OTB Visits Set of BBC’s New Foodie Quiz Show

“What are the five ingredients in Chinese five spice?â€? Kirsty Wark is using all her Newsnight prowess to extract an answer from me. Her eyes are boring down into my soul, forcing me to trawl the deepest recesses of my (apparently rather small) mind for an answer. Any answer. The studio lights are too much. “Ginger!â€?, I blurt out.

The buzzer signalling my incompetence sounds and Kirsty’s glare turns to the opposing team of jittery journalists who are taking part in a pilot episode of new BBC game show, A Question of Taste.

Hosted by Wark, this new gastronomic game show will test two teams of “food fanaticsâ€? to the max. It will be airing early this year and is probably likely to appeal to the same general knowledge fans as Eggheads or Pointless. Arm-chair chefs who have been schooled by the likes of Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall will also enjoy shouting answers at any blank-faced contestants. Questions are tough and will no doubt give brains a gentle roasting, but we’re not talking Mastermind here.

Wark’s culinary sidekick and score-master is William Sitwell. The bespectacled editor of Waitrose’s food magazine sits neatly in ‘Kitchen Corner’ dishing out fascinating food facts and surprising gastronomic information at apparently random intervals. They actually make for a lovely, if unlikely, presenting duo.

Arriving at the BBC to take my place on the “May Contain Nutsâ€? team, I was understandably nervous at the thought of having my self-esteem buzzed into oblivion. Glancing across the foyer, I noticed a journalist for the Daily Telegraph clutching a thick book emblazoned with Greg Wallace’s rotund face: The Masterchef Bible. This was going to be tougher than I thought.

After being mic’d up and plonked on the panel, my finger hovering nervously over the buzzer, four courses of food-based questioning ensued. I managed to force my digit down just about once in each round. The great pillars, bright lights and ornate gold frames that adorn the Question of Taste set are an intimidating backdrop for a quiz show virgin’s first time.

Barlow hated using ITV's outside toilet..
Sarah (far left) wows Kirsty Wark with yet another correct answer. Probably.

The rounds are varied, though not particularly innovative. A TV clip round asks contestants to fill in the bleeped out blank. While the name of the game in the “smorgasbordâ€? round is to identify the five correct answers out of a grid of misleading options. The mystery utensil round was the most entertaining by far and should provide some quirky knowledge for fact-hungry viewers. A small machine resembling a masochistoc Tippex mouse revealed itself as a garlic chopper and a pair of stubby scissors, a grape cutter. Illuminating stuff. After 25 minutes or so, it all comes to a rather anti-climatic end with that stalwart of the quiz show format which routinely gives a rubbish team the chance to steal the lead: the quick fire round.

The questions about grape juice and the origins of lettuce will put any food lover’s knowledge to the test and the show is sure to capitalise on the foodie fever currently gripping the nation. At first the thought of hard-nosed interview demon Kirsty hosting a gentle quiz about grub sounds odd, perhaps even a little alarming. But to my surprise, the show benefitted from its hostess’ spontaneous quips and warm smile. It will surely be enough to break the ice around anybody’s frosty preconceptions.

After a rocky start, “May Contain Nutsâ€? emerged triumphant with a formidable 13 points to the other team’s paltry ten. Kirsty offered her congratulations, we were applauded by an enthusiastic production crew and I felt invincible. Our prize? A tea towel. They may have nabbed some top level presenting talent, but the BBC cuts are evidently hitting hard.

A Question Of Taste starts on Monday 2nd January at 8.30pm on BBC2.