GRILLING FOOD­IES’ DE­LIGHTS

With so many new food of­fer­ings hit­ting the small screen, is it pos­si­ble view­ers will have their fill?

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY TV -

Ben O’Donoghue con­sid­ers him­self a very lucky man. Not only was the celebrity chef cho­sen to host Seven’s big new sum­mer re­al­ity se­ries Aussie Bar­be­cue He­roes, but he also nar­rowly avoided be­ing cho­sen to host Seven’s rat­ings dis­as­ter Restau­rant Revo­lu­tion ear­lier this year – re­placed by un­fea­si­bly pop­u­lar cat videos.

“I ac­tu­ally au­di­tioned for the role and I didn’t get the job – I think I dodged a bul­let there!” laughs the English­born Aussie chef, whose work with Jamie Oliver saw him score gigs on US and Bri­tish tele­vi­sion be­fore his break­through role lo­cally co­host­ing Surf­ing The Menu with Cur­tis Stone.

“Then I got a call about this con­cept. I had a restau­rant open­ing (to fo­cus on) but I liked the idea and bar­be­cue is my kind of zone. I’ve writ­ten three bar­be­cue cook­books.”

In­spired by Amer­i­can re­al­ity show BBQ Pit­mas­ters, the se­ries which kicks off tonight pits nine of Aus­tralia’s best bar­be­cu­ing teams against each other for the ti­tle of ‘The One True Bar­be­cue Hero’ and $100,000 in prizes. Join­ing O’Donoghue on the judges panel is bar­be­cue con­nois­seur Jess Pryles (an Aussie ex­pat liv­ing in Texas) and MKR’s Texas cow­boy Robert Mur­phy (a Texan ex­pat liv­ing in Aus­tralia). O’Donoghue says that as with all Aussie cuisines, bar­be­cu­ing has be­come a lot more so­phis­ti­cated in re­cent times. “His­tor­i­cally, Aus­tralian bar­be­cue was pretty two di­men­sional – steak and sausage – throw on some sliced onions … but it’s gone way be­yond that now,” he says. “Peo­ple’s ap­pre­ci­a­tion of food and their knowl­edge has grown so much in the past eight years – and that’s partly due to the suc­cess of food re­al­ity shows like MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules. Peo­ple are a lot more aware, and me­dia-ex­posed to dif­fer­ent flavours, so their tastes have evolved and ex­panded.”

Over re­cent years the pub­lic’s ap­petite for food tele­vi­sion has ex­po­nen­tially from niche pro­gram­ming to one of the most pop­u­lar gen­res. Cook­ing shows like My Kitchen Rules now dom­i­nate the rat­ings – it’s av­er­aged 1.6 mil­lion view­ers over six sea­sons now.

This fas­ci­na­tion with food shows no signs of abat­ing, with SBS launch­ing its 24/7 Food Net­work mix­ing its own con­tent with pro­gram­ming from the US Food Net­work, the Cook­ing Chan­nel, Asian Food Chan­nel and Fine Liv­ing Net­work. It’s in direct com­pe­ti­tion with Fox­tel’s Life­style FOOD and you can add in to the mix Nine’s lat­est dig­i­tal chan­nel 9Life from Novem­ber 26.

Just a few years ago you’d see Jamie Oliver one night a week in prime time. The turn­ing point was MasterChef’s first few sea­sons – which peaked with more than four mil­lion view­ers tun­ing in for the sea­son two fi­nale in 2010.

But with so much food con­tent cur­rently on air, is there a dan­ger of over­sat­u­rat­ing the mar­ket? Restau­rant Revo­lu­tion went down in flames and Nine’s MKR clone Hot Plate per­formed be­low expectations. Is there still room for a 24 hour food chan­nel, SBS’s Thurs­day night cook­ing shows, Fox­tel’s LifestyleFOOD, and MasterChef and MKR?

Masterchef’s host Matt Pre­ston thinks so.

“MasterChef’s fi­nale was the most watched non-sports show of the year, MKR is still Seven’s big­gest show and Great Aus­tralian Bake-Off has bro­ken au­di­ence records for Life­style FOOD,” he says. “I think it’s ob­vi­ous the ap­petite is still there – but hav­ing said that, the au­di­ence will still vote with their feet if the for­mat doesn’t con­nect with them.”

Pic­ture: TARA CROSER

Celebrity chef Ben O'Donoghue will host Seven’s new se­ries,

Aussie Bar­be­cue He­roes.

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