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Episode 11: Crazy Delicious Review

Have you watched the cooking show Crazy Delicious? I watched it and now I have thoughts!

HOSTED by Moiya McTier (@GoAstroMo), astrophysicist and folklorist



Hello, and welcome to Exolore, the show about facts-based fictional worldbuilding. I’m your host, Moiya McTier and I’m bad at making decisions. I’m an astrophysicist who studies planets outside of our solar system — those are called exoplanets — and I’m a folklorist who specializes in creating and analyzing imaginary worlds. This podcast is my way of sharing those worlds with you.

I’m excited to share another new episode format with you! If you’ve been following the show for a while, you may have noticed a lot of changes lately: new formats, a new website, new cover art. I like to think of Exolore as an extension of my favorite corner of my brain, the same part that lit up like a firework show on my 12th birthday when my parents gave me a large pizza and a DVD box set with all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I didn’t leave my room for like 2 days. That’s a true story. My point is that Exolore is a part of me, and I’m constantly growing, so the show’s gonna grow, too.

In this new episode format, I’m going to review existing fictional worlds from all kinds of angles. I’ll talk about whether or not the science makes sense or whether the folklore is believable or whether the worldbuilding is consistent because, you know, sometimes worldbuilding is done poorly, even when people get paid lots of money to do it.

And these review episodes are going to be solo episodes. Just me, the mic, and my esoteric thoughts about an already niche subject. So if you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Damn, Explore is great, but I wish I could just listen to Moiya’s voice for 40 minutes straight,” this episode is for you.

But let me know what you think of the new format! After you listen to the show, which I’ll get to now...

Too often, people make the mistake of thinking that worldbuilding only happens in sci-fi and fantasy stories. That an imagined world is only fit for tales of magic or zombies or alien interactions. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Worldbuilding is a tool that anyone creating any type of experience can use. You want to set the mood for a romantic date with your partner? Those candles and soft tunes are a form of worldbuilding that create your desired atmosphere. And if you want to make a documentary about the French revolution, you don’t dress your re-enactors in jeans and Hollister hoodies.

So today, in my first worldbuiling review episode, I’m going to focus on a project that might bend your expectations of what worldbuilding has to be by setting a totally mundane competition in a fantasy world. I’m talking about the show Crazy Delicious.

Imagine if the Great British Bake Off, The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell, and Nailed It had a beautiful little baby… that’s what Crazy Delicious is. The calm peaceful vibes of Bake Off paired with the fantastical elements of Curious Creations and the format and (hopefully) self aware absurdism of Nailed It. It’s actually no surprise that Crazy Delicious feels so much like the Great British Bake Off — with the same cheery music and occasional vignettes of woodland creatures peppered in — because they both aired on the same public television network in the UK, Channel 4.

Crazy Delicious aired in the UK back in January to mixed reviews and was released on Netflix in late June. I discovered it at 9pm on July 2nd and immediately texted a group of my friends in all caps “Why are the brits so good at making awesome food shows??? Their food isn’t even that good, but I’m telling you Crazy Delicious on Netflix is great.” I really did feel like Netflix had peered into my soul and created a show just for me.

In case you haven’t watched it, here’s a rundown of the show.

In each episode, 3 not-professional cooks — I’m not going to call them amateurs because we have to distinguish between people like ME, who cook basic food that tastes fine for fun, and people like THEM who don’t get paid to cook but still have many thousands of instagram followers who drool over their absolutely gorgeous creations. Anyway, each episode has 3 new quasi-amateur cooks who compete in 3 different rounds.

In the first round, the contestants are asked to make a dish that heavily features one magical ingredient, like carrots or mushrooms. The winner of this round gets an extra 10 minutes in the second.

In the second round, the contestants are asked to reinvent a well-known dish, like pizza or the hot dog. The loser of this round gets eliminated.

The third round is all about creating a fun feast, like a barbecue or a brunch. The winner receives the prized Golden Apple, and I’ll definitely talk about that later in the episode. That, my friends, is called signposting. I think?

Anyway, it wouldn’t be a cooking competition show without judges, except the Crazy Delicious judges aren’t mere mortals. They’re food GODS. Carla Hall, Heston Blumenthal, and Niklas Ekstedt are all accomplished chefs… you can tell they’re legit because they’re chefs, not just cooks. If any of you have strong opinions about the boundary between cook and chef, please let me know. And Niklas, if you’re listening, you seem like a cool dude. I’d love to hang out some time. My partner and I watched the show together and his main complaint was that the judges, oh I’m sorry, I mean Gods, never cooked anything. He likes when experts are pitted against amateurs. But then I explained that Carla Hall doesn’t have to prove a damn thing -- have you seen her hula hooping videos on instagram? The woman should be a national treasure -- and he grumbled his agreement.

And all of this cooking and judging and god-ery are happening in a beautifully constructed edible forest. No, really, the opening scene of the pilot episode shows the host, Jayde Adams, watering some flowers and then taking a bite out of the apparently edible watering can. The whole set is centered around a giant tree. There are planted vegetables that the contestants can pick when Jayde tells them to “Go forth and forage”. Apparently there’s a cheese cave and little nests that hold eggs and giant mushrooms with spots made out of jelly candies.

We don’t really get to see much of the forest in the show though, which is definitely a shame, but this episode isn’t about critiquing the cinematography of the show. It’s about reviewing the world that the show is set in. So let’s get to that.

I have five points that I want to address about the show’s world. For each point, I’ll tell you what the show did, whether or not I think they could have done it better, and how each point connects back to folklore and mythology. Each of these points is something that piqued my interest purely from a worldbuilding perspective

1. Entrance to the world

We first see the contestants of each episode when they emerge from the forest into the kitchen area, usually accompanied by some fog. And like… that’s… just… it.

This bothers me because we’re supposed to believe that this competition takes place in some fantasy forest kitchen hybrid supervised by Gods, but the contestants just appear as if they’ve been there the whole time, or as if this magical garden is just a hop, skip, and a jump from their homes. But in stories, regular people have to be transported to magical worlds.

In his seminal work [PAUSE] that pause was in case you, like me, laugh at any word that sounds like semen. In his seminal work from 1949, The Hero with 1000 Faces, Joseph Campbell described the basic narrative pattern of the Hero’s Journey. You’ve seen or read this before, or maybe even acted it out if you play video games or enjoy LARPing (that’s live action role playing for those of you not in the know). But the Hero’s Journey can be recognized in some of the world’s most well-known stories, from Homer’s Odyssey to Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings to Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games.

Just so we’re all on the same page, the Hero’s Journey – or the monomyth as it’s sometimes called – is a story where a hero goes on an adventure, faces obstacles and emerges victorious, and then returns home transformed in some meaningful way. And this doesn’t just apply to fantasy stories. You can have a romance story set to the hero’s journey, like Crazy Rich Asians, for example. Rachel is taken out of her normal life in New York and plunged into what can only be described as another world of wealth and luxury when she goes to Singapore to meet Nick’s family.

Campbell described the Hero’s Journey as having 17 different steps, but I’m just going to talk about the fourth step: crossing the first threshold.

There’s a moment in every great adventure story where the hero – or heroine if you’re the type of person who thinks we need different words to describe men and women who do the same thing… notice non-binary people don’t have their own word for someone who saves the day – but there’s a moment when the protagonist leaves the world or life they’re comfortable with and encounters something drastically new and foreign.

In Crazy Rich Asians, it’s the moment when Rachel and Nick fly first class to Singapore. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the movie, not the show – it’s the moment when Buffy is sitting on a headstone in a cemetery waiting to see her first vampire. In Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, it’s the moment Tristran Thorne – you can tell I’m talking about the book because they took out the second r in his name in the movie – it’s the moment he crosses the wall and meets a living star named Yvaine.

Crazy Delicious didn’t have a moment when the contestants crossed the threshold, but they easily could have.

It could have been as simple as showing the contestants traveling through a tunnel a la Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass or one of my favorite childhood TV shows, Out of the Box.

An even stronger entrance – one that ties into the whole Food Gods narrative – would be to film the contestants at home begging, nay praying, to come on the show and meet the Gods. Would it have been that hard? Surely the contestants applied to be on the show. I actually looked up the application process for the Great British Bake Off since it’s made by the same production company that made Crazy Delicious and if I may go off on a tangent… Actually, it’s my podcast, so I’mma go on this tangent and there’s nothing you can do about it.

According to Mat Riley, who was a contestant on the sixth season of GBBO – that’s the season that Nadiya Hussain won – the application process is pretty long. Applicants have to fill out a 5 page long form that asks a bunch of technical questions about baking and submit photos of things they’ve made. And if they’re lucky, they’ll get to the interview and audition stage, where they have to bake two dishes for the production team and participate in a technical baking challenge. That’s to test their baking skills and see how they do on camera. And as I type this, I’m realizing more and more that I should quit my day job and go work for this production company because just imagine the sheer amount of delicious food they get to eat…

The application process for Crazy Delicious probably isn’t significantly different, so it wouldn’t be too difficult to add in a step where they ask the top applicants to do this extra little prayer bit.

Although, now that I think about it, maybe they didn’t want to force people to pray – even mock pray – to the food gods. In fact, some viewers took offense at the use of the word “Gods” to describe the show’s judges. One person tweeted out, “Heston is a very good cook - but he is not a god and it’s offensive.” Another tweeted, “CrazyDelicious is like being in a weird dream you can't wake up from. It's trying very hard to be edgy. I'm not sure it's much more than utterly pretentious nonsense!”

Still, there are plenty of ways Crazy Delicious could have shown the contestants passing from the “real world” to the magical forest kitchen without being accused of blasphemy. Allowing the audience to see that transition would have made the show more immersive, because our brains need to be tricked into thinking we’ve been transported to a different world. That’s why the hero on their journey doesn’t start in Narnia or at Brakebills. They start in the mundane world and cross over some threshold. Maybe that’s not how it has to be, but that’s how fantasy fans are used to being introduced to magical realms. Crazy Delicious skipped that step, so now the fantasy theme falls flat for the most critical of viewers.

2. Rounds as trial

I’m going to stay on this Hero’s Journey train just a little bit longer to talk about something that I actually really liked about the show from a worldbuilding perspective, and that’s the use of the cooking challenges as trial and sacrifice to the gods.

Okay, I know that this is a cooking competition show, so of course the contestants are going to cook food and give it to the judges. But that doesn’t mean that the show’s format doesn’t also coincidentally align with the immemorial practice of sacrificing to a powerful deity.

If you squint your inner eyes and turn your head, each episode of Crazy Delicious is like a story about people competing for the favor of the food gods. The gods put the supplicants through a series of tests to see if they’re worthy. And at the end, the gods grant a boon to the worthiest mortal in the form of a golden apple. That story is as old as time.

In Greek mythology, the story of Psyche is one where a god puts a mortal through a series of trials to gain a favor. Psyche was a princess so beautiful – and you’ll see in the rest of the story that she’s also strong-willed, persistent, and clever – that the god Eros, who you might know as Cupid, falls in love with her. But in the story, a mortal can’t gaze upon a god’s face without suffering some serious consequences – a trope that Crazy Delicious thankfully didn’t follow – so Eros tells Psyche that she can’t look at his face. We all see where this is going.

Psyche does look at Eros’ face, and is subsequently cast out. Psyche begs Aphrodite to help her get her husband back and Aphrodite says she will if and only if Psyche can complete four impossible tasks.

The tasks are to sort a huge pile of grains in a tiny amount of time, gather some wool from a golden sheep, gather water from the spring that feeds the River Styx, and steal Persephone’s beauty cream.

I don’t know about you, but the tasks assigned to the Crazy Delicious contestants, things like reinventing the grilled cheese or cooking an entire birthday feast in just two hours, seem similarly impossible to me.

Oh, and Psyche got some help with her tasks (which wasn’t technically against the rules as provided) and was reunited with Eros.

As cringe-worthy as it might seem today for a woman to fight tooth and nail to reunite with a man who divorced her for looking at him, humans have always accepted the fact that gods will demand that we prove our loyalty and worth. This can be as extreme as the Christian God of the old testament asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his loyalty. It can be as small as Utnapishtim asking Gilgamesh to stay awake for a week to prove that he deserves the gift of immortality.

Why are we okay with being tested like this? Well there’s not just one reason, but a reason has to do with why religions are constructed. And they were constructed, whether you believe it was by humans who made it up or the god or gods who decided how they wanted to be worshipped. As human communities grew in size, our social structures became more complex and there needed to be a way to enforce rules and behaviors for the good of the group. Religion provides a mighty terrifying stick and a powerfully enticing carrot. So it’s advantageous for religious stories – what we often call myths today – to include elements of loyalty and sacrifice to the gods. You want practitioners of a religion to believe they’ll be rewarded for following the gods’ commands, because that’s how you get them to behave in a way that benefits the community, like donating to the church or, in some cultures, practicing monogamy.

So that’s the trial part, but what about sacrifices? Well, did anyone else notice that the only vegan chef on the show was the first contestant on her episode to get eliminated? I’m sure the judges didn’t do that on purpose to make my point, but it does tie into the ancient idea that the better your sacrifice, the more likely it was to please the gods. When Prometheus tricked Zeus into accepting a pile of ox bones as a sacrifice instead of a pile of ox meat, Zeus took fire away from humankind. In some ways in some cultures, ritual sacrifice is almost like an arms race of one-upmanship. You can’t just sacrifice an animal, it has to be a human. And then it can’t just be any human, but a beautiful virgin woman. This kind of thinking existed all over the world at different times, from ancient Rome, to ancient Japan, to 15th century Mesoamerica.

Sacrifices don’t always have to be meat, by the way. It depends on the god’s preferences and philosophy. Some gods prefer offerings of grains, or milk, or handicrafts… things that are valuable. The word “sacrifice” meant to give up one thing of value for another. And life isn’t the only thing humans hold dear.

So, again, I know the Crazy Delicious producers didn’t necessarily mean for the cooking challenges to come across as sacrificial offerings to the food gods. They certainly didn’t say that explicitly at any point in the show. But I thought it worked really well with the fantastical, mythological theme of the show.

3. Who is Jayde supposed to be?

Okay, my second point was about a piece of the show’s structure that worked with and added to the mythical food gods story. My third point is about a piece of the structure that didn’t really mesh with the fantasy theme.

I’ve watched plenty of reality competition shows, and not just about cooking. I’ve watched people compete to blow glass, dance, make crafts, compete obstacle courses, blacksmith… you name it and I’ve probably watched people do it competitively. I don’t know what that says about me, but I do know that a funny and comforting host serves a lot of functions for these shows. They can entertain the audience when there’s not much action. They can pump up the contestants or soothe them if they hear some negative feedback from a judge. In Jayde’s case, she also reminds us viewers that things in the magical forest pantry aren’t always what they seem. Each episode after the pilot begins with Jayde eating something in the forest that doesn’t look edible. It’s a great way of reminding us what the schtick of the show is.

So I get the practical reasons for Jayde being there, but in the fantasy side story that Crazy Delicious is trying to create, what’s Jayde’s role? The judges get to be gods and the contestants get to be mortals competing for the gods’ favor. And Jayde’s a… priestess? A prophet? Is she a fairy who cares for the magical forest?

I’m not totally sure how the show producers could have made Jayde’s mythical role more clear, though I doubt they were even interested in doing so, which is totally okay.

In some ways, Jayde is like a priestess in that she guides the contestants in their attempts to please the gods. In some other ways, she’s like a prophet in that she voices the will of the food gods when she tells the contestants whose performance in the first round, er trial has earned them extra time in the second.

I think part of the reason Jayde’s role is so hard for me to put my finger on is that priesthood, which I take here to mean the act of worshipping and serving a deity in an organized and maybe even hierarchical way, is kind of a foggy concept.

Not all gods have priests, and not all priests serve the same purpose. The Christian god has priests, pastors, a pope, and a whole bunch of other tiers (not all of which start with p) whose job is to interpret scripture and spread the word of god. Ancient Egyptians valued ma’at, or harmony and balance, maintained by the gods, and so there was a class of people whose job was to care for different gods and their temples. Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and pleasures and debauchery (which apparently doesn’t have roots in the god’s name, though I would love to live in a world where it did) had his Bacchae, women who worshipped him by freeing themselves of their inhibitions.

But smaller, local gods didn’t have priests who told other people how to worship them. Those stories and traditions were passed from person to person, buoyed by faith and, let’s be honest, a little desperation.

So not every god needs a priest and Jayde Adams certainly doesn’t need a reason for being on Crazy Delicious other than the fact that she’s frickin hilarious. Seriously, she didn’t skip a beat in the last episode of the first season when that lady grabbed her face and kissed her directly on the lips, but like it’s okay because she was older and eccentric?? Still, it would make my categorizing brain happy if she had a role that fit in with everyone else’s, so I’m saying she’s a priestess. You can tell because she’s so sparkly.

4. Gods should be gods of something

Throughout the show, Carla Hall, Heston Blumenthal, and Niklas Ekstedt are referred to simply as the “food gods.” But it’s rare for a single pantheon -- that’s a collection of gods in a given religion -- to have so many gods devoted to exactly the same thing. Sure, you might find several gods with dominion over different kinds of love, for example, but gods aren’t often said to overlap in their responsibilities. And there’s a reason for that.

When gods and myths and religions are created, it’s usually not because a group of people got together and planned out their religious narrative from start to finish. Maybe you’ve noticed that gods from polytheistic religions -- those that believe in more than one god -- are often associated with natural phenomena, like thunder or the changing of the seasons, or common occurrences, like fishing and childbirth. For thousands of years, humans experienced these things, but didn’t always have the science to explain them or didn’t understand the concept of random chance out of their control. Humans make myths to explain the world around them.

Some scientists think that our brains are hardwired to create, recognize, and understand stories, just like they’re wired to recognize faces where there are none. Our brains get more active when we hear something presented as a story than when we hear that same information presented as a series of disconnected facts.

So it’s no surprise that ancient humans would come up with a story about a god who pulls the sun and moon across the sky, or one who makes flowers grow in the spring. In this way, gods are given domain over specific events and ideas.

I can imagine an alternate version of Crazy Delicious where nothing about the structure of the show changes, but the judges aren’t just gods over the vague concept of food; they’re gods of specific and relevant concepts.

The winner of the first trial is given ten extra minutes to complete their task in the second. Wouldn’t it make sense to have one of the gods be the God of Time who can grant such a boon?

The loser of the second trial is sent home, back to the mortal realm. It might be cool to have one of the gods be the God of Death, or something less heavy for a cheerful cooking show, the God of the Gate who has dominion over who gets to stay in the magical forest.

Finally, the winner of the third round is given the golden apple. I’ll get to why that’s such a good choice for a prize in a bit, but for now, why isn’t that act carried out by the God of the Harvest, or the God of Bounty, or the God of Knowledge? Because isn’t that what the apple is supposed to represent? That the winner has impressive knowledge of and skill for cooking.

These are just some of the possibilities of how responsibility could be split between the gods. I’m sure that making all of the judges “food gods” seemed more egalitarian, because no one wants to be the judge on a fantasy cooking show who isn’t deemed the god of food. But if the producers had enough time to put together a godsdamned prosecco waterfall, then they could have spent some time thinking about the judges’ specialties and given them more individualized titles.

5. Golden apple as prize

A reality competition show wouldn’t feel right without a prize. The winner in each Nailed It! episode wins $10,000. The winner of each season of Top Chef gets $125,000. Even the chilled out chefs on Netflix’s Cooked with Cannabis get 10 grand for clinching a victory. But apparently Channel 4 does things a little differently. Because the winner of the Great British Bake Off gets a cake stand and some flowers and the winner in each episode of Crazy Delicious gets a golden apple plucked right from the magical tree.

And though money might be nice, I respect the hell out of their choice of a golden apple as the top prize in this fantasy world. The golden apple appears in so many myths from around the world. When I saw this exchange in the Crazy Delicious pilot, I immediately thought of the Golden Apple of the Hesperides.

In Greek mythology, the hero Heracles or Hercules had to complete 12 tasks to atone for the sin of murdering his family. Yeah, they didn’t mention that in the Disney movie, did they? Heracles’ 11th task was to steal a golden apple from the Hesperides, which, according to legend, was a garden of sacred apples given to Hera when she married Zeus by the titan Gaia. It’s pretty unclear what these golden apples actually do, but apparently the apple of discord that led to the Trojan War was picked from this garden. Still, all you need to know to figure out how valuable these apples are is how well they were guarded. Hera put a whole team of nymphs and a 100-headed never-sleeping dragon in charge of protecting these apples, so they’ve got to be worth at least their weight in gold.

In other parts of the world, apples are traditionally valuable because they’re associated with eternal youth -- the Norse goddess Idun guarded the golden apples that kept the gods young. Apples are also associated with wisdom. Merlin from Arthurian legend was said to carry around a silver apple branch because it could help him cross over into other worlds.

But apples also have some pretty negative associations in mythology, especially when they’re eaten. Adam and Eve are cast out from the garden of Eden after eating the apple. Snow White falls into a deep sleep after taking a bite from a poisoned apple. And I hope we all know not to trust an apple given to us by a faerie, because although I couldn’t find any examples of people being trapped in faerie lands by eating apples specifically, eating faerie food almost always has consequences. And failing to read that kind of small print is what got Persephone trapped in Hades for 6 months out of the year…

Okay, okay, I know that Persephone ate a pomegranate seed and not an apple, but that brings up an interesting point. Up until the 17th century, Europeans and Mediterraneans used the word “apple” as a generic term for any kind of foreign fruit that wasn’t a berry. They even called nuts apples. And when tomatoes were brought from South America to Europe in the 16th century, they were called “love apples.” So it’s really difficult to look at references to apples in mythologies from that part of the world and know for sure what fruit they’re actually talking about.

So that story about Eve and the apple? Well, the bible actually only says that Eve “took of [the tree’s] fruit and ate.” No explicit mention of an apple, and in fact, some scholars think the forbidden fruit was actually a pomegranate, which would have been more common in the parts of the middle east where they think the Garden of Eden was located.

Still, apples -- even if they were actually oranges or cherries -- have been associated with knowledge, beauty, power, and even a little bit of danger. And I think that makes a golden apple the perfect prize for Crazy Delicious winners. Let’s just hope they don’t try to eat it.

And that’s what I have to say about the worldbuilding in Crazy Delicious. I think they could have made the world feel more immersive by showing the contestants pass from reality to the magical forest. Their episode format with three different cooking challenges reminded me of trials and sacrifices, which worked with the show’s fantasy theme. It was a little unclear what Jayde’s role in the fantasy story was, and the judge’s role as gods would have been a lot more compelling if they had been gods over specific domains. And finally, I loved the choice of the golden apple as the final prize.

I want to make it clear that I didn’t expect Crazy Delicious to do all or any of these things. It’s a cooking show, not a show whose main goal is to transport you to another world. For Crazy Delicious, the fantasy world element is a gimmick, a fun way to set it apart from other cooking shows. And that’s totally okay! I’m not going to pick over this show with the same fine-toothed worldbuilder’s comb that I would use to analyze a show like Merlin or Netflix’s Cursed.

Overall, I thought Crazy Delicious was a really cute show and I’m definitely gonna binge the second season when it comes out.

Thank you so much for listening to me talk basically nonstop about Crazy Delicious for 40 minutes. If you want to get started with a fun creative project, but need a bit of help, here’s a prompt: first, come up with real titles for the gods who judge the show, not just food gods. And then come up with a birth or origin story about that god. Think something along the lines of Athena being born from Zeus’ skull and then becoming the goddess of wisdom.

Please share your work on twitter or instagram and tag @ExolorePod or send it to the email If you send me a story, I might even read it on a future episode of Exolore…

If you want to support my world building work, you can head on over to It takes me between like 6 and 8 hours to plan, record, and edit each episode of Exolore, so I would really appreciate the help. Also, if you join Patreon as a Centaur level patron, you’ll be joining my good friend Michael, who is currently my only one.

Or, if money’s tight, you can rate and review the show on Apple podcasts, which you can do even if you don’t have an iphone or a mac computer. If you liked this episode, be sure to share it with your friends and subscribe to the show. That way, you can catch me next time on another world.

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