When you get down it really, what makes us love The Great British Bake Off? Why do we come back, week after week, year after year, to watch a bunch of amateurs in a tent figure out choux pastry and mousse?
At least one element is the amateur nature of the show. Amateur means everyone, it means ‘us’, not ‘them’.
It means we watch a competitor present a de-constructed Pineapple Upside Down cake and we think ‘I can do that!!’
You, me and the rest of the viewing public watching ‘Bake Off; Crème De La Crème’? We cannot ‘do that’.
And they’ll never let you forget it.
GBBO Crème wants us to believe it’s the latest entry into the BBC’s raft of shows celebrating handmade and usually amateur crafts and skills. We have gently competitive shows for pottery, baking, sewing, even allotment grown fruits and vegetables and we have four different shows about making tiny profits on buying and selling antiques at car boot sales. We basically televised our craft fairs.
Rule Brittania, baby.
But though it borrows the ‘Bake Off’ mantle, ‘Bake Off Crème De La Crème’ makes no mention of its predecessor at all, declares its self the show ‘professionals have been waiting for’.
Within the opening moments of the first episode, it distances itself from the parent show and falls over its self to throw undisguised shade at the amateurs and the home bakers. You know, the competitors, winners, and the entire audience of the original show, an audience they are actively trying to engage, right this very second.
So the mood is a little weird, right off the bat.
The conceit of the latest competition isn’t complicated; each week three new teams of ‘elite’ professional chefs bake professional level pastries and cakes in the hopes of scoring a place in the semi finals. Each week two teams will go home, one will advance to the semi-finals.
Since the competition has gone upmarket, so have the setting, the judges and the presenter. No outdoor tents in the garden of a country estate for this crowd, oh no. We’re indoors now, at the even more regal and stately Wellbeck Estate, Nottinghamshire.
‘Crème De La Crème’ is presented by Michelin starred and popular British TV Chef, Tom Kerridge and the judges are a step into ‘elite’ territory too, so they keep telling us.
This is not Paul Hollywood gently admonishing your soggy bottom and Mary Berry gently lamenting your booze-less boozy trifle.
These judges work with the Royal family, Michelin starred hotels, restaurants and international supermarket chains to conceive, select and produce the absolute best of the best in baking excellence.
As the Beeb would have us believe, Benoit Blin, Cherish Finden and Claire Clark MBE are the Seal Team 6 of British gourmet baking.
But in the great tradition of BBC competitions they’re ferociously likable and very supportive the competitors, even while they reduce five star chefs to exhausted tears. (Have I mentioned this is not your grandmas Bake Off?) The judges are passionate about their craft and it shows in their admonishments and their disappointment when a bake doesn’t live up.
But that’s to be expected. The pressure here is unique to this version of The Great British Bake Off, as unlike the original show these are top notch industry professionals grading and being graded by top notch industry professionals. Reputations are on the line.
As such there is a different mood to the competition, more edge and prickliness and far more of the wrong kind of tension and this is where GBBO Crème starts to trip up.
The heart of The Great British Bake Off lays in the bakers, with their personalities and characters. We get to spend weeks with the competitors and in the calmer setting with less on the line we get to learn who they are as people. We come to genuinely love them, so much so that their wins or losses spark debates across the country. Nadiya Hussains win might have made the world a better place.
GBBO Crème has not one ounce of that spirit or heart. We spend so little time with each team and by and large we see them at their most flustered and stressed, not their most likable. It’s hard to care about who wins by the end of each episode, especially knowing we may not even see those winners again for weeks. There’s no growth, no development. These people can’t get better than they are, so we don’t get to enjoy watching them improve.
Don’t get me wrong, it is visually spectacular, and one cannot deny the astonishing talent on display, but that’s the problem. It misses the point of The Great British Bake Off by miles. We have no shortage of elite, pretentious, professional level cooking competitions in the UK, especially on the BBC. Crème De La Crème wouldn’t have stood out amongst them if not for the GBBO connection. It becomes obvious very quickly that the decision to bring the show under the GBBO umbrella is a very cynical attempt to attract a built in audience.
If you love any celebration of skill at any level, and you love food porn, then tune in to Bake Off Crème De La Crème but don’t expect any warm fuzzies at the end of the episode.