ABC’s new cooking competition “The Taste” promises—repeatedly, it must be noted—to be a cooking competition “unlike any you’ve ever seen.” This is a completely accurate description—but only if you’ve never seen a food-based show before. For the rest of us, it’s a totally generic, frustratingly unsatisfying taster menu of refried ideas.
The sole innovation “The Taste” offers viewers turns out to be an exact rip-off of the “blind” judges from “The Voice.” Our judges in this case are Anthony Bourdain (filling the cranky Simon Cowell slot), Nigella Lawson (taking on the sexy Christina Aguilera seat) and two people who are neither Bourdain nor Lawson, so who cares? The judges sit in polished-steel thrones and taste the one-bite recipes placed before them without seeing the person who made it. When it comes to pop music, I understand the innovation of not being able to see the singer. The music industry is fixated on the “look” of its pop stars. Removing that from the equation (as in “The Voice”) adds a nice diversity. (At least at first. “The Voice” still wound up crowning attractive Cassadee Pope.) But I’ve never given a second thought to what my chef looks like.
The point of all this rigamarole is that the four judges will be choosing members for their “teams,” mentoring them and pitting them against one another—just like in “The Voice.” In theory, it sounds workable. In practice, though, it’s about as exciting as watching water boil. Hours are wasted on the endless audition process. Human interest story after human interest story is paraded before viewers. The judges eat the food, praise the cook and then reject them. Rejection after rejection piles up. After a while, we start to wonder why we’re even paying attention to the background stories of these contestants. We’re never going to see them again anyway.
In the end, one cook’s gonna get handed a bunch of prize money and a new car. And then what? On “The Voice,” “American Idol,” “X Factor” and the like, singers are chasing dreams of stardom. After the finale, we can buy their album on iTunes. Or watch their music video. Or see them in concert. How does it affect me if some housewife in Astoria, New York, creates the best bite of food on this season of “The Taste”?
I suppose there’s still the thrill of competition, but there’s little of it on display here. Shows like “Iron Chef” and “Chopped” create tension around timed battles and unusual ingredients. “The Taste” doesn’t seem very interested in the actual preparation of food, spending almost no time in the actual kitchen. Instead we get Bourdain and company being served tiny spoonfuls of food by ridiculously miniskirted minions and making “hmmm” faces.
This brings us to the shows final, most fatal flaw. We can watch “American Idol” and judge the talent for ourselves. This allows us to form a rapport with the show. We can boo Randy Jackson for his “pitchy” critique of a singer we like. We can applaud Nicki Minaj for her unhinged hatred of an awful performer. We can hear “The Voice,” but we can’t taste “The Taste.” And that just leaves me hungry for something else.