In times of anxiety or stress, I find comfort in food—and in food reality television, sometimes at the same time. From the zaniness of Nailed It! to the culinary challenges of Top Chef to the warmth and Britishness of The Great British Bake Off, food TV is a comforting distraction. This winter, I found two shows—one new, one old—that provided that for me.
Netflix’s Best Leftovers Ever! comes from Nailed It! producers Magical Elves, and it is definitely related to that show. But it’s also the calmer, more assured sibling: if Nailed It! is too high-energy for you, give this a try.
In two rounds, three contestants have to create dishes incorporating “leftovers,” transforming them to something new. This isn’t groundbreaking; it’s essentially the same brief on Chopped, where transformation and use of basket ingredients is the central task.
The heroes of Best Leftovers Ever’s production team are the culinary producers who put the leftovers together, because they really do look like something that’s been sitting in a fridge for a few days: bean dip with runny liquid on its surface, half-eaten sandwiches.
Best Leftovers Ever! doesn’t break the fourth wall like Nailed It! does, and in fact goes the other direction, trying to hide its errors. (There’s way too much—and way too obvious—ADR for my taste.)
But it’s mostly charming, with that charm anchored at the judges’ table. Glow’s Jackie Tohn hosts and judges along side judges David So and Rosemary Shrager. They’re a delight, with lots of playfulness in their interaction, whether it’s goofing around or kidding each other.
Rosemary Shrager also judged season-one of The Big Family Cooking Showdown, and is great at breaking down what’s working and what is not, especially in relationship to the ingredients.
David So is similarly precise, especially as he offers really specific and direct advice to the contestants about how to improve their cooking in the second round. Most cooking show judges aren’t this explicit about directing their contestants, but it’s such a smart idea, because these contestants are cooking just twice for these judges, so it’s useful to know what their audience wants.
Another way the show diverges from its Netflix sibling is that these contestants are actually really good at what they do. They’re not all pro chefs, but they can produce restaurant-quality food out of gross-looking leftovers. They certainly do make mistakes, but they’re not flailing and failing like Nailed It’s contestants.
The set is full of oversize, bright takeout containers, including three that, stacked together, make the judges’ table. James Connelly—who’s designed sets for The Masked Singer, Making It, and the reboot of Double Dare—has designed a colorful and welcoming space, complete with a tipped-over Chinese takeout box where the contestants go to wait for the verdict.
That combination of whimsy and sleekness sets the tone that this is a playful but serious competition. There are abundant puns (the winner gets a casharole, a casserole dish full of $10,000 in cash) and some silliness at the judges table, plus a fridge that comes out by itself from behind the scenes to bring the round-two ingredients.
At the end of the episode, Sohn sings about the episode as she plays guitar and we see a montage of slow-motion scenes from the episode. It’s serious and goofy at the same time, which is perhaps the best way to describe Best Leftovers Ever!.
Britain’s Best Home Cook wants to be Bake-Off
Mary Berry left The Great British Bake-Off because it left the BBC, and her absence was deeply felt, especially as Paul Hollywood and his handshakes expanded into the space of authority she used to occupy.
Mary’s new starring vehicle on the BBC was Britain’s Best Home Cook, shortened to Best Home Cook for its second season. Both seasons are available via Hulu in the U.S.
She is her charming self, whether she’s indulging in alcohol or expressing irritation. “Quite boozy, that. I’m not complaining!” she tells one contestant. When the two other judges say that she should announce who’s going home, Mary quips, “You are a rotten lot.”
The show attempts to replicate but not duplicate Bake-Off’s style and charm, and it only sometimes works. The set is charming: little kitchens, almost identical, except with personalized fridges, so the contestants are cooking in spaces that tell us a little something about themselves. (Season two discarded these, in exchange for the more conventional benches in rows, which is unfortunate.)
The contestants live together, so we get to see them outside of the competition, kine of like on Top Chef. But since this isn’t Bravo, so there isn’t really a hint of personal conflict; it’s the opposite, extreme supportiveness, like walking in to the kitchen set together clinging to one another for support.
But that is not why anyone will watch. The sole reason I sampled the show was because of Mary Berry. While I got to know Mary Berry as a judge of baked goods, she “has written over 80 cookery books,” according to her website, and those cookbooks are not all focused on baking. Her expertise is vast.
If I wanted more of anything on Bake-Off, it was hearing from her.
Alas, on Home Cook, the producers have made a poor choice to have Mary appear alongside two other judges, Chris Bavin and Dan Doherty. I can appreciate that they want to establish themselves and their credibility, but it’s too many voices, especially as they seem to be competing with each other.
In addition, there’s host Claudia Winkleman, the host of Strictly Come Dancing and The Great British Sewing Bee, who’s very present and very much a lot, though Mary helps ground her with some fun sideways glances and quips.
They judge three rounds, so there’s ample opportunity for critique. The first round is basically a signature dish (the contestant’s “ultimate” version of a thing), and then the challenge’s winners—there can be multiple—pick the primary ingredient for the second challenge.
The contestants go home and look at cookbooks and think about what they might make, but the twist is that they don’t know what will be in their fridge and pantry, and that affects what they can do with the ingredient.
The worst cooks from round two go into an elimination round, which is judged in a very odd way: the contestants present plates, and the judges taste without talking or commenting. That may increase the tension for the contestants, but I didn’t find it very satisfying.
I’m watching to see contestants face challenges, and to hear from Mary Berry about how successful they’ve been. The show needs more Mary Berry and less of everything else that pushes her to the sidelines.
Like Best Leftovers Ever!, Britain’s Best Home Cook is doing a lot of things well, and while neither is quite culinary perfection, they’re perfectly satisfying comfort food.
Best Leftovers Ever: B+
Britain’s Best Home Cook: B–
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