with Hamish McKenzie
It seems a totally obvious, totally cynical conceit: hot guys in the kitchen.
It has always struck us as odd that a presumably majority-female viewership should care so much about what the female show-hosts look like. Their alternatives do not appear to extend much beyond Gordon Ramsay, he of the ubiquitous livid scowl, and hirsute pie heroes the Hairy Bikers. Wouldn't it make more sense to give these viewers something more appealing to look at? Why not a bit of hunky prime rib to go with that mouth-watering slab of, er, prime rib?
Jamie Oliver was a start, but he's hardly the strapping Lothario of a Mills & Boon fantasy. There is, of course, the delectable Australian Take Home Chef Curtis Stone. But one man alone is a mere appetizer.
That must have been what the creators of the prosaically named Hot Guys Who Cook (Diva Universal, tomorrow at 9pm) were thinking when they pitched their show to networks. The concept couldn't be more simple: take 18 dishy dudes and stick them in a kitchen, and watch them cook their favourite meals. Each week, three fellas are given seven minutes each to show off their culinary talents. The show has actors, models, a radio host, a former Formula One driver and a DJ, all drawn from Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia.
The show's playful tone will make you cringe in parts - witness one studmuffin (do they still call them that?) brandishing a very phallic eggplant for the camera, or a giggling model confessing that he doesn't really cook much (oh, you badass!). But intense intellectualism isn't really the point of Hot Guys Who Cook. When the publicity shots feature a shirtless twenty-something standing in front of a stainless-steel stove, you kind of know it's time to put your brain on pause. Best to put your appetites on the same plate - the food here is definitely a sideshow.
For the food-show classicists who remain fans of Oliver, however, this week still offers enough to satisfy. Oliver, by now a true veteran wok-star, is somehow still finding time to do the odd televised cooking show, between pumping out recipe books and solving the West's obesity epidemic, celery stick by celery stick.
This time, he's helping to usher in the summer by indulging in a bit of a backyard broil-up. In the one-hour special Jamie Cooks Summer (TLC, tomorrow at 7pm), Oliver offers tips on how to spice up whatever pedestrian barbecue you were otherwise planning to labour through in the coming months. Thanks to Oliver, your guests can now expect spit-roasted meat over an open fire, fish smoked in an old bucket, crispy skewered trout and Moroccan lamb burgers. Whatever happened to the humble sausage in a slice of bread?
Part of the show's selling point is that this is food that will still be good after four hours in the back of a car. Sounds pretty much like McDonald's to us.
Time for dessert? No, of course not. It's time for more meat, as it always is. In which case, Man v Food: The Carnivore Chronicles (TLC, Wednesdays at 9pm) more than adequately serves. In this season, amiable glutton Adam Richman (above) - who goes almost completely vegetarian during his 'off' season - visits second-tier American cities in a valiant quest to get meat-drunk. Massive burritos in San Francisco, Texas-sized barbecue brisket pizza in San Antonio, smokey ribs in Richmond, Virginia ... this is the essence of American excess, distilled into a plate piled high with burnt flesh.
Richman may not be a hunk, but for many, he is a hero.