If Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory were a reality TV show, it might look something like Zumbo’s Just Desserts.
The famed ‘Patissier of Pain’ Adriano Zumbo now has his second TV series (he previously had Zumbo on SBS), in Seven’s latest cooking contest.
Not to be confused with The Great Australian Bake-Off, this sees 12 dessert specialists put through the the familiar tropes of creating a scrumptious dessert, with the least-impressive chefs having to replicate one of his impossibly-impressive signature dishes in a Zumbo Test.
Without giving too much away, the Zumbo Test in the first episode was so disastrously attempted as to being an embarrassment (ok maybe I did give too much away). If these had been served up on that other cooking show, frankly its chefs would have been laughed out of town. It left me thinking either the casting is not up to scratch or the producers have not been realistic in allocating enough time for the challenge.
But onto the positive aspects of the show.
The designers get a golden ticket for bringing rainbow colours to the screen. The set is brimming in candy, melting chocolate, cupcakes, macarons, eclairs and cute little conveyer belts where the goodies just keep turning. Yum!
“I’m just waiting for oompa loompas to walk out,” says one contestant. Riiiight.
Worker benches power up with lights, and a countdown clock buzzes with an electric FX. As shiny floors go, this one is decidedly glowing. I can see kids’ eyes lighting up with delight just at the sight of it all.
Zumbo (oddly referred to by his surname) and Rachel Khoo tell the 12 contenders the winner will receive a $100,000 prize and their recipe on sale in a Zumbo store.
The 12 include a stay at home mum, an airline crew member, a bouncer, and a car salesman with the badly-dyed hair, but at least there is some diversity.
Rachel Khoo is MC here, doing all the instructing on the format while surname-Zumbo adds occasional remarks on the degree of difficulty, with his sometimes-difficult TV delivery.
The first challenge, a Sweet Sensation, asks them to deliver a dessert that best represents them on a plate (sound familiar?). As the clock ticks down there are the usual contestant pieces to camera, character profiles and near-disasters. As formats go, Zumbo’s Just Desserts sticks to a recognisable recipe (is anybody game to reinvent cooking contests yet?).
Also thrown into the mix is Brazilian-born Pastry Chef, Gigi Falanga, who moves around the kitchen as an assistant (nobody mesntions the word ‘mentor.’). I’m not sure if it’s a pre-requisite to have an exotic accent in Seven’s cooking shows, but this is produced by the same people as Manu’s own My Kitchen Rules.
Yet while Gigi is photogenic and clearly talented, she is irritable on the kitchen floor, stepping up to benches and practically reading the riot act without offering much support. It’s as if producers have asked her to highlight the drama and the cooking ambitions purely for story -but it reads as fake and annoying, and could have been more organic.
As talented as Zumbo is he has never struck me as feeling especially comfortable with TV presentation. Perhaps this explains why he takes something of a backseat role in his own series, with the more-experienced Khoo driving the gameplay. Zumbo doesn’t give us great range between excitement, challenge descriptions and building drama -all three are roughly the same tone. Maggie Beer in The Great Australian Bake-Off, who oozes emotion, he is not. You kinda forgive that when he unveils a stunning dish, sexily presented by producers through a cloud of liquid nitrogen.
The show also includes the obligatory supermarket sponsor (it’s the one beginning with ‘W’) and audiences may question why there are exterior shots of a lovely country “factory” when clearly all the interior shots are buttoned down in a city-based TV studio. Authenticity is important in this genre.
But while Nine failed with its Bake-Off bounced around frustrating timeslots, only to see Foxtel pick up the crumbs, Seven is giving Just Desserts the full network backing.
Restaurant Revolution reminds us there is no guarantee of success, and for all the chocolatey-goo this show will come down to us connecting to the 12 contestants and whether they have the talent to keep us engaged or whether Just Desserts is all about a quick sugar-hit.
Zumbo’s Just Desserts premieres 7:30pm Monday August 22 on Seven.