Best of both worlds

Amrita Prasad
Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Jonathan Renouf, executive producer of Sony BBC Earth’s shows — Chef vs Science — The Ultimate Kitchen Challenge and Steve Backshall’s Extreme River/Mountain Challenge, talks about the concepts behind the shows, the challenges, and the prevailing trends on television

Sony BBC Earth is all set to premiere two captivating shows — Chef vs Science — The Ultimate Kitchen Challenge starting October 28 and Steve Backshall’s Extreme Mountain/River Challenge which will premiere on November 18. Both the shows are produced by Jonathan Renouf. Chef vs Science — The Ultimate Kitchen Challenge is about a top chef (two-Michelin-star chef Marcus Wareing) and a leading scientist (materialist scientist professor Mark Miodownik) going head to head in the kitchen to see who can produce the best food. As they cook their way through a series of courses, Mark shows the science behind our favourite dishes, revealing the amazing transformations that food undergoes in the kitchen.

In Steve Backshall’s Extreme River/Mountain Challenge, Steve, the presenter takes on the toughest challenge of his career— a complete descent of the Baliem river. Along the journey, Steve infiltrates a notorious cannibal tribe, attempts to trap one of the world’s biggest saltwater crocodiles, and searches for the beautiful and elusive birds-of-paradise. 
Jonathan gives us a glimpse of the shows: 

Explaining the idea behind Extreme River/Mountain Challenge, Jonathan says, “We thought if we are doing an adventure show, we should offer it a bit differently and in a unique way. We wanted an adventure that was firstly unnerving, and wanted to explore and show places which will help you learn something besides offering the element of adventure.” 

The show aims at creating a better understanding of the natural history, wildlife, animals, geology and climate that we live in. “We have attempted to get the right level of adventure where it gives you some hair-raising moments and yet provides enough space for the presenter to interact and talk to the viewers,” he adds. 

There are hundreds of cookery shows and competitions on TV, so what makes Chef vs Science so unique? “We thought what would happen if we married the two concepts — cooking and science. Everybody thinks that cooking is just an art whereas if you think and analyse deeply, it is actually a science. It is Chemistry, materialistic science involving some fundamental laws of the subject. Both the top chef and the scientist cook exactly the same dishes and but in extremely different ways — the chef will use his years of experience and knowledge while the scientist will simply use science to make a dish. It would be interesting to see who makes the best dish,” Jonathan says.  

With Netflix, Hotstar and Amazon Prime Video becoming mainstream, there has been a huge shift towards the webspace and the number of youngsters watching TV has drastically gone down. As a producer, what does Jonathan think is missing on television and how can it regain its viewership? 

“What we can probably do is try to find out what people in the present era like. I think TV is a very social medium — after watching a show, you want to share with others your experience of watching it. This is happening a lot more now because people can now tweet about it, put up their experiences as status on social media and so on,” he answers. 

He further adds that he is trying to create shows which have ‘moments’ in them. After watching them, people should say, ‘Oh my god! Did you see that?’ They should be desperate to share their experience of watching the shows with others. “If you look back, you’ll see that TV was looked at as a leisurely thing but now we have to think about the impact the content creates on viewers, whether it can resonate with them and make them think or not,” he quips. 

In the lifestyle segment, TV is today capitalising more on the shows based on food and travel than it has done in the past. Commenting on this trend,  Jonathan points out that humans are naturally curious about the world around them. “They have limited money and time, hence they love to imagine what would it be like  to go out and be at these places and experience the world and I think we offer them a chance to experience something adventurous right in the confines of their home, something they would love to engage in but probably can’t do for various reasons.” 

Talking about the popularity of food shows, he puts it, “The art of cooking is such a fundamental part of who we are. It is quite amazing to see how people want to invest in knowing the diversity in food, and the different things that they can do with it.” 

Are shows on nature and wildlfe creating an awareness about them? “We hope to do that. People do think that there is a world outside which is so extraordinary. Some of the shows on natural history and wildlife create a sense of engagement and involvement with the natural world and make you think that nature is a part of who we are. If we are helping people think that way about their planet and being more respectful and caring, that’s a very good thing,” he concludes. 

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