Review: The Hairy Bikers’ “Coming Home for Christmas” is a touching holiday cooking show unlike any other.
Cookery shows are often considered to be the most artificial programs on television. This is especially true for Christmas cookery shows, where hosts don festive sweaters and gather around a table with unfamiliar “friends” in a borrowed house, sampling food they didn’t prepare and reciting cliché statements about the significance of Christmas. What’s more, these scenes are typically filmed months in advance, taking away from the genuine holiday spirit. How disappointing!
The Hairy Bikers: Coming Home for Christmas is not one of those shows. Because of the presenters’ personal circumstances, and because the Hairy Bikers have always seemed a lot more real than their TV-chef rivals, their festive special really is what other Christmas culinary programmes only pretend to be: a warming, moving celebration of friends, family and food, giving thanks for another year survived.
Dave Myers and Si King have been acquaintances for over 30 years and have co-hosted food and travel shows for almost 20 years. Their dynamic showcases a type of friendship that is common in real life but uncommon on television: it’s not completely equal. Despite being nine years younger than Myers, King plays the role of the wise older brother in their sibling-like relationship. Myers is undeniably a skilled cook with a vast knowledge of food, but there is always a sense that he looks to King for approval and protection. This sets Myers apart from most TV chefs who often present themselves as all-knowing and flawless.
In May 2022, Myers made an announcement about his cancer diagnosis. This is the first Hairy Bikers show since then, and the beginning of the show focuses on Myers’ illness and treatment. He has chosen not to disclose the specific type of cancer he has to maintain some privacy, but it is evident that it was a serious threat to his life and caused him to lose his sense of self. His chemotherapy resulted in hair loss and affected his balance, temporarily transforming him from a “hairy biker” to someone with a different appearance and identity. Even now, he exhibits the physical effects of long-term cancer treatment that may be familiar to those with loved ones who have gone through similar experiences.
Witnessing Myers recount his struggle for survival is distressing, but the most poignant interview is with King, whose visage still displays the helpless fear of someone who feared losing their closest friend. He was unable to care for him any longer. “I’ve struggled to find my purpose,” he gruffly admits, downplaying the severity of the situation.
Following the difficult introduction, the usual routine of sourcing the finest seasonal ingredients for a lavish feast commences at Birmingham Symphony Hall. The resident chef showcases how to prepare Brummie bacon cakes, a common feature of food shows, but in this setting, everything has a special significance. Meanwhile, an all-female choir from the community surprises Myers and King with a rendition of carols. Although it may not have been a genuine surprise due to the nature of television, Myers, who feared he would never hear another Christmas carol, becomes emotional when attempting to express his gratitude towards the singers.
After receiving physiotherapy, Myers is able to ride his motorcycle again and he and his friend continue their usual routine of exploring the Midlands and trying out the top food producers and chefs in the area. They enjoy a delicious spiced pork belly dish at a fancy Indian restaurant in Birmingham and get a large sirloin from a high-end butcher. Myers is a bit nervous about choosing the meat, wondering if his friend will like it.
The Bikers prepare a meal in their kitchen, roasting beef and combining it with horseradish. They also make a starter dish of pork pancit noodles, which are tossed with lime, sriracha, and thinly sliced cabbage. This dish was inspired by a Filipino nurse who made it for Myers during his chemotherapy treatments when his mouth had lost its ability to taste and he desired bold, tangy flavors.
After visiting a family-owned walnut farm, there were many jokes about nuts and the main ingredient for a stilton, pear, and walnut tart. The two people involved shared a warm embrace and displayed their cute habit of giving sloppy cheek kisses. This signaled the completion of the Christmas menu and preparation for setting the table. Along with the food experts featured on the show, were also individuals who have played a significant role in Myers’ life, including a Filipino nurse and a physiotherapist who helped him relearn how to ride his bike without falling.
Cheers to good health and happiness. Then, Myers, sitting at the head of the table with King by his side, stands up a bit hesitantly to address the group. “Shall we plan to do this again next year? I certainly hope so.”