Reality Bites

Reality Bites: The American Baking Competition

I'm not much of a food person, beyond the fact I need to consume it in order to survive. And while I'm fairly conscientious about what I eat and what I feed my kids, I'll certainly never pass for a "foodie."

So in news that shouldn't come as a huge surprise, I don't really care for cooking shows. The finer points of things like "parboiling" and "washing your hands" are lost on my Neanderthal sensibilities, and my eyes tend to glaze over (I think that's another cooking term) whenever my wife turns on another installment of Chopped or Top Chef or Top Chopped Chef and somebody waxes rhapsodic about the joys of "crème fraîche" for the zillionth time.

I'll perk up if Nigella Lawson is involved, however.

That's my roundabout way of admitting I don't really know why I decided to review The American Baking Compeition this week. Alcohol, fatigue, and an enduring hatred/fascination with Jeff Foxworthy probably all played their part.

The contestants on the show are competing for $250,000 (righteous bucks) and a book deal. The publishing gig might be even more lucrative than the cash prize, seeing as how book companies seem mostly interested in cookbooks and vanity projects instead of hard-hitting tales about necrophiliac drug gangs and eldritch terrors from beyond time and space, which is perfectly cogent industry analysis and not at all a reaction to the dozen rejection letters I received last month.

And forgive my ignorance, but aren't pretty much all these shows structured the same way? In TABC, as Foxworthy somnolently intones, each of the contestants "will compete in three different bakes." The first, or "signature" bake, features the contestant's most familiar dish. Jeremy the firefighter makes his sweet potato pie, for example. While I would've offered my take on that American classic, the peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich. The second is the "technical" bake, in which each prospective baker is provided the same recipe, only with certain vital instructions missing. Finally, there's the "showstopper," in which the prospective Angelo Mottas (I had to look him up) offer their variation of a certain dish.

Judging the proceedings are two people you've never heard of: Marcela Valladolid, formerly of Bon Appetit, and Paul Hollywood, who shocked the shit out of me when he opened his mouth and a British accent came out. Is "Hollywood" his real last name? It can't be. That's like if my name was "Winston Derbyshire," or "Benedict Cumberbatch."

Homemaker Francine -- did I mention these were all amateur chefs? I probably should have, since god forbid we bring in ringers to add any excitement to the show -- calls Hollywood the "George Clooney of baking," which I'm guessing is less glamorous than actually being George Clooney (except for all that hot American housewife ass it apparently gets you).

Holding sway over all is Foxworthy, who's following up The American Bible Challenge in what is apparently a quest to host a show about each of our country's reactionary touchstones. Stay tuned for Spot The Immigrant and Who Will Be America's Next Mass Shooter?, only on CBS!

In the Signature bake, James' apple pie is a hit, as is Kolette's chocolate hazelnut pie. I'd have paid more attention to her technique if she didn't have what appear to be antennae on her head (though I think it's very forward thinking of CBS to allow Andorians to compete on the show). The big winner might be Francine, for her [rewinds] "chocolate peanut butter bacon pie" -- Jesus Jones, seriously? -- Jeremy and retiree Elaine fare less spectacularly.

In the technical category, the contestants were supposed to make something called a "freestanding savory pie," which sounds like something English people enjoy. I sense the hand (and goatee) of Paul Hollywood. Ad exec Brian wins that round, while Carlo -- the "social marketing consultant" (whatever the hell that is) -- comes in last. This sets the stage for either a triumphant come-from-behind redemption or an early exit (SPOILER WARNING: it's the latter). For the "showstopper," they have to make 36 sweet tartlets, which also sound suspiciously British.

The problem with The American Baking Competition, as compared to other cooking shows, is we really don't get much time to meet the contestants. On Top Chef they spend a whole episode introducing the contenders, here we get some random tidbits thrown in (James like to ride motorcycles! Whitney bakes for her roommates at Texas Tech!), but with shows like these, part of the appeal for the audience is identifying with someone and pulling for them from the get go.

About the only thing that kept me mildly interested was the possibility that Francine and Paul Hollywood had sex. I don't want to visualize it, necessarily, but I want to believe it happened.

As I predicted, Carlo gets "sent off" (all the Anglophilia is getting to me) and Francine wins the week. To celebrate she and Paul Hollywood invent a machine to harness their sexual tension, solving the global energy crisis and ushering in a new millennium of peace and prosperity.

I may have hallucinated that last part. A fifth of gin goes down a lot smoother than you'd think.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar