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Cooking Buddies review – Jamie Oliver’s son goes where his dad doesn’t dare
Culture TV and Radio

Cooking Buddies review – Jamie Oliver’s son goes where his dad doesn’t dare

It’s possible that Jamie Oliver’s production company did not perform an exhaustive auditioning process before hiring the host of their new CBBC show. In Cooking Buddies, a teen presenter meets someone who is roughly his own age and teaches them how to cook a dish, which they then make for their family. In return, the guest gives the presenter a crash course in their favourite hobby. That presenter is Buddy Oliver, a 13-year-old food YouTuber who is also Jamie’s son.

Cookery telly is already disproportionately Oliver-flavoured, to some viewers’ distaste. Now there is a new generation of cheeky chappy to contend with, and a new “nepo baby” to discuss. But, sadly for those ready to dump on Cooking Buddies, it points up the flipside of the idea that flooding our culture with the children of the famous – and more broadly with the children of the rich, who can afford a creative freedom that is increasingly denied to the less well-off – is corrosively unfair. That this is true and should, generally, be resisted does not necessarily mean that the posh kids’ projects stink, and Cooking Buddies works just fine.

In its core aim to make cookery accessible to kids, the series succeeds. A fish finger sandwich uses homemade fish fingers – cod or salmon cut into batons and dipped in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, with a tip offered for creating the crumbs if you don’t have a food processor: freeze a slice of bread then grate it. Definitely don’t buy a packet of breadcrumbs from a shop, there’s no fun in that. The chips to go with the sandwich are sliced by hand with a crinkle-cutting blade, and the sauce is the two-ingredient classic Marie Rose, but with good-boy yoghurt instead of naughty mayonnaise. Episode two’s pasta with spicy tomato sauce uses fresh tomatoes, basil and chilli, plus pasta made from scratch by cracking an egg into a well of flour before kneading, resting, stretching and slicing the dough.

Buddy uses clear explanations of the relevant techniques, regularly backed with the reassurance that you can always get an adult to help if hazards such as sharp knives and hot ovens are off-putting. He turns meals that are more advanced than those made by the average frazzled grownup – how many of the midweek pasta dinners we listlessly Frisbee at our loved ones involve both pasta and sauce we made ourselves? – into child’s play.

Mild comic relief is provided by Buddy’s dog, Conker, whose thoughts are voiced by Peppa Pig narrator and former Absolutely cast member John Sparkes. As Conker hopes for treats and makes forlorn offers to help chop tomatoes or dip fish in breadcrumbs, Sparkes correctly gives him a voice somewhere between Tommy Cooper and Scooby-Doo, which as everyone knows is how all dogs’ inner monologues sound. Conker’s script doesn’t allow him to say anything that’s actually funny, but Sparkes lends him life.

For its human host, meanwhile, Cooking Buddies is a more demanding format than a lot of adult food shows, including most of those presented by Buddy’s dad. Instead of standing alone behind a worktop talking to camera, Oliver Jr has to whip up something nutritious and delicious while chatting with a guest who is not only also making the dish, but is potentially unpredictable on account of being a child. You wouldn’t catch James Martin or Simon Rimmer allowing a minor to handle the utensils in their weekend brunch kitchens, but Buddy deals with the challenge effortlessly. In episode one he bonds with a boy named Jackson who, halfway through concocting those fish finger sandwiches, invites Buddy to join him in his boxing gym for a beginner’s guide to skipping and bag-punching. The pair convincingly become friends on screen.

Buddy fares even better in episode two, where he strikes up a, dare I say, vaguely flirtatious rapport with a girl called Aiyla, who has a black belt in karate. Aiyla is such a natural performer, confidently asking her host all the right questions about pasta sauces before schooling him on balance and agility in her dojo, that you wonder if CBBC might commission her to front her own series where she shows a different child each week how to do martial arts.

Naysayers who questioned whether Buddy was really the best person for the job might well observe, at this point, that it only takes Cooking Buddies two episodes to accidentally unearth a kid who is potentially a better TV presenter than he is. This doesn’t stop the show being valuable public-service broadcasting: certainly if, in the weeks to come, we find ourselves wolfing down a tasty, healthy dinner our kids have made, it’ll be hard to care about the surname of the boy who taught them how to do it.

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Source: theguardian.com