CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV

Beat The Chef


Beat The Chasers 


Don’t try to deny it, girls. You know that any mundane activity becomes stonkingly sexy and macho when performed by a middle-aged man.

Bicycling ceases to be a pastime for children and retired ladies, when a Lycra-clad male in his virile mid-40s is astride the pedals.

The pavements are no longer the preserve of ordinary walkers, now that they can be a racetrack for angrily perspiring blokes in training for a half-marathon.

But of all the ways a gent in his prime can assert his alpha maleness, there’s nothing more heroic than cookery.

Not normal, dinner-in-a-hurry cookery, of course. Don’t expect a real man to fix fishfingers and beans for the kids on a school night. The mere suggestion is an insult to his testosterone.

Chris Topham, Andi Oliver and Mark Sargeant on Channel 4's Beat The Chef

Chris Topham, Andi Oliver and Mark Sargeant on Channel 4’s Beat The Chef 

He’s a commando armed with Le Creuset cookware, an Olympian with a superhuman palate. Andi Oliver, presenter of Beat The Chef (C4), was in danger of being washed away by the waves of machismo as this kitchen stand-off returned.

Professional chef Mark Sargeant demonstrated his flair by flambeing strips of fish before posing, arms crossed and brandishing his blowtorch like James Bond’s Walther PPK.

He faced amateur cook and former RAF fighter pilot Chris from Brighton, who used to fly stealth planes and Jaguar attack aircrafts. He oozed military confidence. 

Andi stood well back, with her outsize spectacles perched as usual on her bald head. I used to wonder what use they were up there but I now realise she’s wearing them like a racing driver’s goggles. It’s all about the swagger.

The two men shook hands like boxers touching gloves and then set about pummelling a beef stroganoff with rice into submission.

A judging panel tasted both dishes blind, without knowing which cook prepared each platter. 

To preserve the tension to the last moment, viewers weren’t told either — which meant the criticisms were meaningless. Somebody’s beef was tough, someone’s rice was overboiled, but we were left to guess what it all meant.

Bradley Walsh on the ITV show Beat The Chasers

Bradley Walsh on the ITV show Beat The Chasers 

All cookery shows suffer because the audience can’t taste the food. If we don’t even get the satisfaction of watching the dishes being eaten, it’s about as worthwhile as a fireworks display on the radio.

In the second round, baking a fish, Chris helpfully removed the element of suspense by burning his plaice. He still won £750, which is about what you’ll have to pay for an over-hyped dinner-for-two at some poncy Michelin-starred clip joint in London. Alternatively, it’ll get you a year’s supply of fishfingers and beans.

The prizes are more mouth-watering on Beat The Chasers (ITV) all this week. You had to feel for, James, who was within three seconds of scooping fifty grand — but panicked and blew the lot, when asked: ‘Which Stuart monarch died in 1714?’

The answer was Queen Anne. James said ‘Henry VIII’, forgetting that Good King Hal was not a Stuart but a Tudor. It’s why that rip-roaring costume drama was called, er, The Tudors.

Graham, let £40,000 slip through his fingers. One of the questions was: ‘Who created the girls of St Trinian’s?’

If you were watching BBC1 on Sunday, you’ll know — it was Ronald Searle, whose chilling sketches drawn in a wartime Japanese prison camp featured on Antiques Roadshow.

There’s a new Chaser, The Menace, who wears a ruby brooch at his throat that looks like he swiped it from his granny’s jewellery box.

Last to try her luck was Sue, a cheerfully diffident lady who gave the impression she was there simply for the thrill of meeting Bradley Walsh. Then she trounced the lot of them, and collected £50k. Bravo, Sue.

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