Weaver's Week 2023-01-29

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We always have a lot to say about great television.

Next Level Chef


Next Level Chef

Humble Pie Productions trading as Studio Ramsay Global (a Fox Entertainment company) for ITV, from 11 January

Remember Gordon Ramsay? Back in the day, he was a successful television star. Boiling Point made him a household name in 1999, the fly-on-the-wall documentary followed the opening and early operation of his restaurant in Chelsea. Bad-tempered, foul-mouthed, acerbic, abrasive, we hadn't seen his like before. {1}

Next Level Chef Gordon Ramsay is all over this show.

More recently, Gordon Ramsay has done Kitchen Nightmares (man goes into failing restaurant, shouts at owners). Hell's Kitchen (man gets lots of trainee chefs, shouts at them). Hotel Hell (man goes into failing hotel, shouts at owners), 24 Hours to Hell and Back (man joins Northern Rail train in Scunthorpe, hopes to arrive at the Humber Bridge by the next morning, wonders if he'd be quicker walking). Bank Balance was a spectacular feedback on primetime BBC1 a couple of years ago, and he was last seen playing the role of Tilly's Dad on Strictly Come Dancing.

Ramsay claims that he's not a brilliant chef, he sees his strength as his management skills. Certainly he gets his name in enough credits, credited as "Producer" on at least 25 series. Can he help to mentor new chefs? The evidence from Future Food Stars was not positive, last year's BBC1 series never caught alight. But Next Level Chef is on the commercial channel.

Next Level Chef Nyesha, Gordon, and Paul are standing up for cookery.

And Next Level Chef doesn't just have Gordon Ramsay. He's joined by Paul Ainsworth and Nyesha Arrington, two professional chefs. Paul has worked under Gordon Ramsay and Gary Rhodes; Nyesha was the champion on the Californian version of this show.

The basic idea is that each of the professional chefs will take a team of aspiring chefs. Some of them are young professional chefs, some of them are older and more experienced home cooks. All will get advice and training and mentoring from the experienced cooks.

Next Level Chef Top, middle, or bottom?

The team will all cook in the same kitchen each week, but Next Level Chef has a big gimmick: not all the kitchens are the same. On the top level is a superb cookery environment, with all the mod cons and latest ideas. In the middle, a standard commercial kitchen with standard tech and commonly-available equipment. Down in the basement, a past-its-best kitchen with battered pans and worn-out knives.

Next Level Chef has another gimmick, a dumbwaiter that goes up and down to reach all three kitchens. The "elevator", as it's referred to on the show, carries food and ingredients down at the start of the challenge, and takes the finished dishes back up at the end of the time. The producers put on about fifteen different proteins, and all the sides and seasonings one could like. The team in the top kitchen get first dibs, the team in the middle get what's left, and there's not much selection for the basement team. Whatever a contestant takes from the dumbwaiter they have to use.

Next Level Chef What this team don't pick will descend to the next cooks below.

The result is a bit of chaos. Actually, the result is a lot of chaos. Twelve different dishes, nobody's had a chance to prepare, and not only do you have to make a dish, you've got to make it in an unfamiliar kitchen, with unfamiliar equipment, with a television camera breathing down your neck, and a professional sticking their oar in.

It's really quite confusing, there's too much happening for us to follow any of the individual cooks in great depth. The producers seem to have spent a lot of time perfecting the camera angles – the transitions up and down the dumbwaiter's shaft – and not so much on how to tell a story.

Next Level Chef Take care not to singe your jacket, mate.

Let's compare against ITV's most recent primetime cookery show Cooking With the Stars, where there were never more than three dishes being made at a time, and often they were quite different. Casual viewers can keep track of three dishes. This week, we had ten burgers being made at the same time, ten slices of meat, ten chips made from unusual vegetables, ten buns and ten sauces. Even if we paid complete attention to the show, we were going to struggle to keep up with everything going on.

And the pace doesn't help. Next Level Chef cooks its mains in about 24 minutes of screen time, a little more than half the episode. There's a mad scramble at the beginning, to secure your preferred ingredients. And there's a mad scramble at the end, to put your plate on the dumbwaiter before it rises out of reach. Pulsing and tense music plays throughout, a countdown clock flicks on screen like a transfer window closing, there's a sense that everything is urgent and important. And when we're told that everything is urgent and important, we find that nothing stands out as urgent or important.

Next Level Chef There's never enough time!

Where does the rest of the time go? Explaining the format takes a few minutes at the beginning. Once the food's been delivered to the rooftop terrace, there's the inevitable tasting session, where the best dish of the day is named. That player's entire team is safe for the next show, and that player's team will be in the top kitchen next week.

One player from the other teams will be put forward for the elimination cookoff, a simple head-to-head. The chef behind the worse dish will leave the contest, and relegate their team to the basement kitchen. The survivor will join the rest of their team in the middle kitchen next time.

Next Level Chef 8 minutes 12 seconds in the transfer window, Jeff, and that's an incredible move from Ramsey!

And again, the final cook-off is rushed. 30 minutes of cooking time are compressed to four minutes on screen. There's very little talk about how the preparation is going, and a lot of talk about the fears of elimination, or the hopes for the middle kitchen. This might be a cookery show, but the food is forced to a back seat by all of the other nonsense. The star of this "cookery" show is the gimmick, the top-middle-and-bottom different kitchens, the rising and falling dumbwaiter.

Everyone bangs on about a "next level dish", but nobody ever stops to think about what a "next level dish" is. An improvement on what's come before, but is that an improvement based on your previous work? The best work from the group? Something to push the state of the art, or just something better than you've done personally?

Next Level Chef Is this next level fish and chips?

We don't know. "Next level dish" is an empty word, something to throw about and think you make yourself look impressive. Here's a surprise: the viewers see right though this piffery, and turn off and go away and watch something less boring instead. First episode: well short of the slot average. Second ep: beaten by Tipping Point. Third ep: the Week only watched it because we're reviewing it.

The mentors are in their element. People listen to them, take their advice, accept their counsel. The contestants will have learned a lot from the experience. But, at home, we haven't learned anything. Cooking With the Stars includes some tips we might be able to use at home, as does Bake Off. On those shows, we get to know the contestants through the slow, meditative pace. All we get is cheap and unsatisfying shouty time-pressurey drama. It's as predictable and as unsatisfying as a mass-produced burger.

Next Level Chef Is there any redemption for this show?

We absolutely hate to rag on a programme, we want to find some redeeming features. Next Level Chef makes it hard for us. It doesn't give any meaningful tips for the home cook. It moves so quickly that we can't easily find out about the contestants. It's not a process show, but a battling thrusting programme. It relies on its gimmicky set (which is impressive for about ten minutes) and the big name. It's a food show that doesn't really show food.

The worst thing is that ITV knew what it was buying. Next Level Chef is huge on Fox in North America, ITV will have done their homework and watched some episodes and should have known that this would be another flop unless changes were made. What happened? Good question, ask those who were behind the scenes. From this side of the screen, all we see is an aimless and confused hot mess.

Next Level Chef leaves us shouting just one thing: next!

Next Level Chef Not even Gino D'Acampo can save this show.

{1} We'll listen to an argument that Fanny Cradock might be a role model. She only looked like she would fly off the handle if you zested a lemon in the wrong way. Gordon Ramsay looked like he would fly off the handle, stick it where the sun doesn't shine, and put the badly-zested lemon in your mouth as though you were Julian Fawcett. Which might be preferable to another episode of Next Level Chef.

In other news

Unlimited contract Ant and Dec will remain with ITV; they've extended their contract with the commercial channel for another three years. Kevin Lygo, the big cheese at ITV, gave the most anodyne quote ever, "The world of television and streaming is always a much brighter place with Ant & Dec at the centre of it, and we look forward to continuing our successful working relationship with them across the next three years."

This week we learned

  • "Grotty" is a shortened form of "grotesque". (Mastermind)
  • Everyone knows the only possible word to put after "SPOILER!" Oh. (Mastermind and Bother's Bar)
  • It's 62km from Old Trafford cricket ground to Headingley in Leeds. You could walk it in two days, or take the train and be there for next season. (University Challenge)
  • Lizzo is a classically-trained flautist. Last year, she played a 200 year old instrument gifted to James Madison; it was the crystal flute. (Bridge of Lies)
  • It is possible to read for a PhD in International Politics, concerning the use of video games by the U S military in propaganda, training and recruitment. It does not include any potato products. (University Challenge)
  • Someone else from Top of the Pops made it to The Voice. Wendy Moten, whose one big hit song was on BBC4 this week, managed to be the runner-up on NBC's The Voice at the end of 2021. When's she doing The Masked Singer?
  • Back in 2012, Quizness regular Matt Hancock won a race at Newmarket. History doesn't recall who the jockey was. (Pointless)

Matt Hancock was paid £320,000 (€365.000) for his book promotion on I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!. He was also paid £48,000 for his book. Records indicate that Hancock has donated £10,000 to charitable causes, which may be a symbol of the sincerity of his journey towards repentance.

Quizzy Mondays

Two very different approaches to win Mastermind. Stewart McNicol was a bit wobbly on his specialist subject of Hyenas, but demonstrated a great general knowledge. Paul Warrington knew everything about his specialist – Wallace & Gromit – but passed what he didn't know, and had a less general knowledge. The extra 30 seconds for GK proved crucial, and Stewart took the win by a point.

A tight Only Connect as the Strigiformes beat the Jillies by 19-18. Best spot was games played on a grid from 7x7 to 10x10, best question was surely the CBBC sidekicks. Strigiformes won it on the walls, getting two extra points as the groups fell their way.

Less tight on University Challenge as Bristol beat Queens' Belfast by 205-90. Bristol continued their pattern of buzzing well, and this time got bonus questions in their good subjects – the side lost to Durham in their heat with less helpful bonuses. Bristol dominated this game, freezing out the opposition almost entirely until the final third of the game.

We'll be back in two weeks, looking at Jon and Lucy's Oddball Couples or whatever the show's called. Until then, it's the return of Great Local Menu (BBC2, from Tue), local highlights in Eat the Town (BBC Scotland, Thu), and finals week on Junior Bake Off (C4). Drag queens on Bridge of Lies (BBC1, Sat), and the civilian series of Pen/Campwyr begins (S4C, Wed 8 Feb).

Lots of Eurovision Song Contest stuff this week – the allocation draw (BBC2, Tue) and The Late Late Show picks RTÉ's entry (RTÉ1, Fri).

Picture credits: Humble Pie Productions trading as Studio Ramsay Global (a Fox Entertainment company).

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