Business-Reality TV, a concept so inbred it wouldn’t look out of place adorably grazing in an overgrown field in deepest darkest Somerset. What’s not to love?