Giles Coren has been a restaurant food critic for The Times for over 20 years, so it’s pretty safe to say he’s sampled some pretty good–and bad–stuff. He’s therefore the natural fit to star in not one, but two, new Canadian series debuting back-to-back Tuesday night on W Network.
The first is Pressure Cooker, a cooking competition show from former CBC executive Julie Bristow and her Bristow Media Company. Each week, four Canadian home cooks face off against one another in timed battles using items used not only from the show’s ample pantry but ingredients grabbed from a moving conveyor belt. Every contestant must choose a minimum of items from the belt which have to be used in the final dish. Adding another level of stress are guest sous chefs of the celebrity stripe. Graham Elliot (Masterchef), Nadia G. (Bitchin’ Kitchen), Rocco DiSpirito (Top Chef, below with Coren), Duff Goldman (Ace of Cakes) and Hugh Acheson (Top Chef) are just a sampling of the high-profile chefs who drop by to help the competitors chop, blend, mix and offer counsel (they cannot take over for the competitor) as the ingredients roll in and the time rolls down.
Coren scribbles notes madly into a notepad while the cooking is going on, sometimes muttering something to Pressure Cooker host Anne-Marie Withenshaw, before tasting each dish and declaring a winner. Each episode’s grand prize winner heads home with a massive haul: one year of fresh groceries from Walmart.
“I’m amazed that everyone has been able to put a plate of food in front of me so far,” Coren says with a chuckle. “It’s fun to see the competitors use the belt. Someone is running down the belt and they have to choose between salmon and chicken. And then they grab chocolate and say, ‘Oh shit, what am I going to do with chocolate?!'”
Coren’s dry sense of British humour is served in pinches on Pressure Cooker; it’s ladled on during Million Dollar Critic. The premise of that program–from Temple Street Productions and Coren–sends him (above with his assistant Julia) on a weekly mission to various North American cities where he eats at five restaurants. After noshing at each, Coren then decides which place will receive a glowing review from him. As the title of the show suggests, a kind word from Coren can mean $1 million in revenue from flocking patrons.
His first stop? Toronto, where he samples fare from high-end eatery Opus, Pakistani plates at King Place, platters of meat at Small Town Food Co., Mexican at Agave y Aguacate and off-beat stuff like geranium soup and crickets at The Atlantic. Aside from his critique of the local food, Coren welcomes a couple of guests too. Robyn Doolittle, the former Toronto Star reporter who uncovered the video of Mayor Rob Ford doing something naughty, dines with Coren at Small Town Meat Co., though the edited chat only mentions Ford in passing and focuses more on the fact Doolittle is vegetarian. And Ford himself is featured in a short clip as he welcomes Coren to City Hall before taking him down to Queen St. to grab a hot dog where they’re surrounded by media.
“I want to bring my knowledge of what restaurants should be like to a wider audience, to TV,” he says. “In this show it’s not all about the food. It’s about the cool environment and the revival of an area. I think of lot of food TV is pompous, and I want this to be travel and food and sexy people.”
Pressure Cooker airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on W Network.
Million Dollar Critic airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on W Network.