Thanks to the popularity of Food Network, cooking shows are abundant. You can see anyone, from the raggedy-haired Guy Fieri to the infinitely refined Barefoot Contessa prepare a meal, and that almost makes you a chef, right? Of course, the natural addition to food preparation is competition, and the proliferation of cooking competitions doesn’t show any sign of slowing—they’ve even got them for kids now.
But of all those shows, one stands out among the pack, and it doesn’t even air on the Food Network. Nope, it’s The Great British Baking Show, which just concluded its run in the United States this weekend. No spoilers here, but we’re two seasons behind the running of the show in the United Kingdom, where it airs as The Great British Bake-Off. That’s a real shame, because The Great British Baking Show is the actual best cooking show of all time, and we want to be caught up immediately. Here’s five reasons why.
Cooking show judges are generally pretty cool, but no one tops the combination of Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Hollywood is a legendary U.K. patissier, and Berry a Le Cordon Bleu-trained culinarian who has written more cookbooks than you’ve actually read in your life. You’ll wait with baited breath as Berry bites into a freshly-prepared Victoria sponge or croquembouche, and good luck figuring out whether she likes it or not—that stone-cold-yet-grandma-warm face could make trained spies lose their cool.
Everyone on The Great British Baking Show is an amateur baker, which makes it incredibly watchable. The usual U.K. sheepishness is in peak form here, when the best bakers on the show serve up something that looks like heaven on Earth and think they’ve screwed up beyond belief. Season 6’s Diana, pictured above, looks like what you’d see next to the definition of “awesome grandma” in the dictionary. Unlike chef-driven cooking shows, where egos abound and chest-puffing is common, it’s refreshing to see competitors with such skill doubt themselves. It makes us feel a little bit better about our own kitchen fuck-ups.
Shows like Cupcake Wars and Cake Boss showcase beautifully decorated cakes, but you know they probably don’t taste all that great because they’re covered in mounds of sugary fondant. On The Great British Baking Show, though, everything is handmade—including any fondant, if it does appear. When things do get fancy, especially in each episode’s “show stopper” challenge, it is particularly impressive. The focus here is on the technical skill and flavor, which means that beautifully laminated pastry and humble stuffed pies will have you drooling over your T.V. screen—and browsing Travelocity for tickets to London.
For whatever reason, cooking show producers in the States have decided that a show needs drama to survive. Even when you’re just trying to watch someone duke it out in the Chopped kitchen, you’ve got to listen to their backstory and endure manufactured spats with the other competitors. On this show, you’ll frequently see competitors helping one another if they’ve got time left over, and there’s no animosity, real or cultivated, and that’s really refreshing.
If there’s one thing that the success of The Great British Baking Show means, it’s more delicious British baked goods. Biscuits and pasties haven’t exactly caught on in the U.S., at least not like the macaron and croissant, and it’s about damn time. If enough people start drooling over beautifully layered sponges and perfect princess cakes (as seen above), maybe we’ll soon start seeing them at better bakeries and even Whole Foods.
Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor. She can’t stop drooling over pies, tarts, and sponges.
Images via PBS