Canadian couples battle in 'Dinner Party Wars'
Celebrity event planner Anthea Turner, left, and chef Corbin Tomaszeski are seen in this undated handout photo. Turner and Tomaszeski are judges of 'Dinner Party Wars' that debuts Wednesday, September 1, 2010, on Food Network Canada.
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, August 30, 2010 1:27PM EDT
The scene in the kitchen is, as one observer puts it, "Armageddon."
Pots, pans, cutlery and dinnerware are strewn about as spouses David Axelrad and Brigitte Talevski scramble to finish a huge international tasting menu -- with wine tailored to each dish -- for four near-strangers in a north Toronto house.
"What are we going to do about candles? Are we doing anything about candles?" Axelrad, 47, an editor, asks while decanting wine and setting the table.
"Are we going to do candles? I don't know!" replies Talevski, 51, a transplant social worker who is sauteeing and simmering over a hot stove on a sweltering summer evening.
The chaos recently took place during a taping of the 13-part series "Dinner Party Wars," which debuts Wednesday on Food Network Canada.
Similar to the hit British series "Come Dine With Me," each episode sees three couples who are strangers host a three-hour dinner party for each other over three nights in and around Toronto.
As the dinners unfold, famed Toronto chef Corbin Tomaszeski and British "style and etiquette queen" Anthea Turner watch the action via video feed inside a trailer parked outside. They judge everything from the menus and presentation, to the flavours of the food and the etiquette and entertainment.
Guests tell how they think their hosts are doing via a private video confessional booth that's set up in the home. On the final night, they all watch what each has said about one other.
The winner gets $1,000 worth of cookware.
"People try to get these big, complicated, really ambitious menus and they're way in over their head," Tomaszeski -- executive chef at Toronto's Holts Cafe at Holt Renfrew -- said in an interview in the basement as Axelrad and Talevski cooked upstairs.
"I always say: 'Start with keeping it simple and then build your way up versus going way too big too fast."'
Axelrad and Talevski -- whose episode airs Oct. 27 -- seemed to be making that very mistake, surmised the judges.
"This dinner party, we think, is going to go horribly wrong," Turner -- star of the U.K. series "Anthea Turner: Perfect Housewife" -- said before cameras got rolling.
"They're doing a tasting menu, so there's like 10, 12 courses, and they are so disorganized. There's food everywhere."
Axelrad and Talevski's competition included married farmers who are in their 40s and two 23-year-old students.
Turner said the show is "quite naughty" in pairing up couples who hail from very different backgrounds.
"The chances are that these three couples wouldn't ordinarily be sitting around a table together so ... it's funny from that point of view."
Each couple submits their dinner menus before filming begins and gets a total budget of $350. No couple can repeat or prepare the same dish as another pair.
Some couples have also provided entertainment, including belly and square dancing, steel-drum music, a fire eater and a tattoo artist.
The key to a good dinner party, said the judges, is cooking simpler meals that you're familiar with and spending quality time with your guests.
Some meals on the show have been hard to digest, and a few have been totally inedible, they added.
"There's been things that I've refused to put in my mouth because I saw how it was prepared," said Tomaszeski, a frequent face on the series "Restaurant Makeover."
Added Turner: "We got so hungry once because the food was so bad we stopped the ice-cream truck and we got a nice cone."
Guests also have to be mindful of their behaviour.
Tomaszeski said "there's a lot of backstabbing, a lot of manipulation" on the series and they've taken away points from couples who've been obnoxious or rude guests or tried to sabotage another dinner.
"And I've taken marks away for table manners," said Turner.
"I can't stand bad table manners and I've seen some really bad table manners here. Oh my goodness me."
And those bad manners don't necessarily end once the winner is declared.
"We've had a few big, fat, dirty losers who have been not very kind when they've lost," said Turner. "They've even said we don't know what we're talking about, and they've had a go!"
"It makes great TV," Tomaszeski added with a laugh.