Grace Dent on TV: Early days for The Kitchen, but its opening course was very more-ish

Hopefully in later episodes there will be a more Victorian vibe where the under-10s at the dinner table can be seen but not heard

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The Independent Culture

The Kitchen on BBC2.

It’s Gogglebox, except with households having their dinner. It’s “Can’t Cook, Can’t Cook”. It’s “Come Die (of food poisoning) With Me”. It’s “The Great British Bolognese-Off”. It’s just normal folk eating normal things like sausage and chips. It’s really rather good. Also, I’m being churlish about the cooking. Some of these people are pretty stalwart no-frills cooks. For example, Mrs Bradshaw’s steak pie with mash and mushy peas was the stuff of mum’s-dinner, soul-food fantasies.

I loved the Bradshaws. They came as a pair. Married forever. Him: two heart attacks and a Hawaiian shirt, likes his morning toast cut into squares with two different types of jam. Her: minces her own steak, loves a paperback romance. The pair explaining earnestly why they always take their own food on holiday – after the Italian trip where they had to live on bread rolls – was pure Little Britain joy. It was the same with the silly upper-middle-class family with the brattish daughter who ate stew with frisbees on their heads to aid deportment, or the family sitting around plates of beige George Foreman-grilled freezer produce giving thanks to God for sending them such a great variety of food.

Gogglebox, your time is up. Your households have become so nauseatingly knowing that audiences must endure twerking and shrieking outbursts before any TV chat is tackled. Too much singing for their supper, not enough bog-standard boring on. This isn’t their fault. It’s the natural cycle of success and fame.

It’s impossible to stay normal when you were supping free fizz at the National TV Awards with Ant and Dec the night before. Meanwhile, The Kitchen’s families are pre-fame, pre-media exposure, pre what I call The Gremlin Effect: fame feeds them after midnight, turning them from fluffy Gizmos into hard-nosed Stripes.

Currently still painfully conscious of the camera, The Kitchen’s subjects are stilted of word and awkward of body movement. They poke frozen Richmond sausages on greasy grill pans. They stir gloopy pans of mince laced with cheap, bottled, chopped tomato slop. Hell’s bolognese. This is some of the worst cooking ever televised, but that’s only because we rarely see the honest face of real dinners.

The three young, male flat-sharers’ – Matt, Dave and Xanthi – attempts to discuss a recent lads’ holiday over “welcome home” beef fajitas was wonderfully vague. None of them really wanted their dirty linen aired in public. My attention was caught by one of the lads’ adamant statement that the fajita beef in the frying pan was too “watery” and that all the gravy should be poured down the sink as it was “trapping the flavour”. In The Kitchen, there is no Mary Berry with a withering “stupid boy” look, to guide the home chefs to culinary finesse.

In Buckinghamshire, Mrs Gale was reflecting on her 19-year-old son flying the nest. Mr Gale had made a wonderful, fancy noodle-salad supper, but then laced it with green chilli that had all his grown-up kids choking and reaching for milk. I really felt for Mrs Gale who mused that, on reflection, her life had been sacrificed to having children and that she had never lived in a shared flat, and had never followed any dreams aside from being a mum, or really stretched her brain at all. None of her kids was comfortable with mum suddenly wanting to broach the matter. “You’d not have liked thinking anyway,” was, roughly speaking, their awkward group response. I’m sure The Kitchen’s producers didn’t mean to create a subtext of “Kids: they’re bloody awful”, but it parped out loud and clear.

The Mitchell-Cott clan in Suffolk included six smug, back-chatting, eye-rolling terrors who railed against a suggested internet curfew while father Hamish meekly tried to finish a sentence. Poor Hamish, a down-at-heel aristocrat who had resorted to obsessive “freeganism” to feed his brood. The man rose at dawn to “glean” old potatoes from fields and roadkill from sidings to line their bellies. Did this give him the right to turn off the Wi-Fi router temporarily? Did it bugger.

The Garbutt family, meanwhile, lived at the mercy of their youngest little princess. Crocodile tears and screams were emitted when little blossom didn’t get her own way. Then, to confound matters, the child was informed how brilliant she was at manipulating her father, as if it was a rare talent. In Cardiff, the Barry-Powers family featured five children who refused to eat the same dinner, leaving mum Louise permanently chained to her stove like an unpaid short-order cook. On C4, The Kitchen would be sponsored by Durex.

In Staffordshire, Mr Amar Harrar had been, figuratively, given a lemon by life and was making lemonade with it. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, he laughed about how brushing his teeth was much swifter with wobbly hands, before whipping up a Chinese-Indian pork fusion.

It’s early days for The Kitchen, but its opening course was very more-ish. Hopefully in later episodes there will be a more Victorian vibe where the under-10s at the dinner table can be seen but not heard.