Snackmasters: finally, a program that shows what's good about being a chef

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th October 2019

I don't think much of chefs reality-TV. But Snackmasters, the new program on Channel 4, featuring an overly-enthusiastic Fred Sirieix and some of Britain's best chefs, is like a breath of fresh air. 

First and foremost, I thought it was great fun to watch. Really really good fun. I thought it was great entertainment.

Showing real skill

What was really interesting was that the chefs had to approach something from a really analytical perspective. They had to work out what was in the bun, what was in the patty, how could they get the flame-grilled taste, almost like how you would construct a menu.

If you take away the fact that it was a Burger King Whopper, it was how would you make a menu, how would you make a dish.

It would all be about ‘what are the ingredients,’ what’s the best way to cook it, what happens when I eat it together. It was a real trial and error process, which often cooking is.

You don’t always get it right, you can have something in your mind and think ‘lamb’s going to work really well with that’, and it should go really well with that but it doesn’t so you might have to take the third element away and what is that third element so you have to go through putting it with mint sauce, putting it with this sauce, putting it with that sauce and then going ‘eurgh, it’s horrible with that one, it’s not bad with that one, yep, mint sauce, that’s the one we’ve got to go with.’

Chefs are people too 

Snackmasters 2

Executive chef of Northcote

Lisa Goodwin-Allen

With Snackmasters host Fred Sirieix

I thought it showed chefs as humans, which I thought was really good, it didn’t show them as barking leftenants or divas, it just showed them as real human beings -  who were hugely competitive, for sure, which we know chefs are.

I loved the difference between Claude and Lisa. Lisa has won Great British Menu, and the reason for that is because she read the brief. She read the brief and she delivered exactly on the brief.

She's got a brain that says: ‘that’s the brief, this is what I have to do, that’s what I will do.’

Claude went: ‘I can make it better’ and that wasn’t the brief – the brief was not elevate this burger to a two Michelin star restaurant, the brief was to make a Whopper.

Claude’s first instinct as a chef was: ‘this is s**t, I will make it better.’

I loved the two different approaches between the two of them, that was fascinating.

I loved the fact that they took something that they’ll never admit to eating (though I bet they all love a dirty burger) but it wasn’t something that naturally they would be comfortable cooking with, so it took them out of their comfort zone, but I think there was a lot of how they would work in their kitchens.

If you looked at both of them, Lisa had Danny, her sous-chef with her, former YCOTY and NWCOTY, Claude had his head chef, Francesco, so there was a real team effort to do it, trial and error and then of course at the end the whole competition thing, it wasn’t just who could make it taste the same it was who could get it out.

And let’s be honest, Claude really screwed it up!

More rounded than GBM

To sum it up, I just thought there were lots of really positive things about it. It really showed chefs as human beings, it showed chefs as being analytical, it shows that chefs can be creative, it showed how they work following a trial and error process, it showed how they work with their team to create something and it was just good fun.

It’s more rounded than other TV shows: for example, with Great British Menu, what you’re getting now is more and more wacky briefs and I think the last thing it’s come down to is the cooking.

The props now in GBM are just extravagant. Paul Ainsworth was one of the first that brought that in with his fairground ride and this type of thing. Now it’s a program on who can trump someone on the props they’re using to try and make something wacky.

Snackmasters is not a cookery program in the true sense of the word. GBM used to be but it’s moved away from being a cookery program: now, it thrives on failure, on a chef being late, messing something up, forgetting to order something, a machine being turned off, because that makes good TV.

Snackmasters is great TV because it’s just fun. It didn’t set out to humiliate Claude or humiliate Lisa. It’s an alien environment for sure, but it wasn’t so alien that you would take a chef like Claude and make him look stupid.

He wouldn’t have agreed to do it if that was the case anyway. I think what you get with other shows is that you have more media hungry chefs that are prepared to be slightly exposed for the return of media exposure.

Here, the chefs don’t need that because they’re high enough profile in the industry.

Although Fred Sirieix might say it is, this isn’t the challenge of their lives.

The fact that Claude didn’t win – does that mean that people aren’t going to go to Bibendum? No. He’s now got a burger on at The Oyster bar. Why not. It’s great marketing, why would you not exploit that. I would be really surprised if there wasn’t a burger on Lisa’s menu somewhere on room service or in the bar or something like that.

You’ve only got to look at when people come back from doing cookery shows – like Laurence Henry at Sat’s, he did his MasterChef menu, it’s a great way of tapping into the hype around those TV programs.

But with Snackmasters, the fact that Claude didn’t win doesn’t make me feel like Claude is any less of an amazing chef? No. Do I feel any less positively about Bibendum? No. It’s just funny that after all of that trial and error, he didn’t put the tomato in. He was so hell bent on winning that he completely forgot to put the tomato in.


The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th October 2019

Snackmasters: finally, a program that shows what's good about being a chef