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REVIEW: Zumbo's Just Desserts

ReviewSteve Molk

Gigi Falanga, Rachel Khoo, Adriano Zumbo
Image - Seven

Take 12 contestants.
Add 2 hosts, both legends in their field.
Spice it up with a dash of Brazillian assistant.
Mix/promote thoroughly and rest in the blast chiller until the evening the Olympics ends.

That's the recipe for Zumbo's Just Desserts, a new cooking show from Seven that leads their reset programming schedule out of the 2016 Olympics.

Yes... it's another cooking show, though this one focuses on our fascination with all things third course. Think ice cream, creme patissiere, sponge, fruit, custard, chocolate and more, all served up as devilishly clever concoctions designed to entice and delight.

In an already crowded market adding another reality cooking show could be considered suicide, though coming from Seven you'd expect it to be handled reasonably deftly given their years of success with My Kitchen Rules.

What they serve up, however, feels more like a Macca's Choc Top than a fantasmagorical cooking comp. 

Fans of the various iterations of the British/Australian Bake Off series will feel right at home, though unsettled by the many assumptions made.

For starters Adriano Zumbo is an unquestionable talent in the world of the pastry chef. Being sold as Australia's answer to Willy Wonka isn't unreasonable, except it gets wonky as he has the on-screen personality of a chopping board. Zumbo shines when he's providing feedback to the contestants and it sure ain't sugar coated. His internal filter isn't engaged either, with his face often betraying his true feelings about a contestant's progress or presented dish. He's a chef and isn't entirely comfortable in front of the camera.

To offset the headline host's lack of TV charisma, Rachel Khoo really directs the main business of the show and does so comfortably and deftly. Her persona feels more school marm than cheffing sweetie and given this is Zumbo's vehicle it's unlikely she'll get a chance to show her creative skills which is a real shame.

Rounding out the hosting trio is Zumbo's "assistant" Gigi Falanga, who is relegated to asking the contestants "what's going wrong" and reminding them to "keep going" throughout the main cook. All work that's well beneath her as one of the world's up-and-coming pastry chef notables.

Introducing the contestants is handled pretty poorly, and given they are who we're supposed to get behind makes it even more kludgy (we're not even introduced to 4 of them in this first episode, with two of them simply appearing for the first time at the first judgement/tasting). It'll be easy to pick favourites and Kate and Michael are the stand-outs this reviewer will barrack for, while Daniel is sure to be the villain for most.

Except for our fascination with all things sweet we've seen this format done a thousand times better on Bake Off, MasterChef Australia and even MKR. A certain level of schadenfreude will be enjoyed during the elimination challenge in each episode - the "Zumbo Test - where the worst performing two amateurs are expected to recreate on of Zumbo's magical desserts in order to stay in the competition.

Good luck with that (Cue much hand-wringing and inevitable failure).

In this post-modern, post-reinvented MasterChef world any new competitive cooking show has to have a very definitive point of difference to stand out and succeed. Zumbo's Just Desserts is fun and certainly easy to watch but there's little reason or opportunity to get invested in the show, which is a real shame. Viewers will be left unsatisfied.

As Rachel Khoo offers to the episode's eliminated contestant, "May all your sweet dreams come true." Even failure has a sickly sweet lining.

Zumbo's Just Desserts (10 episodes) - starts 7:30pm Mon 22 August on Seven.