The best way to describe the mechanics of The Taste is that it is the food reality show equivalent of The Voice and The X Factor. Instead of blind auditions, teams of cooks (each judge gets a team of 4) are formed via a blind taste test. This is also the basic mechanic for eliminations: it’s all based on taste (a single spoonful) with the judges not knowing who cooked which dish or even the exact ingredients used. The cook with the worst tasting dish gets eliminated by the judges.
For the 8 episode run, the first two shows are dedicated to “auditions” with blind taste tests and background features of the contestants. The judges pick from amateur cooks and professional cooks — and this seems to be a running discussion among them. Nigella for example wants amateurs on her team because that is her background. Anthony always gives a guess if the dish was made by a pro or not.
So how did the first audition show go? Well, it was exciting for me because I am in love with Nigella Lawson. However, there are a few things that need improvement, should the show go into a second season in the future.
The show followed the basic reality TV formula of capturing the contestants at their homes, giving us a background of why they love to cook, etc. — before getting the verdict from the judges. A lot of cooks were rejected! Because we can’t taste the food, we’ll just have to trust what the judges say about it — and for the most part, the show is really about the stories of the journeys of the cooks which either end or continue with a judge selecting them — and not the food.
The judging from the panel was generally OK — although Anthony Bourdain’s reputation really gets the better of him. He seems like a fellow who is hard to please — and he had the worst comments about the food. For the cooks that he chose, he didn’t say much, which makes editing the panel discussions tricky and predictable. The selections also sometimes seemed a bit forced, with certain cooks who admired a judge, somehow getting the golden the edit of being selected on their idol’s team (which I can’t complain about really, because it makes great TV).
The most glaring and awkward feature of the show was the “yes” and “no” mechanic in choosing a cook, and I don’t really know how this can be fixed. The Voice gets the benefit of instant gratification: if you like what you hear, press a button and your chair spins. There are no spinning chairs on The Taste — just a “secret” vote and a vote reveal. After tasting a dish, the judges vote a “yes” or “no” secretly. Then the cook is revealed and interviewed. Apparently this interview process is supposed to make the judges affirm or regret their secret vote — which is kinda stupid. If it was all about the taste, it shouldn’t matter — but then we kept on getting some inane “I should have said ‘yes’ but I actually voted ‘no’” comments during this process. I think the judges need a better script in rejecting people without seemingly undermining their own show’s rules. It’s really a tricky slope — because the interview needs to be compelling enough (“That was actually shark’s fin which I magically transformed into a steak”) for the judges to go back and admit that their taste buds were mistaken.
However, the strength of The Voice blind audition when a contestant is selected, is also one of the most exciting parts of The Taste. If multiple judges choose a cook, the cook gets to decide which team to go on. I am hoping that in the next episode we get more of these since it would be very interesting to see a Nigella vs. Bourdain scramble for example to get a cook on their team. The judges begging to be chosen is really so much better than a cook begging to be on a team.
Overall, I’m still giving this show a shot. It’s a short season and it’s Nigella for goodness sakes. She can do no wrong in my book.