As 2020 comes to a close, The A.V. Club applies our hindsight to the year in TV, finding common themes among seemingly disparate shows.
When the contestants of The Great British Baking Show are tasked with creating a Battenberg cake at the top of season 10, palpable stress quickly descends upon the tent. “The judges will be looking for clean cross sections,” one contestant postulates, and he’s not wrong. Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood are quick to point out sloppy lines, too-thick marzipan, and flavors that don’t quite live up to the more traditional almond accents. There’s precious little room for the bakers to insert their own personalities—one player experiments with pistachio marzipan, to his detriment—but there isn’t much deviation from what the judges consider a classic dessert. As is the case with most of the challenges on the dignified hit, you won’t find too-wild interpretations or many “deconstructed” treats. Here, tradition reigns.
Part of what makes GBBS so pleasant is the respect that is pays to the technical wonder that is cooking. Still, a baker’s imagination isn’t rewarded as heartily as their technique. A lot of non-competitive shows like Netflix’s The Chef Show and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat also lean on propriety and how ingredients and food “should” look. Even each challenge on a spirited competition like Nailed It!, which thankfully offers a lot of leeway for the amateur bakers, defers to a model with chef Jacques Torres offering insight on the ideal approach. But in 2020, Netflix started investing in culinary competitions that charred the rulebook and highlighted more niche fare. More importantly, the chef’s imagination was not only rewarded but required, using tradition as a mere springboard for larger ideas. In fact, a standard take on any dish would likely land someone in last place on eccentric turns like Cooked With Cannabis or Crazy Delicious, both of which challenged its contestants to redefine classic culinary styles and made stars out of two often lampooned subjects within the professional world of cooking: weed and fantasy.
Co-hosted by R&B songstress, chef, and restaurateur Kelis, Cooked With Cannabis (which, of course, debuted on April 20) asks participants to test their expertise across three courses all tied to a singular theme, from weddings to futuristic cuisine. Chefs from around the world, all of whom specialize in cooking with marijuana, are asked to conceptualize a dining experience both cohesive and inventive. Alongside fellow host and chef Leather Storrs, Kelis welcomes a roundtable of non-foodie “Best Buds,” ranging from comedians to athletes, to sample and critique the spread. The winner of each episode gets to take home $10,000 and the knowledge that they managed to impress Kelis, a feat all on its own.
While cannabis-infused fine dining has been on the rise over the past few years, it’s been a largely inaccessible concept outside of major cities where marijuana has been legalized. Cooked With Cannabis works to remove the lingering stigma surrounding the cuisine in order to highlight the science behind smoke. And yes, like any other method of cooking, there is definitely some science involved when it comes to balancing the active agent THC with the more calming CBD—implementing certain dosages can make all the difference between a nice buzz and, as guest judge and Run The Jewels rapper LP fears, “a psychotic episode”—but it’s more of a guideline than gospel. In Kelis and Leather’s kitchen, the contestants are the experts, and the freedom breeds delicious innovation, from infused burgers to a futuristic appetizer of meatless “steak” tartare with mealworm crackers. Every dish confirms the legitimacy of the industry while exploring how far edibles can really go.
Britain’s Crazy Delicious serves a different kind of, er, “baked” good, but one where convention still leaves a sour note. Donning a sparkling gown and her prized wit, comedian and host Jayde Adams opens the series by taking an indulgent bite out of a watering can in an Eden-like garden, immediately pulling us into a world of delectable whimsy. She then guides seriously talented contestants (who, unlike the Cooked With Cannabis contestants, often pursue cooking as more of a hobby) through the mostly edible forest like a fairy godmother, offering a world of possibilities as the three cooks forage for ingredients. The foodscapes that they ultimately create in response to the various challenges must accomplish two things: defy dreaded formality and impress the panel of culinary “gods”—renowned chefs Carla Hall, Niklas Ekstedt, and Heston Blumenthal.
Similarly to its stoned counterpart, Crazy Delicious flips the idea of tradition totally on its head as the burgeoning chefs are asked to push the boundaries of their imagination. Fantasy, art, and mythology inspire both the series and the players to rethink ingredients entirely. Among the sugar-dusted blossoms and the mushroom spots that taste like lemonade, there’s no room for a pizza to look like your everyday pizza or for a barbecue to yield anything but sweet confection. Instead, a mountain of pizza-stuffed charcoal buns that resemble an active volcano erupting with marinara lava is a person’s ticket to potential victory. Strawberry-flavored chicken wings, on the other hand? Not so much, but the odd pairing is hardly a disqualifier. The misstep is an opportunity to try something just as far off the beaten path that will hopefully taste a little better. In the end, that contestant tried something, which is far more promising than the person who sticks to the basics.
All food comes with its own important history, culture, and science that renders each dish distinguishable. But the versatility of food—like how a banana can be fashioned into a cake or a plate of tacos or the right amount of CBD in a slice of pie can momentarily ease the affects of anxiety—is what keeps cooking and the shows that center on cooking so vibrant. We still need shows like GBBS, which values the proper techniques that function as necessary building blocks for sustained success. But if these tradition-based competitions are about learning the proper way to make a cake, then Cooked With Cannabis and Crazy Delicious are about creating pure magic out of the crumbs.