In TV terms, “The Taste” is a warmed-over dish, a fast-food version of “The Voice” whipped up for the culinary crowd. Featuring four chefs/foodies blindly tasting concoctions served up by various contestants — some professional chefs, others aspiring amateurs — the show doubtless has some appeal for avid Food Network viewers, but as the two-hour premiere drags on, the concept offers little hint of possessing the appeal necessary to satisfy ABC’s more expansive appetite. Every hit deserves several knockoffs, but this one comes across as perilously bland.
The quartet of mentors — chefs Ludo Lefebvre and Brian Malarkey, British style maven Nigella Lawson, and bon vivant Anthony Bourdain — taste the dishes prepared by the candidates without seeing them or knowing a thing about who made them. The hopefuls then come in and discuss their creations, either to be pilloried or praised.
Although billed as “a cooking competition unlike any other,” the series resembles any number of cable contenders. And as ABC discovered with “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” while everyone might eat, the broadcast potential of those interested in analyzing cooking at this sort of granular level remains far less proven.
Perhaps eager to bridge that gap, “The Taste” does feature some aggressive product-placement, including $100,000 in cash and a Ford car to the victor, while the contestants conspicuously disembark a Southwest Airlines flight.
All these shows hinge in part on the hopes, dreams and disappointments of the participants (one of them includes Charlie Sheen’s personal chef, whose recipe, alas, does not include Tiger’s blood), along with the ability of the judges to articulate criticism. Bourdain, perhaps not surprisingly, excels in the latter regard, though no one here is as relentlessly pugnacious as Gordon Ramsay, whose in-your-face shtick has managed to make food all but secondary to his TV act.
Ultimately, such me-too exercises seldom yield the hoped-for results. And while “The Taste” certainly works hard to foster a sense of excitement and tickle the palate, this appetizer feels like just the latest half-baked competition idea that doesn’t deliver.