By Alec Stern, For the Daily
Published January 29, 2013
For years, Bravo, FOX and, of course, The Food Network have dominated the highly popular cooking genre. However, ABC’s new offering, “The Taste,” gives the network a real chance of joining the ranks of even the most successful of cooking competition series. While it isn’t perfect, the new series features a panel of fun and entertaining judges, led by Anthony Bourdain (“No Reservations”), and boasts an original and interesting format. The premise of “The Taste” shines, and it has the ingredients to be a hit, despite suffering from somewhat clumsy execution.
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“The Taste” might as well be titled “The Voice: Cooking Edition.” Its premise is basically identical to that of the hit NBC singing competition: Four judges must put together a team of chefs by judging only one bite of a dish through a blind taste test. The panel consists of Bourdain, food writer Nigella Lawson, French chef Ludo Lefebvre and “Top Chef Miami” finalist Brian Malarkey. Contestants range from executive chefs to home cooks, and the judges have no knowledge of what they are about to eat. They must judge simply on the flavor of this one bite. The winner receives $100,000, a new car and the coveted “Taste Trophy.”
For a fan of cooking shows, “The Taste” offers a departure from past formats. The blind taste test and the intermingling of professional and recreational chefs makes the show a delight to watch. Even more exciting, the blind taste test remains in all rounds, which puts the judges at risk of unknowingly sending their own contestants home.
As thrilling as the premise of “The Taste” is, the series comes up short in some aspects. What it is most glaringly missing is a host. Bourdain is clearly the unstated head judge and does his best to recap and review the events as they unfold, but the whole thing seems a bit disorganized. After a contestant either makes a team or doesn’t, their exit is awkward and would have benefited from a more polished send-off and questioning from a host backstage.
The strangest aspect of “The Taste” is the interactions between the judges and each contestant. The chefs are confined to a very small area as the judges critique their food, while the judges sit atop a tall platform an uncomfortably close distance away. Some contestants can even be seen leaning in to try and hear what the shouting judges are saying about their food.
Additionally, whereas “The Voice” coaches are searching for 18 singers per team, “The Taste” mentors only need four chefs apiece. As a result, the supersized two-hour premiere of “The Taste” actually does a disservice to this fine show; too many seemingly worthy chefs don’t end up with a spot on a team.
Despite some key technical missteps, “The Taste” certainly works. It’s a fresh idea for a cooking competition show and plays out in an exciting way. The judges have a strong chemistry together and it should be exciting to see them interact more with their teams in the coming weeks. Though “The Taste” will only be around for a short eight-episode first season, it will definitely be a welcome addition to any foodie’s DVR.