If MasterChef Australia is the fine dining of culinary reality shows, Come Dine with Me Australia is the home-style edition.
The UK reality series, which has aired on the LifeStyle Channel (and ever so briefly on Seven), now gets its Aussie version for the same channel.
Stripped five nights a week at 30 minutes each, the format is simple. Five home chefs -all strangers to one another- cook up five dinner parties across the course of a week. By the end of the week they will have bonded, cooked, entertained, and possibly insulted one another, in the race for a cash prize.
Food and recipes aside, what has really made the series a success is in seeing the strangers interact, especially when they have been cast from different classes and backgrounds. In their own homes their hosting habits generate a lot of reactions. At the same time the show has humorous narration, keeping the show light throughout.
The local series by Granada Australia seems to have stuck like glue to the format, at least from what little I have seen of the UK series. As a result, it works a treat.
The five contestants in Week One include a giggly, loud 43yo woman who could give Sara Marie Fedele a run for her money, a medical practice manager who takes pride in fine arts and dining, an Aussie surfer who just happens to be a lawyer, a Mexican-born Marketing graduate and the former lead singer of Indecent Obsession who lives with his gay partner of 16 years (and no it isn’t David Dixon). Another five will host Week 2.
They all take very diverse approaches to cooking, entertaining and social interaction. Some let their hair down. A lot. Others are more guarded in their people skills. All believe they have what it takes to turn perfect host for this television progressive dinner and hopefully take home the cash.
As well as being contestants, the five are also peer judges. How highly they mark one another becomes an indication of character and a perfectly good dinner can score low points if the rest of the evening is a fizzer.
Along the way they will entertain one another with magic, music, trivia games -even a Pinata donkey gets slapped. And one of the show’s more delicious devices is allowing guests to snoop around the homes of their host. They even open drawers to look for telling truths about their new friends, lending itself to ruthless gossiping.
I spent much of the first episode trying to pinpoint the voice of narrator. I knew that voice but dammit why couldn’t I pick it? It finally dawned on me that it is James Valentine -a savvy choice for wry narration.
The only down side to this series is the paltry prize -just $2,000 for the week? What gives? It also seriously lacks a host when the scores have to be announced by the final dining host. LifeStyle have also given this an 8:30 timeslot, which seems a little on the late side for a half hour stripped cooking show. That’s bound to impact on some of our other viewing choices.
This aside, Come Dine With Me Australia looks like it could give My Kitchen Rules a run for its money (at least in entertainment value, if not in total numbers). That show will also see home dinner parties. This series provides a great avenue to peeling back the walls of suburbia to see who we are in Middle Australia.
If you love the UK series, you’ll eat this one up. Bon Appetit.
Come Dine with Me Australia premieres 8:30pm Monday January 18 on LifeStyle Channel.