The main ingredient in the BBC’s new cooking competition show seems to be hugs. And the main giver and receiver of those hugs is Nadiya Hussain. At one point Zoe Ball, Hussain’s co-presenter in The Big Family Cooking Showdown, puts an arm around her; Hussain hugs the contestants, they squeeze her back. After winning The Great British Bake Off in 2015, Hussain’s rise has been as swift and sweet as a fairy cake’s – we gobble up her other shows and her books.
“She’s an extraordinary talent and is lovely to watch. She makes people smile and they engage with her,” says Sarah Durdin Robertson, series food producer at the production company Optomen. “You almost feel she could do anything and people would watch it.” Could Hussain, born in Luton to Bangladeshi parents, be a symbol not, as has been relentlessly discussed, of multicultural Britain, but of Britain’s journey towards more emotional honesty?
These are not, of course, happy times – there have been terrorist attacks and housing disasters, warnings about another financial crash and political uncertainty. Actual nuclear war suddenly looks possible. The response, in popular culture, has been a turn towards anything uplifting – it was said that the feelgood nature of the TV reality show Love Island was the reason for its surprise success this summer. In the publishing industry, the trend is being called “up lit”, with books emphasising empathy and kindness.
The Big Family Cooking Showdown, built around relationships and family recipes, undoubtedly taps into this. Each week, two families compete to impress the judges, chefs Rosemary Shrager and Giorgio Locatelli, with three rounds of cooking. It’s Bake Off meets Family Fortunes, with a shade of Come Dine With Me (there’s a round where the judges go to the family home for dinner).
But it has, as a Radio Times review noted last week, “that magical feeling” that made Bake Off, which is said to be starting later this month on…