It’s a producer’s dream to create a new format for a reality TV show.
Those behind Zumbo’s Just Desserts, which debuted on Monday night on Channel Seven, must have been on a high as they saw renowned patissier Adriano Zumbo (in his lime green shoes), the UK’s Rachel Khoo (the new Nigella Lawson) and 12 contestants arrive through the pink door to their ‘Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory’ set.
There was beautiful Brazilian-born assistant Gigi, the judges’ eyes and ears on the factory floor.
There were new catchphrases for the hosts.
“I’ve been waiting to say this! Power up your dessert stations,” said Khoo.
“Get your ingredients and make some magic,” added Zumbo.
And an electronic clock, which was overlaid with hugely annoying “whoomp, whoomp, whoomp” sounds every time it was in shot.
The contestants are apparently the best amateur pastry chefs in Australia, out to win $100,000 and see one of their creations featured in Zumbo’s shops.
You’ll be familiar with this breed of show from watching MasterChef and The Great Australian Bake Off, among others.
First up was a challenge to “use your imagination” and create a dessert that’s a “reflection of yourself” in just three hours.
Irene the Finance Analyst (who wants to please her chef father and dreams of her own restaurant) had an appalling start.
She cut her finger, stuffed up her ingredients and made such a mess that Zumbo commented “Irene is a bomb site” – despite the sign above her which ordered contestants to “keep your station clean and tidy”.
Daniel the Bouncer was obsessed with using liquid nitrogen and science and was disdainful of “desserts you can see in your local café”.
Peter the Car Salesman attempted a layered sponge cake, which relied on some complex jelly setting on a cold cake and was ambitious in the time available.
Wendy the Recruitment Consultant made a caramel apple pie – with a twist – and was enthused about the feel of flour on her skin. She’s unsettled when Gigi asks her if she thinks that her dish is too simple compared to the others.
It all started to unravel by judging time and I wondered how on earth the bottom two had made it through auditions.
Peter’s dessert collapsed – which was unfortunate – and Wendy’s dessert was just plain ordinary.
Naturally, they were forced to “cook for survival” and had to replicate something that reflected Zumbo – a shiny, glossy ball of layered flavours and textures.
There was no way in hell that these two would come within cooee of being able to deliver a complex dish like that. I imagined the producers shuddering in the control room.
Predictably, both were disasters with Khoo and Zumbo struggling to find anything good to say about either of them.
“You gave it your best,” Zumbo told Peter, who managed to scrape 11 points out of 20 for getting something vaguely reminiscent of Zumbo’s creation onto the plate.
Wendy managed just six points out of 20.
“Time to leave the factory,” Khoo told her.
“May all your sweet dreams come true,” said Zumbo, perhaps hopefully.
Thankfully for future episodes, there was genuine talent in the remaining contestants.
For example, Irene’s shambles (“the most unorthodox pastry cheffing I’ve ever seen”, according to Zumbo) resulted in a “stunning dessert”.
And Daniel delivered visual perfection – with little flavour.
But the producer’s dream will turn into a nightmare pretty quickly if they can’t deliver what similar shows deliver – exceptional dishes from amateurs every time and, in this case, three times a week.