'The Taste': Anthony Bourdain and the judges share 10 things to know about ABC's new cooking competition
ABC's new series "The Taste" is putting a new spin on cooking competitions, and it's got an all star line-up of chefs to help it succeed. "No Reservations" leading man Anthony Bourdain has teamed up with Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre and Brian Malarkey to act as mentors in the new reality series, and they think the show is something special.
In many ways, "The Taste" is similar to NBC's "The Voice," except with cooking instead of singing. Each judge picks a team of chefs and then mentors that group until there's only one cook left standing, but with "The Taste" there's a twist. Despite working with their chefs they progress through the season, "The Taste's" judges sample all of the food in a blind taste test without knowing who made it, and they have to judge the dishes solely off of the taste of the spoonful they try. Unlike other cooking shows like "Top Chef" that judge on presentation as much as edibility, "The Taste" is judged only on the latter.
Bourdain and Lawson act as executive producers as well as mentors on "The Taste," and Zap2it had the chance to catch up with both them and Lefebrve and Malarkey recently. Here's what they think viewers should know about the new show going in:
It has Bourdain's stamp of approval
"They let me help shape the show, help create the challenges, [pick] the guest mentors, guest judges, and also I got to work with Nigella, who is an old friend and who I adore," Bourdain said. "In a lot of ways it was a quality of life issue. The concept was cool, I was involved in the shaping of the show, and I knew it was going to be fun with Nigella, Ludo and Brian, and that the criteria was not bogus."
"The Taste" was a challenge for the judges as well
"I was slightly intimidated because I'm a home cook and I do really feel passionate about food and I have very strong opinions, but I don't have a knife technique I can teach or anything like that," Lawson explained. "We all mentor in a different way, and you can't be someone you're not. I think the thing about the show that works is we've got four very different people doing their job in a very different way and being honest about themselves."
Bourdain is no Simon Cowell
"I was not going to play the Simon Cowell part either just for fun," Bourdain said. "We all became really, really involved in the fate of these cooks really quickly in ways that we hadn't anticipated."
The mix of professional and amateur chefs causes interesting drama
"Sometimes, you know, it's difficult," Lefebvre said. "You have a home cook on your team, a professional chef, and of course the chef thinks he knows everything. So I have some chefs with me on my team and I try to teach them, I think they are wrong, and they don't listen to me. It was very interesting. I say, 'Why are you here? I'm here to help you. You ask me question, you ask me how to do it and you don't listen to me.'"
He continued, "I have some home cooks too on my team, they don't have any sense of emergency. It is crazy. I say, 'Come on, go faster! You have 10 minutes left.' You're not at home cooking for your husband or your family, okay? It's a competition. Let's go."
Expect some bad dishes
"There were some pretty bad ones because people get nervous and they try to do too much," Malarkey said. "They put so much pressure on themselves because they want to be on the show so bad and it's just one bite so you have to have that restraint as well."
Lefebvre added, "It's so difficult. Try to eat something blind tasting. All the time in my life, I realized I always see the food. I always know."
"The Taste" really is about the taste of the food
"Normally TV cooking is dominated by chefs and presentation is obviously key in a restaurant. This is the only program where you can be a professional chef or a home cook and it makes it fairer because, in a sense, it takes away that advantage," Lawson said. "We're not there to judge the presentation. Food is really just about the taste. I always think when you're on your deathbed choosing your last meal you're not going to want some plate decoration. You want roast chicken or mashed potatoes or you want some gorgeous tasting food."
The judges won't pick who you -- or they -- expect
"[My chefs] were all very different," Bourdain teased. "I just responded to certain spoons and I visualized a person. I thought, 'Who could have made this wonderful thing? I am interested in that, and this is the sort of person I'd like on my team.' Who it was cooking surprised me, let's put it that way. I think you will surprised by my team."
Malarkey added of what type of contestants he looked for, "It would be someone who cooks similar to my style, and that's a lot of flavor, clean flavor so that you know what's in each and every bite. Seafood is going to be something I'm going to like. I'm definitely the seafood guy. Creativity and cleanness, because essentially we're not judging it based on the way it looks. It's entirely based on how it tastes, so it has to be well balanced and have great technique. Everything's got to be absolutely perfect from the sauce to the way the protein's cooked to the seasoning."
Bourdain's main strategy? "Old age" and "guile"
"My strategy was largely based on old age, guile, sneaky... I knew I was not going to teach my cooks to cook better than Ludo," he said with a laugh. "It was more about discerning who we were cooking for, what the situation was, when to leave it alone, what's likely to make these judges happy, and let's let Ludo make the mistakes that professionals tend to make. It was brutal, for us. The show had stopped filming and we would all be sitting there in our little trailer park moaning over who'd gone home. It was awful."
Lawson already knows what she'll change for Season 2
"I'm going to toughen up," Lawson said of the lessons she learned from Season 1 of "The Taste." "I feel I was too easily intimidated by these powerful men -- not that I'm a weak person. It's interesting, and I know this sounds really cheesy, but you do also learn from the people you're teaching. Sometimes you take certain things for granted and then when they don't get that you think, 'This is interesting.' It's making me look at the food in a different way. You cook for so many years, you take so many things for granted, you have to look at the beginning again."
Food competition shows make the world a better place
"It's surely good for the world, the extent to which people know more about food and they're more interested in what they eat." Bourdain argued. "The better the standard of living and hopes and expectations of people who work really hard to cook well, surely that's good for the world. Who's better for the world, a football player or a chef?"
"The Taste" premieres on ABC on Jan. 22 at 8 p.m. with a special two hour episode.