TV Reviews: The Great Aussie Bakeoff

TV Reviews: The Great Aussie Bakeoff

Reality TV returns to harsh roots

By Mark HadleyFriday 2 Aug 2013TV and StreamingReading Time: 3 minutes

I’m afraid Australia’s latest cooking show comes off a little … half-baked. And if the use of that sort of cliché offends you then, believe me, there’s only worse in store when you tune in to The Great Australian Bake Off.

Reality TV returns to its nasty roots in 'The Great Australian Bakeoff'. 
The Nine Network’s answer to Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules is set in the mansion-like grounds of Victoria’s Werribee Gardens. In sometimes searing heat, ten contestants have been mixing it up over an assortment of recipes. Each week they’ve been presented with a particular pastry category to challenge their skills – cakes, pies, biscuits, tarts, and now bread. The show is broken into three parts, allowing contestants to demonstrate their signature bake, followed by a technical challenge, finishing with the ‘Showstopper’ where the emphasis is all on the wow-factor. Watching the rise and fall of every effort are judges Dan Lepard (an Aussie baking it big in Great Britain) and Kerry Vincent (an international expert in sugar decoration). Competing characters and ambitious bakes provide plenty of drama but sadly The Great Australian Bake Off still fails to rise to the occasion.

There are a couple of obvious reasons right out of the oven – see what I did there? It’s the same sort of silly pun the producers insist on trotting out every thirty seconds. Hosts Anna Gare and Shane Jacobson sound like they’re reading from The Bumper Book Of Dad Jokes. As the deadline to tart week draws near, Jacobson yells out, “Five minutes to go – don’t go breaking my tart!” But at least that’s one joke you know where you’re supposed to groan. During biscuits Jacobson advises NSW’s hopeful Brendan,

“You’re messing with the ANZAC biscuit as your signature dish. Let’s hope you’re not signing your own death wish.” 

What does that even mean? 

The producers have also gone crazy in the edit suite, mining the unlikeliest baking reference in every FM anthem they can find. ‘The Heat Is On’ was always going to make itself heard; so too, ‘Golden Brown’. But when Victorian baker Jonathan announces he’s going to bake two types of tart, is that reason enough to press play on ‘When Two Tribes Go To War’?

Probably the most disappointing ingredient though is the return to the ‘good judge/bad judge’ dichotomy that reached its heydey during Australian Idol. Kerry Vincent prowls the portable kitchen like a White Pointer on the edge of a summer beach – you’re not sure whether she’s there to eat the biscuits or the contestants. “You may smile,” seems to be her trademark instruction. And, of course, under those sorts of pressure we see contestants crumble like three-day-old bread. There are arguments, accusations and a distinct lack of the competition-with-camaraderie that Masterchef taught us to love. After a heated exchange with Brendan, Jonathan offers the following insight:

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“He should go back to the Ten Commandments and read that line about, ‘Respect your fellow man’”

OK, obviously Jonathan isn’t as familiar with the Ten Commandments as I’d like, but I can recognize the sentiment he’s getting at and it certainly is a Christian one. God asks us to not only do the best we can, but to do the best we can by others as well. It’s what Jesus summarized as the second greatest commandment, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ If I demonstrate all of the skill in the universe but have not love I’m only a resounding colander or a clanging cake tin. But if I can combine that commandment with the greatest – ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength’ – then it’s a recipe Jesus says smells like the Kingdom of God. 

Rating: PG
Distributor: Nine Network
Release Date: Tuesdays, 8:30 PM