And the baking begins!
After watching the first episode, I’ve been assessing my organization plan for this blog and while I didn’t intend to include commentary on each episode, I feel like it wouldn’t be entirely inappropriate to do a weekly recap before getting into the meatier content in subsequent posts. So with that in mind:
I really enjoyed that the opening credits kept the familiar theme music and style, with small insertions of Kiwiana, like a plate of Afghan biscuits being set down on the bench, instead of a plate of scones (although Kiwis love scones too, let’s be honest).
As for the hosts and judges…well, full disclaimer: they are total unknowns to me. Although I’ve been here a few years, I’m definitely still playing catchup when it comes to New Zealand pop culture as well as New Zealand culinary icons. I once heard Al Brown speak at a Food Design Conference and, the next day, when my head chef asked how the conference was, I raved about how I really liked what this one guy had to say in his keynote but I couldn’t remember his name. I had written down the name of his restaurant in Auckland that I wanted to try – it’s called Depot? My boss just stared at me like I’d started speaking gibberish. Did I maybe mean NZ culinary idol Al Brown?? But, ya know, he’d never heard of David Kinch or Simon Rogan and I wouldn’t have expected him to unless he’d worked in San Francisco or London….
Anyway, I found the pace of the episode a little jarring right off the bat. There seemed to be a LOT of repetition – the concept of the show was basically covered three times – in the hosts intro “bit” and then again in the voiceover, then again just before the first challenge was announced. The judges were introduced once in voiceover and once to the bakers, and aside from the normal commercials that fill out an hour of programming, during the actual episode run time of nearly 52 minutes (compared to 59 minutes for the GBBO), there was an advertisement for Chelsea sugar (well, they ARE sponsors after all). There were also a LOT of product placement shots – Chelsea, Edmonds, Donovan’s, Alison’s Pantry… it made me wonder if they were trying to emphasize the Kiwiness of the show or just pay for show… but also made me realize it was something I didn’t even realize I had enjoyed NOT having in the GBBO. The end result was that I felt any baking-focused content was very rushed.
The Signature Challenge: Cupcake
I didn’t feel like the cupcakes presented for the Signature Challenge were all that quintessentially Kiwi, with the exception that out of 12 bakers, a third of them used coffee – never let it be said that New Zealanders don’t love their coffee!
The Technical Challenge: MIA??
Then they dropped the bomb: after the Signature Challenge would be the Showstopper Challenge, after which someone would be eliminated. Whaaaaaat?
Okay, to be fair, they HAD announced multiple times that the contestants would face 21 challenges over 10 weeks, which definitely doesn’t break down to 3 challenges a week, but somehow I had completely missed that little hint. And maybe the show had already run approx 4 minutes longer than the average GBBO episode at that point (and yes, I did go back through the first episodes of the last 7 seasons of GBBO to get that estimate, I didn’t count the first two seasons since there were only 10 bakers in the first season and both the first and second season of GBBO went for less than 10 weeks).
But to eliminate someone after only two challenges, and particularly two challenges that involve the judges comparing apples with oranges, bananas, kiwifruit, and kumquats? I was severely disappointed. The technical challenge is what levels the playing field – the bakers have to use the same recipe and the same ingredients – and it may not be something they’ve ever tried to make or ever even heard of before – and then be judged against one another. It’s an apples to apples comparison. So yeah, the decision to leave out the Technical Challenge did NOT impress me much.
Showstopper Challenge: Children’s Birthday Cake
I found the brief of a Child’s Birthday Cake a bit odd, but not unheard of – GBBO hasn’t done it but the Australian spin off has… and the most recent season of GBBO featured a traditional Danish birthday cake during Danish week, but the base recipe was a quite specific (Danish pastry and in the shape of a person). The New Zealand brief was very open and relied on the idea that you’ve been around children and, well, if you haven’t, you were at a distinct disadvantage unless you did what Annabel did, which was to ask a child.
Still, I thought the cakes produced were all pretty impressive although “ice cream” as a decoration theme was like coffee as a flavor in the Signature, accounting for a third of the bakes. A good reminder that Kiwis do like their ice cream, too. Oh, and the unicorn cake design from “Nailed It” – or at least one very similar to it – made an appearance, too, which made me laugh out loud, especially as it was very well executed.
Well, given my displeasure at the lack of Technical, I don’t think I was ever going to be thrilled with the choice of who to eliminate. At the same time, it wasn’t a galloping shock that it was Jennie – not making things from scratch will never get you far in Bake Off land. And I was genuinely pleased for Annabel; her cupcakes were gorgeous and seemed well-received by the judges (other than Brett finding the tiramisu cupcake a little bitter) and her “bee” cake was cleverly done. I particularly liked the decision to put the layers on their side, instead of stacking them normally and carving them.
Based on the trailer for next week’s episode, it sounds like there will be a Technical Challenge (Pineapple Upside Down Cake) and a Signature Challenge (Traybakes? I thought they were called Slices!), but I guess no Showstopper? We’ll find out soon enough , but I’m pleased to know they haven’t done away with the Technical altogether.
All in all, I’d say the start was a little rocky but it was also only the first episode. If you go back to watch the first episode of the first season of GBBO, you can see how much it’s evolved, so I think the Kiwi spinoff has a lot of potential yet. Hopefully the same can be said for this little blog, as it evolves as well!