ABC premiered its new competitive cooking show, The Taste (not to be confused with daytime food-talker The Chew) on Tuesday night, and despite its two-hour running time — seriously, network execs, have you forgotten the days when reality shows lasted only 60 minutes? — I found the end result to be pretty appetizing, if not totally mind-blowing.
The series premiere focused on the show’s panel of judges — Nigella Lawson, Anthony Bourdain, Ludo Lefebvre and Brian Malarkey — tasting one bite each from various professional chefs and home cooks. The judges had no idea who prepared the food or what ingredients they used, and had to immediately decide whether the spoonful they’d eaten was good enough to earn a spot on his or her “team.” (In a neat twist, each judge voted “in secret,” without any knowledge of how fellow panelists were leaning.)
Here are five things about the premiere that have me thinking about returning for Episode 2:
TAKEDOWNS OF THE AWFUL…AND THE AWESOME | Thankfully, The Taste didn’t fall into the predictable pattern of sweet people with sad backstories always succeeding. Sure, it stung a little to see rejections for Jeanette, the 64-year-old journalist whose house is under foreclosure, and TJ, the sewage-treatment worker whose chicken mole Nigella said looked like “a baby’s nappy,” but the judges based their decisions on flavor alone. And who can argue with that? Nevertheless, we did see holes satisfyingly punched in some crazy-big egos, too, like Adam, who said he was traveling from the future to smash the judges in the face with awesomeness but instead punched them in the taste-buds with heinousness via a mac-and-cheese stir-fry containing mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, pineapple, and ground turkey. (Insert vomming sound here.) And when handsome sous chef Sieger referred to his own good looks and likened himself to Captain America, you just knew he was being set up for a painful nosedive.
FALLIBLE JUDGES | I liked seeing the judges occasionally crumble under the pressure of deciding “yea” or “nay” based on a single mouthful — without any context or explanation. Bourdain proclaimed himself “livid with rage” after passing on Kyle’s chicken-fried watermelon, while Nigella blurted that she’d “buggered up” by not pressing her “yes” button for Todd’s ahi tuna and sweet potato puree. No matter how much she begged, though, she didn’t get a do-over, and Todd was sent home without a single “yes” vote. It’s kind of comforting knowing that even food pros sometimes need a beat to pass judgment on their eats.
THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF FLAVOR | The judges had several interesting conversations about how the show’s conceit forces them to make judgments on food alone. There’s no eloquent menu descriptions or chefs’ résumés to take into account. Thus, we had Renatta who prepared “mashed potatoes with the cabbage along with the chicken with a sauce over it” winding up on Team Nigella while a number of trained professionals were sent packing. As Nigella told several hopefuls, don’t say “home cook” apologetically; some of the best-tasting meals are homemade, after all! And while a sea bass with butterscotch and cilantro relish sounds kind of hideous on paper, the resulting flavor combination caused Bourdain to hit his “yes” button for chef Nina Marie.
JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF SALT(Y LANGUAGE) | I’ll admit I howled when Bourdain growled, “I’m pretty sure I can’t use the term delusional f***** on TV, but…” and Nigella chirped in, “I think you might have just now.” Ditto for the Lady Lawson’s exasperation with Malarkey’s demand for more “refinement” in a contestant’s food. “I wanna reach for my revolver!” she gasped over the offending adjective. “I want pleasure and flavor!” (Side note: Anyone else surprised by ABC’s choice of Lefebvre as a judge, considering his French accent makes a third of his critiques borderline unintelligible? Which isn’t a complaint: The guy won me over the second he offered a job in one of his restaurants to solid-but-not-quite spectacular cooking instructor Renee, who’d quit her job to audition for the show.)
AN ECLECTIC CAST OF CHARACTERS | I already want to know more about Kristianne, the self-described “fully-tatted Asian lesbian” who works as a private chef for Charlie Sheen and the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia (!) and Lauren, the absolutely adorable home chef who lives in a trailer in Mississippi, has $43 in her checking account, and wept tears of joy when her idol Nigella picked her.) And while chef consultant Diane has clearly set herself up as The Taste‘s resident villain, if one of the mentors can stop her from rocking an exposed midriff next to the stovetop, her appearance on the show will not be entirely in vain.
What did you think of The Taste? Will you tune in for more episodes? What did you think of the judges and contestants? Sound off in the comments!