updated - May 18, 2013 Saturday EDT
ABC’s new cooking competition show, The Taste, boasts a panel of heavy hitters in the culinary world. Most notably is Anthony Bourdain, of the Travel Channel's show No Reservations, in which he tracks downs exotic cuisine strange enough to turn even the strongest stomachs. The other judges—now mentors, after they choose their favorite dishes from the first episode and then coach those chefs for the rest of the season—include former Top Chef contestant Brian Malarkey, and suave Chef Lugo Lefebvre, of the thick accent and pretty eyes. The judges have some chemistry—both Brian and Lugo make a show of beating their chests, bantering about scallop searing and sauce making. Britain’s television personality Nigella Lawson, the panel’s sole female and patron saint of the at-home (not professional) cook, offers an unwavering cheerfulness, occasionally throwing in a pro-female joke about clutching male testicles. In her defense, that was during a competition in which chefs were made to use every part of the cow.
The Taste is supposed to be different than other shows of its kind—Top Chef and Chopped, for instance—because the judges taste the food blindly, without knowing who cooked what. More importantly, they are only offered a spoonful. Literally, just a taste. The complication arises when they begin to eliminate their own team members by blindly picking the worst dish without knowing who cooked it.
What sounds like a compelling idea makes for pretty lackluster television. The Taste manages to strain out all of the stressful competition that makes Top Chef so watchable. The mentors walk around the kitchen while their teams cook, occasionally offering bits of encouragement or shouted direction. Mostly, the chef-testants just look frazzled and a little rushed, but not in the dire, heart-racing way the Top Chef competitors frantically move around the kitchen. In trying to encourage the at home chef, The Taste forgoes the impressive feats made by the award-winning professional chefs who populate the other competitions. One often feels like he’s watching an amateur cook try his best to produce food for which a mentor might pat him on the back.
Another problem: watching someone taste a bite of food just isn’t that interesting. The judges don’t know what they’re eating, so they take a few guesses and make vague comments about taste and texture. How much can you say about one bite?
On Top Chef, critics discuss the entire meal, how the elements on the plate interact, what was prepared poorly and what was prepared perfectly—that’s interesting. Especially when you’ve just watched the chefs construct that same dish in painstaking detail while shouting at fellow competitors to “GET THE **** OUT OF MY WAY!”
Everyone on The Taste—judges and competitors—treat each other a little too politely, which is surprising, considering Anthony Bourdain’s guest spots on Top Chef have been some of the most brutal. While nice in theory, The Taste doesn’t get pulses racing—and it doesn’t leave viewers’ wanting anything more than a tiny bite.
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