There are now a startling number of opportunities for the amateur cook to discover the yawning gap between the approval of one's family and approbation from the world at large.
They can go for broke with MasterChef (where the wake-up call may come in the form of John Torode saying, "I want to like this, but I can't"). They can have a crack at Come Dine with Me (more of a blind hating service than a cooking show). Or they can put themselves up for Instant Restaurant (a new BBC2 format in which two domestic cooks go head to head as temporary restaurateurs). And now – only for the true masochistic, this – they can expose themselves to the charmless bluster of Michael Winner in Michael Winner's Dining Stars.
Winner clearly likes to think of himself as a scourge of mediocrity. "All chefs fear me," he boasted at the beginning of the programme, "that's how it should be." I'm not sure that he's grasped the significant distinction between contempt and dread, but anyway the notion that he is "the Mr Nasty of Food Critics" is what drives ITV's late entry into the field of kitchen reality shows. The idea is that he turns up, insults your food and your hospitality, and then decides how many stars he's going to confer on you. One star is for a triumphant performance, two stars for the absolutely exceptional and three for "historic beyond belief", which seems an unlikely prospect given his querulously demanding manner. A fabulously tacky credit sequence – an odd hash of Bond music, cartoon animation and Apprentice-style showing off with yachts and helicopters – emphasise the fact that he's used to the best: "Now I'm going around places I would normally not touch with the proverbial barge pole."
He headed North first, despite his better judgement. Northerners, he said, loftily, "provide food that is absolutely pathetic and they are incapable of cooking". Then he made Justine, from Longridge, cry before he'd even turned up, dismissing her menu as "very Eighties", during a pre-dinner telephone briefing. Don't add vodka to your prawn cocktail sauce Justine, you thought, add some strychnine instead. In the event, he wasn't greatly impressed with her cooking or with the results of Justine's recent diet. She'd lost 10 stone, she told him. "You must have been absolutely enormous," he replied with a tactless degree of surprise in his voice. A brief reaction shot appeared to show Justine's husband issuing a mute restraining order to his fist.
Stoking this man's ego should be a criminal offence, but the politeness of people will out and Winner was treated as a minor royal wherever he went. When he visited Dean's family in Winslow the assembled diners were so overawed that they forgot to ask him to talk about himself – a grave omission that knocked several points off the chef's final score. In the final section, the contestants come to London, to find out what Winner thought of their food and see whether they get to carry away a trophy. Dean left with kind words about his rum-and-raisin almond tart and a handful of dismissive insults about everything else but Justine – despite a scathing review of her beef wellington ("the meat was tepid, the pastry was uneatable it was so soggy") – was marked up because she had a daughter with cerebral palsy and a son with a serious heart condition. A sentimentalist, like many bullies, Winner welled up as he mentioned them – deeply moved by his own capacity to pity the less fortunate – and Justine got a single star. The flavour was coming through very strongly by now, sour and synthetic with a top note of rancid.