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If you at all like cooking competitions, I highly recommend The Taste. There have only been two episodes of actual competition, so feel free to pick it up even now, you haven’t missed anything by not seeing the auditions.

Taste

The basic premise is that there are four mentors who choose teams whose members compete each week by creating one perfect bite for the judges to taste. The mentors are Ludovic Lefebvre, Nigella Lawson, Brian Malarkey, and Anthony Bourdain. There are both home cooks and professionals among the contestants.

Taste Judges

Similar to The Voice, this show’s audition process is blind. Unlike The Voice, where the auditions are probably my favorite part of the show, here, I don’t think they worked so well. Since the mentors didn’t reveal their yes/no choice until after having given commentary, it was a little awkward waiting for the reveal. This awkwardness was compounded by the fact that very few contestants were fought over. No one was selected by more than two mentors, and only five had any overlap at all: Paul and Huda, who were selected by both Ludo and Nigella, and Sarah, Shawn, and Gregg, who were selected by Ludo and Malarkey. Except for Huda, Ludo was the mentor chosen by all of these contestants.

I guess taste really is individual (a fact that seems to be borne out in the first few episodes).

The final teams coming out of the audition rounds were:

    Ludo: Gregg, Paul, Sarah, Shawn
    Nigella: Erika, Huda, Lauren, Renatta
    Malarkey: Adam, Jeff, Khristianne, Micah
    Tony: Diane, Mia, Ninamarie, Uno

Each episode of the competition is split into two parts, the Team Taste Test and the Solo Taste Test.

In the first part of each episode, the Team Taste Test, each team member creates a dish based on the theme of the week. The mentor is in the kitchen with the contestants giving advice. The team members then taste each dish and the mentor selects one spoon to present to the guest judge; if that team’s spoon is selected as the winner, the person who made it gets immunity in the elimination challenge. The winning team also earns the mentorship of the guest judge during the second round.

In the Solo Taste Test, contestants again cook individually, but without their mentor, preparing four spoonfuls of one dish for the judges to taste. This test is also blind, with all the mentors tasting each contestant’s spoon without knowing who cooked it. However, the contestants are on a balcony behind the judges and can hear what they say as they taste.

After the tasting, each mentor/judge chooses his or her top and bottom pick from among all the spoons. This is where it gets very interesting, as mentors may pick one of their own for elimination without realizing it (which has already happened at least once). So, while there could be up to eight contestants in front of the judges at the end, any one contestant might receive one or more votes, including the contestant with immunity. We don’t see who the judges have chosen until the contestants come up in unmarked “hatches” and each judge presses a button to see their choices revealed. That moment is the money shot.

In the first week, there were seven people in the hatches, as one person got two “best” votes. In the second week, there were only six, with two people getting two “best” votes. So far, two contestants have been sent home each week, which seems a bit quick; I hope it will be just one per week now that we are already down to twelve contestants.

The challenges are not crazy. Just basic themes, so contestants have a focus but are relatively free to do what they do best. In the first week, the theme was comfort food and the contestants needed to use either bacon, eggs, or cheese in the Team Taste Test. Gabrielle Hamilton, chef-owner of Prune, was the guest judge. In the Solo round, the contestants could make anything they felt was comfort food. In the second episode, the theme was wine pairing. First, contestants had to create a bite to go with an Alamos Malbec. David Kinch, chef-owner of Manresa, and André Mack, sommelier extraordinaire, were judges. Then, contestants had to choose one wine, either an Italian Barolo, a California Chardonnay, a French Côtes du Rhône, or a German Riesling, and make a dish to pair with it.

So far, favorite contestants are Sarah, the only home cook on Team Ludo, Khristianne, the former personal chef to Charlie Sheen on team Malarkey, and Mia and Uno from Team Anthony. My least favorite contestant is definitely Gregg on Team Ludo; he was a saucier at Le Bernadin and acts like it. Mostly, I’m really enjoying the competitive spirit (and yet obvious rapport) between the mentors.

The Taste airs on Tuesdays at 8pm on ABC and is also available on Hulu Plus.

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