Come Dine With Me: the new generation

Come Dine With Me

By Nicole Correia,

There is something so ridiculously moreish about Channel 4’s Come Dine with Me that the phenomenon has begun to spread across tables up and down the country, with Come Dine With Me university societies holding their own soirees that undeniably rival our Channel 4 favourite.

We’re all guilty of watching the programme back-to-back, with our parents, grandparents or younger siblings; there’s something that appeals to all generations. Perhaps it’s the narrator’s quick-wit and portrayal of disgust, the wacky costumes, or the inevitability of a heated (and often seemingly scripted) argument over a dinner table. However, the heated arguments do not just occur at the dinner table when it comes to the show; TV critics have twisted their mouths with distaste at Channel 4’s lack of creativity. The Telegraph criticised C4 for screening 126 (not a typo) shows in just one month. Their TV insider even went as far as saying “there is such a thing as overkill… it’s not just crazy, it’s lazy.” The Guardian agree: “Back in 2005, Come Dine With Me was an undiscovered gem…now it’s like a gaudy commodity’’.

However, rather than chucking it in the pan, dare I say it, it just may need a little spicing up. With this in mind, perhaps it is time that Channel 4 addressed their criticism and modernised the show. How about a newer generation of cooks and diners?  theunipod spoke with a Channel 4 spokesperson, and whilst they refused to be drawn in on comments introducing a ‘new generation’ or a new slant on the show, they “[were] delighted that students up and down the country continue to enjoy Come Dine With Me.” Riveting.

The show is guilty of encouraging merriment, the sound of smoke alarms and some very interesting ‘student budget’ get-togethers. And now it’s the students bringing the spice that Channel 4 lack. It seems that thanks to the programme, today’s students are cooking more than ever before. Admittedly, it would be difficult to rival a well-organised production team and its contestants with a handful of hungry students and some society organisers. However, much like the burnt casseroles we’ve seen on our screens; you make the most of what you have.

I spoke with Patrick Mcintyre, founder of University of Reading’s Come Dine With Me Society, about the ‘just get on with it’ attitude that this new generation and the older generation of CDWM share: “we had one night where the 'dinner table' was just two old writing desks pushed together and one night the table was a door resting on some boxes’. Perhaps this is the essence of why Come Dine with Me has been so well-loved by many, and as to why it has caught on at universities. ‘Getting on with it’ and ‘making the most of what you have’ is exactly what students face on a day-to-day basis, especially when it comes to cooking with limited amounts of in-date-fridge-content.

Fridge content isn’t the only problem to overcome for the new generation; there’s also the cooking and meeting other judgemental students to contend with. Although Channel 4’s contestants are strangers as well, the new generation are likely to bump into each other the next day on campus. For this reason, there is ever more pressure to not burn anything/drop any food/accidently cause an outbreak of food poisoning. It’s no wonder that the new generation Facebook-stalk the people coming for reassurance of knowing who they are being judged by. Unfortunately, this does often backfire, as many students admit to being avid Facebook users, and choose their profile pictures to show them in their most flattering, confident light. A little staged perhaps – but that’s pretty much as far as the similarities with the TV show go. There are no film and editing teams with the new generation of diners.  If Channel 4 were to film student CDWM nights, the narrator would no doubt go to town on sharing the hosts’ ‘first Facebook-impressions’ from this ‘Facebook-stalking’ preparation. A new twist on a tired concept. Channel 4, take note.

So are university societies ‘just for fun’, or is there also a secret envelope for the winner? The scoring on the TV show is certainly based on different morals to the new generation; perhaps another aspect that needs a new lease of life. Channel 4 wants delicious meals, tasteful-but-entertaining entertainment, a menu to suit all appetites and delightful conversation. Or at least the narrator does. However, CDWM’s new generation have strong stomachs, they commend the creativity of ‘making do’, tacky costumes are forgiven and the differences between contestants are celebrated and create chitter-chatter. Perhaps it is the cash prize which is to blame for creating too much of a competitive edge that has become tiring for the TV audience. CDWM’s new generation also compete for a prize, but the whole attitude towards it is different; it is evident that their focus is more in the merry-making.

There’s no camera crew squashed in cabs for today’s dining students; scores out of ten are discreetly given to the founders, who keep them all saved on a spread sheet until the end of term before announcing a winner. Thrifty. Prizes vary, but they are just as creative as the nights. For example, at the end of this term, Patrick will present the winner of Reading’s CDWM with a golden frying pan; “a painted one, of course”, he reminds us, with the winner’s name imprinted on it by a Sharpie pen. Not just a pen. A Sharpie.

So Channel 4 will continue to offer their £1,000 prize a golden-painted pan, and with another very informative response told us that they think “it’s fantastic that the programme has inspired many a society and dining club”. This is exactly the truth. So whether the TV show is old-hat, it provides inspiration and a new generation of cooks, and a great social experience for students. So Channel 4, perhaps it’s your turn to take inspiration from those you inspired, and give us something fresh to look forward to during our tea breaks.