For ‘The Great British Baking Show,’ ‘Mexican Week’ Was Not an Accident – The New York Times

It was even worse than the clips implied — an hour of incompetent exposition, farcical bumbling and maracas-shaking. A distraction for an increasingly insular, self-referential show that’s run out of energy and expertise, and refuses to find it elsewhere.

The show has slowly moved away from regional specialties and technique-centered challenges, from focusing on, say, the beauty of lamination, hot-water crusts and steamed puddings. It has grown to fit the exact, most clichéd limits of its form — countries as themes, cuisines as costumes, identities as performances.

Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, the show’s original hosts, excelled at double entendres, while playing up their lack of baking expertise. But they glowed with curiosity and enthusiasm for baking, and short documentary segments they hosted often featured experts, and cultural context, for many foods on the show. But in more recent seasons, several challenges have presented foods as if encountering them for the first time. A recent, and almost equally chaotic “Japanese Week” introduced a challenge of Chinese steamed buns.

As the show found a wider audience in the United States, and moved from the BBC to Channel 4, it lost Ms. Perkins, Ms. Giedroyc and Mary Berry, a judge who was replaced by Ms. Leith. And while it’s tempting to say the show hasn’t been the same since, you might also say its worst tendencies have simply flourished. Viewers have been pointing them out for years. In an old episode, Mr. Hollywood repeatedly and inexplicably referred to challah, a traditional Jewish bread, as “plaited bread,” which prompted the Forward headline, “‘Great British Bake Off’ Has Zero Jewish Friends.”

And in 2019, Sana Noor Haq wrote about the tension between the show’s image as a bastion of modern, multicultural Britain and the judges’ clear sense of discomfort — or smirking amusement — when contestants like Michael Chakraverty infused the flavors of coconut and chile into his Keralan star bread.

Contestants were expected to perform their biographies, neatly and concisely, for the judges. To make the flavors and designs of their foods add up to a pleasant and consumable identity. Never mind that some bakers managed to have fun with it, or be really good at it.


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