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The Taste: The good, the bad, and the ugly of ABC’s new reality cooking show

The foodie in me was filled with brimming happiness when I first heard of The Taste three weeks ago. I mean, how could I not upon learning that the distinguished panel of judges includes two of my absolute favorite food writers/television personalities, Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson? The show ought to be good, I thought to myself. But is it really? Before going on to review the show’s first two episodes, it would perhaps be useful to give a brief description of the ABC show.

The Taste is essentially a competitive television reality show in which each contestant is judged by, and only by, the taste (get it?) of one spoonful of their cooking. The food is tasted “blind” to avoid biases—contestants are revealed only after judges make their decision on whether or not they would like the contestant on their team—and Bourdain, Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre, or Brian Malarkey will mentor their chosen contestants. The following episodes will follow a similar concept, with the only difference being that one or more contestant(s) with the “worst” tasting food will be eliminated from the competition each time. The last (wo)man standing will win $100,000 and a Toyota Prius.

You are right if you thought that the concept sounds very familiar to NBC’s The Voice. Having watched few episodes of the hit reality singing competition myself, I must agree with those who think that The Taste is rather short on originality. But then again, most of our forms of visual entertainment resemble one another in different ways. In my view, the inclusion of food into the picture only makes The Taste a slightly better derivative concept-wise (especially if I can actually taste the food), and The New York Times seems to suggest the same.

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Yet the two-hour premiere on January 22nd was not particularly eventful. The judges missed a lot of good catches during the first hour or so, and because of this, it was difficult to guess whom the judges would pick and whom they would not. They later regretted their decisions and apologized to the unlucky hopefuls—which included a number of professional chefs who work (or worked) in top-rated restaurants. Lefebvre was the most contrite among the four, as he offered two clearly talented, yet unsuccessful show-wise, cooks to work with him. I secretly wished that Lefebvre actually followed up with them as one of them gave away their job to participate in the competition.

The next half of the premiere and the next episode were a lot better than the first half; several cooks with talent and ambition were given the chance to advance to the next stage. Thank God. I don’t think I could have bore any longer the ever-increasing number of seemingly amazing cooks being sent home, such as the executive chef of 54Twenty (which, by the way, has four-and-a-half stars on Yelp) and an investment banker who made a delectable-looking grilled seafood sausage with Beurre Blanc sauce. By the end of the second episode, all four judges had completed their team of four contestants…plus a dozen whom they wished they had picked. Oh well.

The problem, it seems, lies in the fact that a single bite of food may not always convey one’s culinary expertise and knowledge. Then again, perhaps it is the focus on the spoonful that distinguishes The Taste from the vast array of cooking competitions we find today. If you have watched the show, hang in there. I like to think that the real competition will be worthwhile. If you have not, the show is worth a try. You might consider skipping the first two episodes if you cannot stand to see so many good cooks sent home. The Taste continues on Tuesdays at 8 pm EST on ABC.

Also, you can watch it online here.

-Andari Gusman

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