THE TASTE: First Thoughts on ABC’s New Kitchen Nightmare

The Taste (2013) – Episodes 1 and 2 – Starring Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre, and Brian Malarkey.

What the hell is this amateurish piece of dumbness?

ABC does drama very well, but reality shows very poorly. Much like their ill-fated and idiotic Duets reality show from last year, THE TASTE is another attempt by ABC to re-fashion NBC’s enjoyable The Voice into something similar. THE TASTE is not quite as awful as Duets, but that’s because watching people make food is more enjoyable than watching people sing.

THE TASTE is as poorly put together as you can imagine in a network reality show. The idea is a solid one – professional chefs and home cooks make four exact spoonfuls of food and four judges taste them without seeing the chefs. Like The Voice, the four judges press a button if they’re interested and then the chef/cook can decide which of the judges they want to work with in the second part of the competition. Once you get past the idea, however, THE TASTE completely falls apart.

Let’s start with how poorly the show is cut together. In the first episode, contestant after contestant is rejected by all four judges. It takes 43 minutes of pay time for every judge to get a contestant. The producers absolutely waste our time with pointless “get to know you” segments (something The Voice is guilty of, too), only to have them then get rejected across the board. What’s the f*cking point of getting to know people who are immediately cut? Do it once, sure, but time after time? Ugh. THE TASTE is assembled by people with no clue on how to build effective tension or characters. Here’s a thought – save the character development until you’ve actually added the cook to the show.

Second problem – cooking is not singing. We can all judge singing for ourselves, but we can’t judge cooking just by watching the cooks prepare it. We watch them cook, watch the judges eat, watch the judges give quick comments to each other, and then watch the judges give quick comments to the contestants. The comments to the cooks are really dumb. Over and over, it felt like I was hearing judges say things like, “The dish tasted fine, but that’s a no to me.”


There was also several times that the judges (especially Nigella and Bourdain) said things like, “I wish we had a wild card! I made a mistake! I’m already regretting my decision!”

Why not have a wild card? It makes sense and it adds a level of tension. Given how many people get rejected, it would help get us through this tedious blind audition process quicker, too. And if these are professional food people, why are they so flipping wishy-washy – one minute the food gets a no and then after they see the person and talk to them it gets a yes?

There’s no host to THE TASTE, and as noxious as I find Carson Daly, THE TASTE could use someone standing by the cooks and hassling them as they rush to make their food. Absent that, THE TASTE could use a bit of urgency in the kitchen. This something MasterChef does really well; THE TASTE has a countdown clock but there’s no urgency here. I get no sense that these cooks are in any hurry to make anything. They all seem to be able to take all the time they want and then send up their food. Maybe that’s a more realistic and proper way to judge food, but reality television isn’t about the totality of reality, it’s about the manipulation and simulation of reality. Plus, why have a clock if you’re not going to do anything with it? Pointless. Utterly pointless.

That brings us to the judges. Having the right judges makes a huge difference; they need to work individually and with each other. That’s what The Voice does better than any other reality game show. Adam Levine, Cee-lo Green, Christina Aguilera, and Blake Shelton all have distinct, individual personalities that mesh well together, and the show is smart enough to subtly manipulate those relationships from season to season. While Blake spent much of Season 2 flirting with Adam, in Season 3 he spent more time flirting with Christina. You have four judges that people know, that have strong (if not totally positive) personalities, and they mesh well with one another.

MasterChef does an excellent job with judges, too. Gordon Ramsay has more TV shows than I have socks, but he’s become subtly different on each of them. Hell’s Kitchen Ramsay is the cartoon. Kitchen Nightmares Ramsay starts off as the cartoon and then becomes caring. Best Restaurant Ramsay is the food lover. And MasterChef Ramsay is the expert chef, paired with the ultra-serious businessman and the wacky, super-sensitive chef.

The judges on THE TASTE are a failure. Anthony Bourdain is a great writer and a great host, and he’s been a perfectly enjoyable guest judge on other shows, but he’s completely out of his element here. What Bourdain does best is to go out and engage food and culture; strapping him to a sterile desk and making him crush people’s dreams doesn’t work nearly as well.

To his right sits something called Brian Malarkey, who was a contestant on Top Chef: Miami back in the day. He’s the zany one, I guess? I don’t know. Every so often, he yells and pumps his fists and laughs like the most annoying person on a sitcom. He reminds of Willie Aames on Charles in Charge, except with a speed addiction.

Next to him is the only female judge, Nigella Lawson. She’s the nice one who is always waving the flag for home cooks. She’s nice and British and two seconds after she says something you forget if she’s talked or not.

The final judge is Ludo Lefebvre, who speaks with such a thick and unintelligible French accent that Batroc Ze Lepair can’t understand him. What’s most damning is that I think he’s the one real breakout personality here, but f*ck if I know what he’s saying half the time.

There’s almost no chemistry between the judges, either. Malarkey and Ludo have a bit of a back and forth, but it feels completely fake and contrived. It feels like no one here knows each other and thus they don’t know how to talk to one another.

The confrontation between the judges and the contestants are also completely insipid. They put the contestant in a freaking box (Bourdain calls it the “Chute of Terror” at one point) and have them listen to the judges talk to each other, and then the front panel opens so they can see the judges, but the producers keep the contestant in the box. It’s moronic and stupid and keeps the contestant at such a distance from the judges that it totally disconnects the person from their food. It’s just too much of a gimmick. There’s no reason why after the door opens the contestants can’t come and stand right in front of the judges. It just looks totally stupid, too, to have them stand in a box while they’re talking about their food.

Of course, looking stupid is what this show excels at. I absolutely hate the set of this show, which is total game show schlock. On The Voice, the people sing, and it’s done in a theater. That makes sense. On MasterChef, the people cook, and it’s done in what looks like a kitchen. On THE TASTE, the people cook, but it looks like a … a … spaceship, with all its silvers and blues. I know complaining about the color palette on a cooking show seems like a silly thing, and the idiocy of this kitchen isn’t what ruins the show by any means, but it’s like the person who put the set together didn’t realize that all that blue in such a cramped space with all that silver makes the food preparation look technical and soulless.

Honestly, why are they cooking in a spaceship?

Okay – an aside. I’m writing this as I’m watching the second episode and Anthony Bourdain just said the following:

“I love shrimp. I love shrimp and grits. I love your shrimp and grits. Unfortunately, I didn’t pick you for my team.”

Then what the heck is the point of the show? If you love someone’s food, why aren’t you selecting them for your team? This show is called THE TASTE – if you like the taste of someone’s food and you aren’t rewarding them for liking the taste of their food, then what the hell am I watching?

That just makes this show insanely frustrating. Time after time this happens. It is maddening. Utterly maddening. And it makes me not give a crap about this show.

Maybe I’ll check back in when they get past the auditions.


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