The catty home cooking competition, Come Dine With Me, entered its twenty-second season on Monday and reminded us why it’s the finest food show on the box. We were delivered to that well-known hub of gastronomic excellence: Ramsgate. Here, a pleasant blonde, Lydia, prepared onion soup, an ugly duck dish and a dodgy flan for a quartet of judgemental strangers, and the chance to walk away with a thousand pounds.
Despite admitting that he’d enjoyed her messy brown fare, one guest felt Lydia had let herself down by not doing her hair. The slur king was Marcello, an Italian hairdresser who’s sure he has impeccable taste and everyone he meets thinks so too. In fact, he looked like he pulled his threads off a market stall and styled his tresses with defibrillators. What a perfectly wonderful moron.
But you can’t feel too sorry for the try-hard blonde host. By now, anyone who puts themselves up for Come Dine With Me knows that even if their menu reads like Michelle Roux’s wettest dream, it’ll prompt a lip curl and a derisive scoff. “Yeah, I can beat this,” some sweaty jackass will insist. “Snail confit in a basket of rose petals with an antelope jus? Pah! Not very adventurous, is it? Why not just order us Big Macs?” If they don’t manage to knock their fellow contestants’ three courses, they’ll be sure to mispronounce them.
CDWM guests are almost always a fetching mix of egotists, banal eccentrics and people who are actually quite nice. By the time they meet each other, we’ve already seen their pre-dinner interviews and decided who to hate. Sometimes it’s just one person; sometimes all five. It works best if there are two or three pompous lunatics who will eventually turn on each other, or gang up on the weak. Ideally, the more vile the individual, the worse their evening will go. But it doesn’t always pan out like this. Often, the abrasive narcissists can cook beautifully, damn them.
Overseeing the action is tells-it-as-he-sees-it narrator, Dave Lamb. Dave is the show’s killer ingredient. He micro-mocks, picking up on every idiotic whimper, contradiction or self-aggrandising bluff. It’s not clear just how vital his barbed narration is to the show until you watch another country’s version, minus the Lamb. Come Dine With Me Down Under, for instance, is a flat, fallow snore-fest, despite the same effort having gone in to recruiting idiots who will wind each other up. This kind of show needs a sardonic raconteur and no one does it quite like Dave.