If you’re reading this, chances are you’re already familiar with the transcendent pleasantness of The Great British Baking Show—the gorgeous bakes and Hollywood handshakes, the affable English nans you just want to hug through the screen. But many of us binge our way through each season when it hits Netflix, leaving a months-long gap in our lives we desperately need to fill with fussy cooks and passive-aggressive English criticism.
And that, my friends, is where The Big Family Cooking Showdown comes in.
Coming hot off the heels of GBBO’s move to Channel 4 from the BBC in 2017, The Big Family Cooking Showdown feels like the savory alternative to the sweet flagship cooking competition. The premise is predictably similar, but with a few twists: The contestants are cooking savory meals instead of baked goods (though the occasional dessert round does crop up), and the contestants are three members of a family.
Suffice to say, BFCS does everything it can to attract those comparisons to its more famous cousin: the plinky, twee music cues are practically identical, and season 1 was co-hosted by GBBO’s favored daughter (and woman with the most expressive face on television), Nadiya Hussain.
While the first season contrasted GBBO’s tent with what Daily Telegraph reviewer Michael Hogan called a “swish barn, kitted out in twee, shabby chic style to resemble something from a glossy interiors magazine,” season 2—which is now available on Netflix—has worked out quite a few kinks in the presentation. Now, the set is a sleeker, more minimalist kitchen, with stark off-white walls and large glass doors that looks like something out of a Better Homes & Gardens cover; it’s bougie, to be sure, but at least it feels like a working space as opposed to a game-show set.
While Hussain’s presence is missed, BFCS makes a great move in combining the host and judge roles with its two new hosts, Michelin-star chef Tommy Banks and Celebrity MasterChef winner Angellica Bell. All told, they’re a bit milquetoast compared to Hussain’s expressive earnestness and former co-host Zoe Ball’s wit, but finding younger, hipper food experts to cover the spread seems to work out in their favor. Though of course, they’re not too hip, at least in Banks’ case; he’s a big, friendly British dork, but that’s part of his appeal.
Perhaps the true genius of BFCS’ concept is recognizing the tension and drama inherent to any family cooking situation. We’ve all seen our fair share of family kitchens turn into the Thunderdome around Thanksgiving, side dishes and mise-en-place turning into the latest rounds in years-long feuds. Even at the best of times, weeknight cooking with your spouse can also be a carefully controlled exercise in patience, communication, and staying the hell out of the way. With every challenge, BFCS mines that to great effect. Then add the tension of time limits, ingredient restrictions, and the presence of other families in the room (some of whom might—gasp—accidentally knock over your mango salad martini glasses!), and BFCS serves up a heaping helping of familial suspense.
Despite the tension, yelling, and storming around, it’s a triumph when you see these families pull together to serve up some delicious food. BFCS’s focus on savory meals and family dinners works fantastically with its cast of characters: we’re not only seeing how these families work, but we get to see how they eat. The challenges all feel like expressions of the family’s own diverse tastes, cultures, and interests—the dishes serving as a gourmet version of the kind of meal they’d eat together.
The fact that The Big Family Cooking Showdown hasn’t broken apart any families (as far as we know) should be reason enough to feel comfortable using it to fill the Paul Hollywood-shaped hole in your cooking-competition diet.