I've Discovered the Ted Lasso of Cooking Competition Shows
My husband will often levy the accusation at me that I will watch nearly any cooking or baking show on television. And while I do resemble that remark, to be clear, my heart is wedded to The Great British Bake Off first and foremost, and often my viewing of other such fare is just a longing to fill the hole in my life that only new episodes of GBBO can sate.
But School of Chocolate on Netflix might just be my best new crush. Not in any way that will threaten my enduring commitment to my OG love, but enough to make me blush a bit.
Why I love School of Chocolate
The premise of SOC is the same simple formula as all these competitions. A group of talented folks, in this case professionals, gather to tackle a couple of challenges per week, and after 8-10 episodes, someone wins. Along the way there are twists and turns, heroism and heartbreak, tears and triumphs, and as a viewer, we get to learn some tips and tricks for cooking and baking, follow some new people on social media, and root for our favorites.
Where this show departs meaningfully, and in my opinion for the better, from its compatriots in the genre is that no one goes home until the end. They take the "School" in the title seriously, so every competitor stays until the final episode. As a result, a huge talent can have one bad challenge and still be in the running to win, instead of a single mistake sending them home. It has long been the only unfortunate reality of GBBO that they only judge on the performance of the week, and do not consider someone's previous performance, so there have been many insanely talented folks over the years who were likely finalists and just missed the mark on one challenge and lost their place. (Always much love to you, Hermine!)
A cooking competition show that really seeks to teach
Instead, on this show, when someone performs badly on the first challenge, they do not compete in the second challenge, but rather, get a private class with host Amaury Guichon, whose millions of social media followers are awed by his pastry skills and chocolate sculptures. Guichon, unlike so many hosts of cooking competition shows, is generous of spirit with the competitors, wanting each of them to leave the show with new skills and knowledge to positively impact their careers, despite their winning or losing the ultimate prize package. When judging, his criticism is constructive, and he always finds something positive to say and seems to keep in mind when making his decisions how hard the challenge was and grades on a curve accordingly. To a person, every contestant said they learned so much while working on the show and that participation made them better bakers and chocolatiers.
They each get graded on every challenge, and the top two point-getters compete for the prize in the final episode, assisted by their former rivals. So, it really is the top two of the season who get the chance to win, and it feels very fair to both the viewer and the other competitors, who rally around their team leader to execute their vision with as much passion and energy as if they were in the running for the win.
This keeping everyone around until the end also allows for redemption arcs for the cast: Someone who starts off weak can come back strong, someone who seems a bit less likable can share more of their story, which humanizes them to the audience, and by the time the series is over you feel good about the outcome, but also the journey.
School of Chocolate is the perfect feel-good binge of the season. No schtick, no screaming, enough drama to make it interesting without being cringey, and lots of amazing baking and chocolate work. Ted Lasso, I think you have some competition here.