Seven years after Bake Off: Crème de la Crème began challenging professional pastry chefs, Netflix has brought the Great British Bake-Off spin-off to the States.
Now known as Bake-Off: The Professionals, it features 12 pairs of pastry chefs—excuse me, pâtissiers—who work together, competing in two challenges to try to make it through to the next round.
With its pre-existing relationships and absolutely frenetic energy, it’s like The Amazing Race of baking competitions. Alas, Bake-Off at that speed and volume subtracts a lot of what makes Bake-Off special.
Baking Show: The Professionals has undergone quite a few changes in its life. After two seasons on BBC Two, the show was cancelled and moved to Channel 4, where it was renamed just Bake Off: The Professionals.
Netflix the season that aired in 2021, and has renamed it Baking Show: The Professionals, while also renumbering it as season one, even though Channel 4 calls it season 4 and it’s actually season 6. Why identify a season of television with one number when you can use three?
The competition takes place in three rounds: six pairs, narrowed to three; then another six pairs, narrowed to three; then the winning three teams from each heat competing against each other until the final. Most episodes have two challenges: miniatures and showpieces. They can prepare for most challenges, including prep the night before, though there are surprise challenges, too.
The teams work together in real life, which should bring an established dynamic, or at least some history. Alas, it’s hard to get to know the competitors as either teams or individuals, and how they work together doesn’t come through.
Inexplicably, it retains all the wrong things from Bake-Off, like the hosts’ alleged comedic cold opens and the time-wasting time calls.
Despite being filmed in the stables of at Firle Place, a manor house in East Sussex that is featured in establishing shots, the set is indistinguishable from a soundstage. A more temperature-controlled environment probably makes pastry-making possible, but give the pros the same challenges of rain and heat and humidity as the amateurs!
Visually, it’s a far more average baking competition, though its standard is much higher.
Judges Benoit Blin and Cherish Finden are much more demanding, which is understandable for a competition between pros.
One contestant describes the feedback as “harsh but fair,” and that’s a fair assessment. I do appreciate the judges’ sharpness, though Cherish Finden is by far my favorite. Her quips are specific and frequently entertaining: “I think you have to change it completely”; “I didn’t enjoy eating it at all”; “There will be no doggy bag for me, thank you!”; “Holy moly! This is to die for.”
They are willing to give credit for techniques and flavors that work well, but the lack of empathy and warmth for the challenges the contestants are facing makes all of this a lot less engaging.
The cold vacuum of space where The Great British Bake-Off‘s warm, supportive environment was is filled instead with a frenetic energy.
Baking Show: The Professionals’s operatic and classical music score is louder and more aggressive, relentlessly underscoring the frantic editing.
Benoit talks with his face and hands, which he constantly thrusts at the screen while frequently shouting at us. Meanwhile, co-host Tom Allen, who hosted the Extra Slice companion show, is like a hyperactive wind-up toy who just keeps going and going.
Co-host Liam Charles, a Bake-Off alum and host of Junior Bake Off, grounds everything, thankfully, handling the business of hosting well while still having fun.
The elements are here; they’re just calibrated weirdly, like a sound board with the levels out of whack.
It seems that’s not what the show is going for. Advertising the 2018 season, Bake-Off tweeted, “There will be drama. There will be gags. There will be unforgettable facial expressions.”
There are those things, and lots of them! And they’re fun. But is it too much to ask to see fewer host shenanigans and more of the pros and their working relationships?
Baking Show: The Professionals
A serviceable baking competition that lacks the magic of its parent. B-
What works for me:
- Judge Cherish Finden and host Liam Charles
- Pairs of contestants with pre-existing working relationships
- Putting pros to the test
What could be better:
- Dropping the Bake-Off bits
- Less frenetic editing
- More focus on the bakers themselves