Eight hours of cooking and a £125 budget — what it's really like on Come Dine With Me

Eight hours of cooking and a £125 budget — what it's really like on Come Dine With Me

June 16, 2020

RECKON you know everything about cult reality TV show Come Dine With Me? Well, think again.

After 15 years and almost 2,000 episodes of tears, tantrums and kitchen meltdowns on the Channel 4 favourite, writer – and contestant – Benjy Potter lifts the saucepan lid on what really goes on . . . 

As a die-hard fan of the show there was only one way to find out if the tantrums, cooking disasters and crisp £20 notes are real — and that was to appear on it myself.

Firstly, getting on is much harder than I had ever thought. It’s ten steps, including online application, phone interview, audition tape and mental-health check.

Three months after first logging on to the Channel 4 site, in a white wine-induced haze, I got a call to confirm my place. I’m gobsmacked.

Now the fun begins — as five of us prepare to go to each other’s homes for dinner then mark the night out of ten.

First up, contestants have a meeting with a director to discuss their theme — and check it is not too risqué. I go for a Gran Canaria vibe because of my love for the affordable holiday resort.

The evening — which took place pre-lockdown — consisted of summer holiday outfits, including myself in a pilot’s uniform.

Next, show bosses handed me £125 to spend on food and drink for my four guests. Contestants don’t get paid for the week’s filming so the cash for my night is all I have.

I got distracted by all the colourful blow-up props on Amazon and bought a load to turn my house into a holiday resort. That left me with a measly £60 to cover food and wine for five.

Now to the filming week.

It’s much more exhausting than it looks on screen.

On telly, the dinner parties might appear seamless, but in real life they can take up to eight hours to film.

Contestants are dropped off at about 4pm each day and you rarely make tracks before 1am.

There’s also the added worry from bosses that you could run out of conversation, so the crew advised us to “hold some stuff back” so there’s plenty to talk about all week.

Conversation isn’t the only thing that has to be held back, though. Booze is also on that list. Because of the marathon filming sessions, it’s easy to see how contestants could end up sozzled by the main course. If you look at early episodes, you’ll see why this rule was brought in.

We were well behaved for the most part but heard tales of the crew having to hide bottles of wine from contestants twice their age.

Another highlight of the show is the house tours. That’s the bit where contestants snoop around the host’s bedroom before finding an item that prompts conversation at the dinner table.

It probably wouldn’t take a detective to work out that the item is planted by the crew. After all, the show is on before 9pm and a proper dig in someone’s underwear drawer could throw up unsavoury discoveries.

Now for the entertainment, or my lack of it. Because of the freezing temperatures, the director advised me to swap my proposed paddling-pool aerobics for a paper aeroplane competition on the day. It nosedived.

The food? Because of the busy filming when your guests arrive, you’re advised to prepare most of your meal ahead of time so it can be warmed up in the oven just before it’s time to serve.

And because of all the shots they have to take of it coming out of the oven, it rarely makes it on to the table at a temperature above tepid.

Sound like I’m making excuses for the quality of my night? That’s because I am. How did my menu of spinach and feta pie, chicken and mash and pear and chocolate crumble go down?

Well, I can vouch for the fact the crew played no part in setting up the cooking disasters — I managed that by myself.

Despite eight hours to prepare, I served raw chicken, cold carrots and half-cooked mash — Come Dine With Me staples, of course — and conceded by the end of the night that I’d have been better off sticking with the holiday theme and doing a beige buffet.

And the prize money reveal? I can tell you the cash on the silver platter is real. That’s because we spent a good 40 minutes searching under a sofa for a missing £20 note.

The cash might be real but the black cab for the scoring is not quite as it seems. The car is actually hired to do a few laps of the local roads while you give your scores — then contestants are turfed out at the host’s house and travel home in a much less glamorous minicab.

When the final scores were read out I was a little disappointed. I’d been gunning for a meltdown that would earn me and my new friends a place in the Come Dine With Me hall of fame, alongside the famous “sad little life Jane” loser.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. We all got on too well and the closest we came to a brawl was on Eighties Night, when fellow contestant Mark mistook my Boy George get-up for Worzel Gummidge.

Did appearing on Come Dine With Me live up to expectations? I’ll let you know after I see my episode tomorrow night. Wish me luck.

  • Come Dine With Me continues week nights on Channel 4, 5.30pm.

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