Tom Allen is very much the flavour of the month with telly chiefs, so it should be no surprise then that we are being given a double helping.
Like fish to chips, cheese to onion and pot to noodle, he is to be found as one half of chummy culinary couples on Cooking With The Stars and Bake Off: The Professionals, one following the other of a Tuesday evening.
I was on holidays last week (I had a lovely time, thanks for asking) so missed the starter (see what I did there?) of ITV’s new cooking extravaganza where the dapper and erudite Allen is accompanied by Emma Willis, who, like her cohort, is a bit like sand after a trip to the beach, it gets everywhere.
Her spell as a midwife may be helpful if the celebrities have to deliver something substantial, but she and Allen are just the front of house staff, the real action is in the kitchen.
The premise is that four celebrities, under the tutelage of a professional chef, take to the hob in classic Ark formation, two by two, with the winners surviving and the losers facing the dreaded ‘cook-off’, well, at least I hope that’s what they said.
Basically, this is Strictly with a frying pan, X-Factor with chips or Love Island with an ‘insert rude-shaped vegetable here’.
It was Italian week, a nice touch after the Euros, so a chance to see pasta cut into different shapes with comedian Griff Rhys Jones up against Corrie’s Catherine Tyldesley, or pan-fried salmon with borlotti bean stew taking on spaghetti carbonara.
Both seemed to be getting on okay then Catherine got a little heated and had to hit the golden frying pan which allows her mentor to come down and rescue her for a couple of minutes.
Then it came to the judging, with Willis inviting the judges, the six chefs not mentoring, to have a bash at ‘Griff’s M&S pan-fried salmon’.
This is a very worrying trend.
It was obvious that they were sponsoring the show as every ad break was entered and exited with an excruciatingly unfunny plug, but to be as brazen as to call it M&S salmon is a step too far. Other salmon are available.
There were also lingering shots on the foods and equipment being used from the firm and I’m sure if the presenters were frisked we’d find they were decked out from the clothes aisle, but it is a worrying precedent. Don’t be surprised if you find Celebrities On The Throne, sponsored by Andrex, coming to a TV near you soon. Let’s face it, Channel Five has shown worse.
“The only thing that is missing is a glass of Barolo,” (available from, you know where) said Francesco Mazzei, who probably knows a thing or two about Italian cooking, of Griff’s efforts, so it was no surprise that he was saved.
Catherine headed to the cook-off where she was to meet Denise Van Outen, who got the better of AJ Odudo, or ravioli beating tortelli, for a blind cook-off (surely a health and safety issue?) where they had to make a panna cotta with raspberry coulis and a sugar cage.
“Oh, you know what, sod it, let’s get it over with,” said an exasperated Denise as time ran out and she produced a panna cotta that looked to have lost an argument with a Vespa, while Catherine served up an immaculate dish.
Only one result then? Err, no. Denise won by five votes to three, her mouth dropping to her knees and a Corrie Tyldesley’s lip hasn’t trembled as much since Ivy was around.
It wasn’t the only shock result of the evening where Allen was concerned, as earlier over in the Bake Off kitchen it was semi-final time with the contestants managing to squeeze in a bit of cooking in between the comedian’s innuendos.
For example, the showstopper challenge was themed on a Teddy Bears picnic.
“I love bears,” said Allen. “Those big burly guys, the beards, the leather straps, that’ll be a sexy showpiece challenge.” You get the idea, Dick Emery for a new generation.
More shocks were to come, one of the picnics requiring you to thwack a teddy with a hammer to get at a marshmallow but the crux of the challenge was that it had to be jelly-based and feed 40 people/bears. No trifling affair.
The real star of the show is judge Cherish Finden, a little bundle of mad energy who demanded that the finished article must ‘wibble-wobble, bibble-bobble’ but the only ones wobbling were Michael and Andrew, who had a poor first round and after a broken log disaster (nothing to do with any future TV series) looked down and out.
But then came the vote and, like Van Outen, they survived. These weren’t just shocks, these were M&S-sized shocks.