We wanted to like "The Taste," ABC's food reality show with judges Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre and Brian Malarkey. But it was pretty clear from the first episode that this was just not going to work.
So what went wrong? Let's start with the hosts. Two of them -- Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson -- have massive fan bases. One would think their fans would come flocking toward a new show. However, the format of "The Taste" was not at all aligned with either of their images. Bourdain became so well-liked thanks to his tell-all book, "Kitchen Confidential" and then later due to his always says-what-he's-thinking style on Travel Channel's "No Reservations." He's brash, candid and performs best when he can be the star. But "The Taste" puts him on equal footing with folks like Brian Malarkey, a former mild-mannered, not particularly famous "Top Chef" contestant. Bourdain's fans have repeatedly called him out for selling out and Bourdain continues to defend himself, but no one's buying it. People want to see Bourdain eat pig bladder a lot more than they want to see him eat a dainty spoonful of noodle kugel.
While one can argue that Bourdain isn't for everyone, Nigella Lawson is. She's beautiful, likable and relatable. But just as Bourdain does best when he can run his mouth wildly, Nigella does best when she's cooking and teaching -- not when she's critiquing others.
Combine these two personalities with Malarkey and Los Angeles chef Ludo Lefebvre, a dose of really horrible lighting, an unoriginal concept (oh, hello, "The Voice"), a strange mix of professional chefs and eager home cooks as contestants, and you get a bizarre and forced hodgepodge of a show.
The whole premise of the show -- that the fate of contestants is based on a single bite, or "taste," basically boils down the entire act of preparing a complete dish into one measly spoonful. Shows like "Chopped" and "Iron Chef" are at least about the full plate of food, and how different components come together. Basing a whole show on a single spoonful is like judging "Project Runway" on half an outfit.
There are some silver linings from the show -- although the judges perhaps don't come off as the best versions of themselves, they don't come off like horrible people either. It's good to hear that one contestant is now working for Lefebvre. And we suppose it's sort of nice that Charlie Sheen is making headlines for non-scandalous reasons.
Last month, a popular piece on Grantland blasted the current state of food television, "The Taste" included. Writer Andy Greenwald explained that the Food Network went from having talented, legitimate chefs to instead focusing more on the entertainment component. "...The TV part of the equation began to outweigh the food," he argued. What has happened with the Food Network is trickling down. People seriously interested in food don't watch shows like "The Chew" and probably gave up on "Top Chef" several seasons ago. "The Taste" is no different -- it is not a show for people interested in food, it is a show in which food happens to be a catalyst for supposed drama.
While we're optimistic that there must be a way to actually make food television palatable again, "The Taste" didn't even try to go there. It went for the easy, cheap shots -- staid concept, uncreative sets, tiresome pacing. And if the show was merely relying on existing star power and rehashed ideas, then viewers were right to give it a chance, then let it go.