'Be Our Chef': TV Review

A watchable reprieve from doom and gloom.
3/27/2020

Disney+'s peppy cooking competition series asks families to devise unique dishes inspired by their Disney fandom.

Disney+'s family cooking competition Be Our Chef is either dystopia or balm, depending on your current anxiety levels. A zany half-hour where neat little nuclear families zip around a set kitchen professing their love to the House of Mouse almost feels like a Simpsons (or Bébé's Kids)-style parody of zombified Disney Magic™. Almost. Even for us Disney true believers, the 10-part series may challenge our patience for pat corporate synergy, but given the global uncertainty of the moment, Be Our Chef is the low-stakes, low-impact entertainment I personally need right now.

Unlike a lot of other television shows I'm typically glued to, this one has no impending apocalypse in need of evading, no crumbling world in need of saving. No murder, disaster or sabotage looming. Just a couple of real-life families cooking some cute treats for the chance to win a big grand prize.

A cruise vacation, unfortunately.

Angela Kinsey, best known for playing sour-faced martinet Angela on The Office, summons her best Kristen Chenoweth-flavored perk for her role as host, guiding two competing families through minorly demanding cooking challenges that emphasize family togetherness over culinary acumen. As a hardcore devotee to reality cooking shows — the more raucous, the better — I am accustomed to watching participants injure themselves, backstab each other, suffer humiliation, cry about their traumas and, most importantly, confront their own creativity to devise prize-winning dishes. Here, the skill levels fall somewhere between the breathtaking innovations of Top Chef and the guffaw-inducing monstrosities of Nailed It. Even on a kids 'n' family-oriented reality show, I would have been less offended to witness some backbiting between contestants than I was to see a family make heavy use of bread they didn't even bake. Disney, you're better than that.

Be Our Chef is a charmingly peppy, brainless half-hour. I mean that with loving intent. When I told my husband, a fellow cooking competition fanboi, that each episode barely lasts longer than 23 minutes, he exclaimed, "Peeerfect," without an ounce of irony. Be Our Chef is an ideal dinner show, a relaxing stretch of time where you can step away from the gruesome news and delight in a 4-year-old girl festooned in a princess ballgown stirring a bowl to help her parents win a luxury vacation. Keeping the challenges brisk — only one per episode, with a short food-related game acting as intermezzo mid-episode — maintains the show's bubbly spirit without bogging us down with a whole lot of kiddie cooking show filler, like splooging the judges with the ingredient-of-the-week.       

The conceit is airtight: Present a pair of wholesome and divergent families of four, fly them to Disney World, introduce them to a Disney character (a park castmember) and then task them with devising a dish that represents that particular story brand. This could be as simple as coming up with some elevated comfort food inspired by Cinderella or as thorny as inventing a healthy dessert themed around Big Hero Six. (The results vary from janky-looking tomato soup bread bowl carriages to gorgeous Baymax silhouette ice cream sandwiches flavored with matcha, avocado and chocolate.)

Five families in total compete per season in a round-robin leaderboard competition where each has the chance to redeem themselves after a loss. Without steady eliminations, the most inhumane thing we see onscreen is a wily family using an advantage tool to put their competitors in a three-minute "time-out" when they were supposed to be taking their candied bacon out of the oven. The results? Some flawlessly crispy pork belly strips. "“Sometimes you have to do things that are not nice," says a 9-year-old girl before her scheme comes back to nip her in the tush.

With domestic arts and boredom booming during this widespread quarantine, I could imagine a show like Be Our Chef sparking a little ingenuity in parents who need to keep their foodie kids occupied for an indefinite period time. (Luckily, the meal ideas here seem kid-led, though refined by wiser parents.) While the show is a little loud and bright at times, relying on trepidatious synth-heavy background music that could have easily been replaced with a plinky Disneyfied score, it's still a welcome reprieve from weightier programming. (The worst we're subjected to here are inept dads and tiny grease fires.) In the words of Eddie Cantor, "The dumber they come, the better I like 'em!"     

Host: Angela Kinsey
Executive producers: LaNee Griffin-Carroll, Eric Day, Mark Koops, Clay Murphy
Premieres: Friday (Disney+)