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Last night's TV: Celebrity Head Chef


For their summer schedules, Irish tv channels are relying on celebrities the way Irish governments once depended on tax from the construction industry. Ireland subsequently ran out of money. Signs are that our television channels are running out of celebs: the same faces are starting to turn up everywhere.

This week alone, Linda Martin is appearing in A Little Bit Eurovision and Stars Go Racing. Francis Brennan is on Stars Go Racing and At Your Service. Mike Denver races against Martin on Stars Go Racing tomorrow and appears on TG4 a few hours later.

Geraldine O’Callaghan, a former Apprentice contestant, turned up on Celebrity Head Chef last night. She was on TV3’s Midday yesterday lunchtime. She has become famous for being famous. Or at least vaguely familiar for being vaguely familiar.

And all any of us really wants is a reality tv show which would pitch Linda Martin against Twink, her former BFF. They could call it Battle Axe of the Republic, a contest to find Ireland’s scariest person. It would have tension, tears, trauma and tantrums. It would be must-see tv at its most contrived.

Unfortunately, Celebrity Head Chef on TV3 has none of those qualities. A week-long charity event, it pitches six celebrities – Twink amongst them - against each other under the watchful eye of chef Conrad Gallagher. Their mission is to cook a meal fit for a packed and hungry restaurant, The Dining Room at La Stampa.

Though previews for tonight’s episode (the show runs all week until Friday) suggest a bit more excitement may be on the way, the opening offering last night was bland and uninspiring, a bit like Geraldine O’Callaghan’s spinach and goat’s cheese salad. “Very interesting,” Conrad Gallagher commented, damning her with faint praise. He might well have been giving his verdict on his own show.

Gallagher himself is part of the problem. He seems like a very good teacher, and if you were a young apprentice chef, passionate about food and its possibilities, Gallagher’s combination of generous support and brutal honesty couldseriously improve your abilities and employment prospects.

But for a television show in which the food exists only as a prop, or as a means to a cheap laugh, he’s the wrong man for the job. Head Chef needs rows and bitching and shouting and carefully honed insults, but Gallagher is far too mild-mannered. He likes the attention (when hasn’t he?) but he’s not prepared to undergo a personality change to get it.

The celebs don’t help, either. The first job was to work out who some of them were. Michael Hayes appears to be a presenter of a tv show about animals, while Kohlin Harris is apparently Ireland’s first male supermodel. (He may also be the first Irish person to call himself after what sounds like a poisonous gas).

Kohlin is the bitchiest of the contestants, but his insults have no sparkle or magic about them. And it’s not as if the quality of his food justifies his constant carping.

Wagner from The X-Factor (who’s presumably here so TV3 can sell the show to afternoon telly in the UK) is fantastically creepy and obsessed with salty fish. Having had a mild flirtation with one Mary B on The X-Factor, he seems to be moving towards another on Head Chef.

Mary Burke, Crystal Swing’s Mammy, seems charmed by him, anyway. When he told her he wanted to share her oven, she reacted like a slightly risque nun after the parish priest admired her wimple.

She is already the neediest contestant, constantly fretting that Twink, or Adele as everybody is calling her, is getting too much attention from Gallagher. “I think he has a big interest in Adele,” she complained at one point, suggesting that this gives the panto dame an unfair advantage.

Twink’s fearsome reputation goes before her, but she comes across as quite likeable on Head Chef, interested in food and in using the experience of a week with a Michelin-star chef to improve her skills. She may even win.

But does anybody care, really? In shows such as this, it’s not the winning that counts, it’s the taking part. We need more excitement and fizz than we have so far enjoyed, more old-fashioned, blood on the floor jousting.

The lack of such intensity is down to Gallagher, and also to his guests, who are mostly too nice and decent for this sort of thing.

That’s what happens when you start to run out of celebrities in a celebrity-obsessed world. You just have to take what you get. And sometimes, it just doesn’t work.