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The Taste: Do Cooking Shows Really Need the Voice Treatment?

ABC's cook-off is promising, but for a show that's "all about the food," it has plenty of gimmicks

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Sasha Shemirani / ABC / Getty Images

Anthony Bourdain

Back when Top Chef was getting under way, some people — I may have been one of them but will bald-facedly deny it — suggested that cooking could not translate to reality TV the way that singing (American Idol) and fashion (Project Runway) did. Sound and visuals come across on TV; flavor does not, so viewers could never feel like they could join in judging a prepared dish.

Those doubters, which I am still going to pretend did not include me, turned out to be wrong, of course, and they ignored the entire history of TV’s ability to induce salivation with nothing more than images and some lush description. Food was good enough on its own — appealing enough, tempting enough and exciting enough — to provide plenty of reality-TV drama without having to pretend to be something else. Top Chef was a hit (as Iron Chef was before it), and plenty of food competitions have followed.

ABC’s The Taste, which debuted last night, aims to be another of those shows, but it begins with a premise that oddly borrows from a singing competition: NBC’s The Voice. Like that hit, The Taste has four judges — Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludovic Lefebvre and Brian Malarkey — who will mentor four teams, and a brazenly similar gimmick: the judges choose their teams “blind,” tasting dishes before they see or hear from the cook.

On the face of it, this seems to try to fix a problem cooking competitions generally don’t have. The idea behind The Voice’s spinning chairs was to avoid choosing singers on the basis of their looks or other supposedly less lofty and pure considerations than the Voice.

Shows like Top Chef have plenty of personality drama and backstabbing — just look at last week’s Restaurant Wars elimination — but you don’t generally hear judges saying, “Sure, he can cook, but does anyone want a $200 meal from somebody who looks like that?” In the intro, Bourdain tells us that the mentors won’t hear anyone’s backstory before judging because, “We don’t give a damn.” Great! Neither do I! So why spend half the episode showing the home stories — illness, job changes, etc. — to the home audience?

But as on The Voice, the blind judging on The Taste probably serves the judges more than the contestants. The appeal of a team-based show depends partly on establishing the different personalities of the mentors and the style of their teams: so the first episode introduced new viewers to snarky Anthony, passionate Nigella, flamboyant Ludo and — well, I’m sure we’ll figure him out eventually — Brian. Those personalities will eventually determine rooting interests (we’re told Nigella, for instance, is the advocate of home cooking, in the same way that The Voice’s Blake is the country specialist). No one has yet appeared with a parrot on his or her shoulder à la Cee Lo. But it’s early!

The show at least seems to have picked its personalities: Bourdain, in particular, comes across as a suitably acid host without, so far, seeming to have sold his soul. The biggest problem with the first two hours, however, was how apologetic each judge was about every rejection; over and over, we heard how it was a terrible mistake for them not to have pressed the button. You’re experts, people! Own your authority!

The question of authority gets to the other major distinguishing twist of The Taste: both professional chefs and home cooks will participate, mashing up the concepts of Top Chef and Masterchef. That will probably provide a lot of the drama going forward, and it’s hard to judge its effectiveness from one episode. (But a prediction: if a home cook does not win the first season, I will eat a radish. I hate radishes.)

The show at least seems worth keeping an eye on so far. But its insistence that it is somehow more dedicated to pure flavor without any distractions than any other show is amusing. A big reason to watch the show, after all, is the telegenic star power of the culinary-celebrity judges. It’s no accident that in the first episode Lawson described Bourdain as the Mick Jagger of the food world. You can say that “it’s all about the music” as much as you want. The world still hungers for rock stars.

8 comments
CathyGreenbeans
CathyGreenbeans

Talk about literally leaving a bad taste in your mouth! Can you say "RIGGED"?  This is the last episode of this show I will watch. I thought that maybe, just maybe, these chef's, especially Bourdain, could be trusted.  But alas, it wasn't meant to be. In order to save Nigella aka "ratings",  they entered into a contract with the devil, aka "ABC". Getting rid of Uno with one gold star instead of Lauren with no gold star was unforgivable and so obvious!! As far as I am concerned, these "judges" have put their reputations, both as chef's and as people in question. Goodbye chef's. Goodbye The Taste.

AlvySinger
AlvySinger

The Taste is a poorly done version of a cooking competition a la American Idol meets The Voice. Except on the Voice the judges are most often extremely sympathetic to those auditioning. They know the trials and struggles of a singers life and most always give great feedback to the potential contenders who they don't choose. The Taste does like to borrow from the snarky side of A.I. by at times making fun of the contestants who are out of their league or just too nervous to cook well. The witticisms/criticisms aren't helpful at all and the banter obviously intended to be witty comes across as snarky, self-indulgant or in Nigella's case,. plain whiney. Having the auditions last two hours was just boring. We turned the first show off after a half and hour and the second one we didn't last more than  15 minutes before it became the show we use to spare us from watching commercials on another channel. Knowing that the whole show will take place like the auditions, but with the addition of the possibility of the judges eliminating their own is a unique idea is a creative and tempting one to watch, but the combination of the people on the panel are just not that interesting. The interchange is just too forced and not entertaining. It would be great to watch people who are really into talking about the food, giving helpful critiques to the contestants and not so concerned about themselves or making sure they have something funny to say before each commercial break. Although we are food competition fans, Iron Chef, Chopped and Top Chef. The Taste will  not be one of them for us.

Twiggymarie2
Twiggymarie2

Hi, I do have something interesting to ask, why couldn't those somewhat of meals be put on a plate, instead of a ceramic spoon?! I don't really get the rest of the show, I don't get and afford cable anymore, I miss the cooking shows I use to watch, was hoping to see that on my local channels! well, I hope this isn't a bad turn around of a question for a viewers want in watching your show, Stay well! Thanks!! Twiggymarie2

KSweeden
KSweeden like.author.displayName 1 Like

This show sucks!!! 

MikeMo34
MikeMo34

The concept is good since personalities/looks do influence the judging strongly on other shows (especially Masterchef).  It might have worked if they really focused on the food and cooking techniques, but instead they followed the same old pattern of including backstories and staged fights between the judges.  This way, they might lose some of the usual reality show audience, but at least they would get people who are interested in food and cooking. 

krazykiki
krazykiki like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I am about to turn The Taste off because of the stupidity of the judges. Also the way it is put together is not very smart. They will probably end up with not enough people to make a team...Why are they (or should they) push the yes or not button so soon. It is disheartening to see so many good contestants not make it.

CatherineRoss
CatherineRoss

Thanks for this post. I actually just learned about this show yesterday when one of my DISH co-workers told me about it. I would have missed it but I had my DISH Hopper’s PrimeTime Anytime feature turned on. The Taste got recorded automatically, along with all the other primetime shows on the four big networks. It does that every night, it’s so convenient. I actually don’t think this format really works for a cooking show. The Voice we all get to hear what the singers sound like, but with food we don’t all get to taste it. Still, Anthony Bourdain is enough to keep me watching for another couple episodes at least.

rpearlston
rpearlston like.author.displayName 1 Like

Your forgot about Chopped.  Many of the contestants from that first 2-hour episode had appeared there, but none of them had avoided being chopped, on both Chopped and The Taste.

However, this show needs to get much more interesting, and quickly, or it's going to lose it's audience.