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'The Taste' Recap

The first nibble of ABC's unsavory new cooking competition

By Mick Vann, 10:30AM, Wed. Jan. 23, 2013

ABC presented the much-lauded premiere of The Taste last nigh: Imagine The Voice with food, and a pinch of Masterchef whipped in. The outlook isn't good.


The Taste mentors Lefebvre, Bourdain, Lawson, and Malarkey
by courtesy ABC television

Four mentor/judges blind-taste a spoonful of food from a hodge-podge of contestants, then decide if they like it or not before the chef is revealed. It could be a home cook or a pro. Some of these clueless ne’er-do-wells actually quit their jobs to compete. If the mentors like the chef, they are one of four selected to be on the mentor’s team, cooking in that mentor’s kitchen for a balls-to-the-wall cook-off between the sixteen selected, leaving only one chef standing at the end with $100K and a new car. If multiple mentors like a given cook, they try to seduce the cook into selecting them over the others. During the actual cook-off, we are teased with the prospect that a mentor could kick off their own team chef, since it’s all blind tastings throughout the contest. Yawn.

The mentors are Anthony Bourdain (much less edgy and acerbic here than on Top Chef), Nigella Lawson (who laughingly claims to be a “home cook”), Ludo Lefebvre (a legit top-flight chef with major European chops), and San Diego restaurateur Brian Malarkey (an early Top Chef wash-out I’ve never heard of and already passionately hate).

Every professional chef contestant shown last night proclaimed themselves to be God’s gift to cuisine, and that the $100K and Ford are as good as theirs; most predictably went down in flames. One claimed to prepare “food for awesomeness”; another made a dish of crab, cranberries, lamb, Brussels sprouts, and goat cheese (I refluxed a little just writing that). The early audience favorite has to be the Mississippi trailer gal who did the dessert that Nigella loved.

A few standout moments: Tony selects a dish of Chilean sea bass with butterscotch (urp), and later chooses the most abrasive and obnoxious of all contestants, "chef consultant" Diane from NYC. I’m on pins and needles waiting for the culinary drama to ensue.

I felt exactly like a couple of the mentors as episode one ended: Tony says he needs “a splash and a smoke,” while Nigella chimes in that “I want to change my underwear.” If this show makes its full run it will be a miracle; look for a speedier conclusion to the big reveal than was originally scheduled. Bourdain must be making a butt-load of bucks from this drivel while he waits for his new CNN show Parts Unknown to start up in April.

The Taste is on ABC Tuesday nights from 7-9pm.

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