Well, kids, The Taste premiered last night on ABC with much fanfare. We sat, we watched, we followed the (trending!) tweets and we're here to recap. Just in case your DVR didn't work, or you just want to relive it all in print.
The premise — as previously mentioned — is a mash-up of The Voice and Top Chef. For two hours, contestants were shown making a single-bite dish that was blindly tasted by the four judges. The judges — Bourdain, Lefebvre, Nigella Lawson and Brian Malarkey — then tried to figure out what they had just eaten and if that bite merited landing the cook a spot on their individual teams. The teams will be mentored by the judges, but the tastings will continue to be held blindly. This means a mentor may end up sending home his own mentee. And that means there's lots of room for drama and crushed egos. Oh, and we should mention the prize for this throw-down is $100,000 and a shiny new car. Oooooh-eee.
Opening strong, we were introduced to an exuberant young chef from Las Vegas, who told the camera he makes “food for awesomeness.” Yup. Tellingly, his dish of ground turkey, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, pasta and cheese was subjected to some harsh criticism and he did not make the cut.
For the first mildly dramatic twist, part-time food writer Sarah Shiear of New York, via Florida, presented a perfectly cooked scallop with peaches and habanero that Lefebvre and Malarkey liked. Since they both wanted to have her on their team, it was up to her to decide — and she went with Lefebvre. Score one for Team Ludo.
At this point, the chefs had established they were looking for something balanced, delicious and, above all, unique. They also spent a bit of time trying to decide if the spoonful was made by a trained professional or not, before meeting any of the cooks. It was obviously meant to drive home that amateurs and professionals are on level ground on this show.
Speaking of professionals, next up was local chef Kyle Shutte of 54Twenty. He presented his chicken-fried watermelon with pickled watermelon rind, a dish we have actually sampled, and think is all kindsa terrific. The judges didn't agree and he was sent on his way.
Here we met a reality show repeat offender, private chef Khristianne Uy — who obviously did not sign a nondisclosure with her employer, Charlie Sheen. She passed muster with her scallop, too, leading many astute viewers to react with “It's The Taste, not The Scallop!” an excellent reference to Fabio Viviani's famous quip “This is Top Chef, is not Top Scallops!” She ended up on Malarkey's team.
(By the way, if we ever go on a reality cooking show, we are totally making scallops. While editorializing, we also have got to point out that bacon never appeared on this show. Not once. We were baffled and slightly appalled.)
From there we met more people with wacky dishes, bad outfits, sad backstories and dramatic attitudes. Standard reality-show fare, really. Our hearts went out to the grandmother from New Jersey who is in the process of losing her home and presented a kicked-up kugel but was sent packing.
Todd (no last name given), an award-winning chef from Miami, and his lackluster tuna dish — accompanied by the worst 1997 techno music imaginable — got the quick goodbye as well. Lawson, in the first of many similar comments, lamented her choice and wondered if he could be a wild card. We don't see that happening, but he left with his head held high. And hey, he got a free trip to Los Angeles. No harm, no foul.
Cut to some people shopping at Whole Foods. Then we then get a screenfull of Texan Renata and her crimes against grammar. She's a giggly home cook. “That means I sit home and cook.” Her dish is “cabbages (sic), and mashed potatoes with chicken and a sauce over it.” Our gal is no menu writer. Nigella loves that it is homey and grandmotherly, and ultimately picks her. Renata then squeals. Ludo praises his own grandmother. Nigella espouses — again — that home cooking is just as good as professional food.
A quick montage shows us more people not getting through but works in plenty of shots of sponsors' products. Someone has to pay the bills.
Moving right along (not swiftly), we get to know Mia, a yoga instructor who recently left culianary start-up Kitchit. She passes muster with her Indian spiced lamb, securing herself a spot with Team Bourdain. We liked their team-spirit vibe.
Another hopeful is sent off and then Ninjamarie and Paul both feel comfortable enough
with the state of our oceans and overfishing to serve Chilean sea bass. Bourdain takes Ninjamarie, Paul is chosen by Nigella and Ludo. At that point Chef Ludo lets everyone know the French are better known for food than the English. Touché. Paul smartly picks Team Ludo, with the parting remark “Having two chefs fight over you is the best feeling you can have with your clothes on.” Insert your retort here: __________.
Two more rejections go down and Micah from San Francisco, who quit his job to be on the show (Sigh. Stop it America. Stop it.), ends up on Team Malarkey. We then are subjected to a man talking about his day job in the sewage-treatment industry. We can only assume this is meant as comic relief. He did not get a spot. At this point we are almost two hours in to the seemingly endless show. Jokes about taste levels can be inserted pretty much anywhere.
The judges quipped, nipped, sipped and worked in catchphrases (notably, Nigella
“You're not invited to come play in my kitchen” Lawson) as best they could while still maintaining their dignity. They also apologized. To everyone. Ad nauseam. Every single contestant was offered a mea culpa from at least one judge. Nobody wanted to say anything mean, until the hopeful was out of earshot. Not exactly riveting stuff, but shows these are actual professionals who don't relish being nasty for the sake of entertainment.
Seeing as viewers can't taste the food, this show is 100% about being entertained by everyone taking part. As much as we hate to say it, the respectful air took something away from the viewing experience. We're programmed to crave cattiness and we can only pray Malarkey steps it up and fills that role. For the good of the show, of course.
But wait! We spoke too soon of niceness! Enter horrible reality cliché Diane. She postures, she snipes, she looks surely, acts like an entitled Real Housewife and alas, ends up on Team Bourdain. If the producers are worth their salt, this nightmare of a person will make to the finales. If the gods are watching, Bourdain will take her down.
Are you still reading? Phew.
To get the ick factor of Diane out of our minds, nice guy and local chef Shawn Davis makes his appearance with a spiced tuna dish. Once again Malarkey and LL want the same guy. Ludo makes some odd remarks about liking Napoleon and Davis ends up rounding out his team.
Capping off the night with something sweet, we meet an exceedingly charming Mississippi trailer-park gal, who dared to bake and swoons over Lawson. The judges taste and then debate her professional stature. They insist she confess she is a home cook before allowing her to say her name is Lauren. Nigella melts, finishes her team and the show ends.
So there you go. Two hours whittled down for your reading pleasure. Will you be watching? Who do you want to win?
TV ratings note: The Taste opened a strong No. 1 from 8-10 p.m. among adults 18-49, beating original comedy programming on Fox by 38% and NBC by 47%.
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