The Food Network primetime schedule is lousy with competition shows and for the most part, they tend to all be cut from the same predictable template. A host, a panel of judges, a group of cooks eager to show off their skills while engaging in some modestly aggressive trash talk. And at first glance, the new series "Bakeaway Camp With Martha Stewart" seems to be just the latest entry in that increasingly tired format. But looks can deceiving.
Martha Stewart has made her career by being equal parts informative and awkwardly human-like and that dichotomy works well in this show. The six home baking contestants are baking in a campground down the hill from Stewart's house and only she could successfully make an entrance onto a food competition series riding a horse.
The format of the show is pretty straight forward. Each week's competition is split into two segments: The camp counselor's completion and the camp director competition. The winner of the first competition gets the chance to go up to Stewart's kitchen for some mentoring before the second round. A prize-as you imagine-which both excites and intimates the home bakers.
The camp counselor's competition in episode one is to create a dessert inspire by S'mores and even though all six contestants are not professional bakers, they all do a decent job of creating what appears to be an appetizing dish. Camp counselors and baking experts Carla Hall and Dan Langan judge the results and they both offer smart feedback without getting too much into the trap of trying to being clever at the expense of the contestants.
The winner of the round heads to Martha's kitchen for a mentoring session and despite Palmer frequently saying the campground is in "Martha's backyard," it's at least a short van ride away. So either Stewart's estate rivals the grounds at Versaille, it seems likely that "backyard" is short in Connecticut for "in the same zip code."
Without giving anything away, the contestant who gets the mentoring forgets a piece advice given to them by Stewart and the look Stewart gives the dish when it arrives in front of her for the round two judging is this vaguely creepy combination of scorn and disappointment. No other judge on the Food Network would even attempt such an expression and it's moments like that where the show really shines. Stewart describes one dish as "perfectly satisfactory" which is the most passive-aggressive compliment ever.
Host Jesse Palmer does just the job you need to do in a show like this - make as little an impression as impossible. He's there to tie the segments together coherently while not getting in the way of the competition. There's a minimum of cheesy host jokes and while whoever writes the host dialogue on these shows should be given a list of hackneyed phrases to ignore in the future, at the end of the day nothing is annoying enough to get in the way of Stewart's majestic lack of connection to the contestants.
If you must watch one of these shows, "Bakeaway Camp With Martha Stewart" is the one to choose. Plus, it's only airing for four weeks so you don't have to worry about making a summer-long commitment to the show.
"Bakeaway Camp With Martha Stewart" premieres Monday, May 11th, 2020 on the Food Network.