Afterthoughts on “The Taste” Season 3

January 26, 2015

By Karen

Yes, I swore off Anthony Bourdain’s cooking competition, The Taste, after Season 2, but it pulled me back in. But I’m no Bourdainiac like Vanessa, that creepy fan girl on his team who cooked only to please her Tony.

Season 3 wrapped up last week, and I saw it all. Bourdain was a contender, but his last team member, Eric, got knocked out just before the grand finale, leaving it to Ludo and Marcus.

The premise is still ridiculous, but ABC’s pumping the hyperbole, calling Bourdain a “culinary legend” and the show an “international juggernaut.”

Bourdain’s too young to be legendary, but I’ll give him juggernaut. The Taste format is being reproduced worldwide. I hope Tony and Nigella get a nice slice of all that franchising.

What I liked…

  • Bourdain as host. He comes across as reasonable, likable, caring, the perfect foil for tantrum-throwing, trashcan-kicking Ludo.
  • The person who does Tony’s hair deserves an Emmy for confiscating his hair gel and ending the wet, mangy dog look.
  • Marcus Samuelsson. What’s not to like? He’s a cordial, articulate guy with an interesting background who knows his stuff.
  • Gabe as winner. He had the skills and the most favorite spoons. It was a nice touch that the judges allegedly didn’t know the winner themselves until they pushed the last button for their favorite.
  • They let us get to know the cooks better, although I felt like I knew Jen, Ludo’s token home cook, too well. At times I wanted to slap her even more than he did.

What left me wondering…

  • Where’s Bourdain’s wedding ring? He never wore it once, and it’s been missing elsewhere I’ve seen him. I hope it’s just a jiu jitsu thing, now that he’s in training.
  • Why doesn’t Nigella look in a mirror and kill the person who dresses her? In one early episode, her neckline was so low, her bra hung out. By mid-season when she was plumping up, she wore big horizontal stripes. And for the finale, they dressed her in full-on Morticia Addams. Nigella’s got a beautiful face, but she’s voluptuous all over and looks like haggis on legs poured into tight dresses she can hardly walk or sit in.
  • Why is every episode 2 hours long, even after they’re down to a few cooks? Didn’t ABC learn anything from over-milking Dancing with the Stars?

What I still don’t like…

  • Ludo, the once and future douche. He was more dickish than ever.
  • Home cooks pitted against professionals. Once again, Nigella was rendered moot almost immediately because her team of home cooks got creamed. No home cook has ever won.
  • A finale that dragged on for three rounds. Two would have been plenty.

So, I ended this season OK with The Taste, and I’d watch Season 4, although I don’t think it’s renewed yet. But I’ve got a new favorite: Master Chef Junior.

Stay tuned…

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“The Taste” Leaves a Bad Taste

February 21, 2014

By Karen

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…

And I lose 16 hours of my life I’ll never get back. (Well, 12-13. I DVRed so I could zip through commercials.)

Last night was the finale of Anthony Bourdain’s cooking competition, The Taste, and two of my three picks to win, Marina and Lee, made it in to the final 3.

The ultimate challenge was to prepare a spoonful each of breakfast, lunch, and dinner in 2 hours. All the cooks had the benefit of coaching by Jacques Pepin. Pepin had earlier picked Marina’s chicken testicles as the winner of a challenge, making her the first home cook to reach the finals.

During that first challenge, Marina was even gracious enough to help Bourdain and Lee learn to use a pressure cooker to prepare tripe, without missing a beat herself.

Eliminated in that first challenge was Jeff, one of the strongest cooks, for a steak. This shocked me because Louise served undercooked lobster but, once again, she skated through.

On what planet does underdone seafood trump a freaking steak??!!

What became the repeating chorus for the whole episode was, “Nobody who plays it safe and makes steak deserves to win.” Remember that.

Now, fast-forward to the ultimate 3-dish challenge.

The dishes were (by my simplified descriptions, omitting the aoli and ramoulade, etc., BS)…

Lee: (B) Parmesan flan with a quail egg and asparagus, (L) Crab cake, (D) Steak with pureed cauliflower.

Marina: (B) Egg McMuffin with a quail egg, (L) Pork belly spring roll, (D) Short ribs with kale

Louise: (B) Quail egg with tomato sauce, (L) Oyster po’boy, (D) Steak with crispy potatoes and red wine sauce

In the end, Lee lost, Marina came in second, and Louise won. With, basically, steak and French fries.

Nothing against Louise, but she coasted through it all being a relatively mediocre middle-of-the-pack cook. And in the final moments, Pepin stepped in and salvaged her breaking wine sauce.

Marina, on the other hand, was daring, wily, bizarre, cooking things no one had ever tried. She deserved to win. She was robbed.

And poor Lee. He sabotaged himself by going all gooey over fellow contestant Cassandra, who was in the audience for the finale. They even gave Lee and his lady a touching scene backstage, forcing Louise and Marina to watch the lovebirds suck face.

If this mess is renewed for a 3rd season, unless I come down with selective amnesia, The Taste is joining Top Chef as a show I don’t watch. Enough already.


Hooked on “The Taste” in Season 2

February 3, 2014

By Karen

The Taste has seen 4 weeks of actual competition, and I’m hooked. Bourdain, you magnificent bastard. I tried to walk away, but you pulled me back in.

It was a golden TV moment last week when Jacquelyn, that pink-haired POS from Nigella’s team, delivered her coup de grâce by walking off the set — and the show — leaving Nigella teamless. Nice way to repay Nigella for eliminating the clearly more competent Crystal so Jacquelyn could live to cook messily another day.

So now Nigella’s reduced to eye candy. Wasn’t her team also first to wipe out last season?

That’s my one peeve: does Nigella always have to look like Morticia Addams in jewel tones — long-sleeved, low-cut, and tight? It’s inappropriate for cooking and made her attempts to whip her kooky crew into shape seem even more futile than they were.

Even that crazy Sophia Vergara wannabe who was eliminated the first week accused Nigella of doing it out of spite because “Sophia” wore higher heels. I wouldn’t be surprised, after seeing Nigella draped across the backstage sofa as if she’s waiting for someone to peel her a grape, while the men all sit up like adults.

Another must-see moment was when Tony out-maneuvered Ludo with a well-timed can of Spam to win a team challenge. But then Tony had to screw up by using pasta to “go green.” I like the increased focus on mentoring strategies.

You had to cheer when that annoying home cook/blogger Audrey got eliminated after her teammates accused her of not cooking “up to their level.” At least it spared us any more of her delusions of blogging fame.

Ludo’s natural dickishness is being used to best advantage to heighten the drama between him and Bourdain. And Marcus Samuelsson is playing the wildcard extremely well.

And who could forget the sad little cross-team romance between Ludo’s Cassandra and Tony’s Lee? Ludo couldn’t resist flirting with Cassandra (who returned the favor). But in the end, Ludo’s passionate defense of her tasteless falafel couldn’t save her, so now Lee cooks in Cassandra’s memory.

I think my favorite is Ludo’s Marina. You gotta love a woman who sticks to her Asian ways right in Ludo’s face, puréeing pork and boiling beef with mad abandon, and it works. After her, I’m betting on Bourdain’s Lee to place, and his Shellie to show.

All in all, the loosened format does seem to allow Bourdain’s diabolical side to shine, and we know that’s always a good thing.

BONUS…

The Bourdains have new digs, a $3M+ double condo in New York City off Fifth Avenue. For that kind of money, they could have bought the governor’s mansion in Virginia. The Real eStalker published some information about it.

Here’s how the place was configured by a former owner. The bedrooms’ layout is pretty strange, and the galley kitchen is tiny. But it looks like they’ve got lots of room for MMA thrown-downs.

And here’s the actual listing. Tony should prepare himself for lots of mail, now that his address is splashed all over the Net.

Last week, Bourdain turned up on The View, but who I’d really like to see on the sofa is Ottavia, perhaps demonstrating a choke hold on Barbara Walters.

Andy Greenwald at Grantland did an entertaining hour-long audio interview with Bourdain recently that I recommend.

Tony and Ottavia gave a great joint interview to SB nation, where Tony confirmed he’s really embracing jiu-jitsu, and also that’s he’s working on a prequel to his graphic novel, Get Jiro!

I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of Bourdain’s “bus stops,” as he likes to call his various endeavors, but Ottavia never fails to add her special flair when she’s included. She’s becoming quite a personality in her own right.

PS: Congratulations to Bourdain and his fellow producers. The Producers Guild recently gave Parts Unknown the Outstanding Producers Award.


Trying to Acquire “The Taste” Again

January 9, 2014

By Karen

An opportunity for a preview of Downton Abbey on January 2 trumped the premier of Anthony Bourdain’s cooking competition, The Taste. Unfortunately, I hadn’t programmed The Taste on my DVR, and then ABC took its sweet time making it available On Demand, so I’m a week late to this party. But last night I caught up on the first 2 hours not because I loved the first season, but because… well, how should I say this?… my name is Karen and I’m a Bourdainiac and I couldn’t NOT.

Let’s start with the positives…

Was it me, or did selection seem a bit less cruel this season? I even enjoyed seeing the 2 most arrogant douchebag hopefuls (one of which spent 6 whole minutes preparing raw tuna) get rejected.

New judge Marcus Samuelsson is a vast improvement over the personality-free Brian Malarkey. I don’t know anything about Samuelsson except that he has 6 James Beard awards, but he’s lively and a good foil for the other three.

Bourdain seems to be going more after Ludo Lefebvre and his chronic dickishness (which Ludo calls “passion”). And is Ludo laying the French accent on quite a bit thicker this year? Half the time, I could barely understand him. He’s making Eric Ripert sound like a Midwesterner.

Now…

That circle jerk of an introduction to the judges, with Nigella gushing that Bourdain is “the Mick Jagger of food.”

That metaphor would make a little sense only if Mick Jagger were renowned as the world’s foremost LISTENER to music.

I don’t hold Bourdain accountable for such silly hyperbole, although I hope it still makes him wince. He’s riding the wave, hanging out and having fun with accomplished working chefs and being allowed to coast on 13-year-old laurels, which he readily admits where never in the same league.

I didn’t pay much attention to who got picked because there’s no sense in forming attachments before the herd-thinning gets serious. Tony’s team includes some dysfunctional misfits he personally identified with and hopes to whip into a juggernaut. Some of the other judges’ picks seemed capricious, and I suspect more for dramatic potential than love of their food.

And somebody claimed one androgynous cook strongly reminiscent of the first season’s winner.

The actual competition begins tonight. Now it’s on my DVR because if ABC continues its relentless bombardment of No!No!, UNICEF, and ASPCA commercials, which I was unable to skip on On Demand, I’ll definitely end up hairless, with a child and a puppy.

But I don’t know if I’ll ever get past the show’s basically ridiculous premise — a taste.

Who the f**k sits down to a meal and decides whether it’s good or bad by jamming every freaking thing on the plate onto one forkful and cramming it in their mouth?

I think what The Taste ultimately accomplishes with its little white spoon gimmick is to diss each component of all the cook’s efforts and to honor none.

THIS JUST IN…

Bourdain is apparently in the process of opening some sort of international food market in New York City.


OMG, it’s True. ‘The Taste’ Will Return

June 14, 2013

By Karen

I’ve been hoping it was just a rumor, but ABC really has renewed Anthony Bourdain’s wretched cooking competition for a second season. They’re even churning out fantasy hype like it’s “America’s greatest new cooking show” and the contestants will be “mentored by the biggest stars in the business.”

Hellooo?? What “business,” exactly? ABC, do you have any idea when Bourdain last worked in a kitchen? Or what talent(s) his current celebrity is built on?

(Hint: It ain’t cooking.)

The official casting call has gone out for the next batch of hopeful, hapless schmucks.

The dates aren’t set yet, but they’ll audition victims in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville — that last locale undoubtedly to snag a trailer-trash token for diversity, à la last season’s Lauren, who turned out to be surprisingly adept.

They’re still clinging to the faux-democratic approach of giving everyone from “college students to restaurateurs” a shot. It just virtually guarantees wildly varied results and unfair outcomes.

But I detect maybe two rays of hope for this train wreck:

1. Tony and Nigella Lawson alone appear in the promo (below), with no mention of Season 1 judges Ludo Lefebvre or Brian Malarkey. Have they dumped the dick and the dead weight?

2. Tony and Nigella say the show is “all about the food.” Does the food have a hope of showing up on PLATES this time?

I’ve lately been following Gordon Ramsay on Hell’s Kitchen and Master Chef (the latter of which I soon loathed as much as Top Chef for its stupid gimmicks and one cold, bald, prick of a judge who thinks he can see into men’s souls).

But the thing Ramsay’s machine excels at is selecting cooks with personalities, and then giving them the screen time to make viewers care.

Let’s hope Season 2 of The Taste brings the cooks off the back burner and lets the show be about THEM.

Not about judges hanging out for fun and profit, fulfilling their ABC contracts by throwing out offhand assessments of morsels so small they often couldn’t identify them, and disappointing a gamut of celebrity chef wannabes who made the mistake of thinking The Taste’s absurd format gave them a prayer of being discovered.

In case you missed Season 1, want to know who won it? Not one of the earnest, talented home cooks, or even a restaurant worker. No. The winner was Charlie Sheen’s personal chef.

So much for diversity.


“The Taste” Takes a Final Bow

March 13, 2013

By Karen

Waiting for the season finale of Anthony Bourdain’s cooking competition, The Taste to begin, I caught the first hour of the season premiere of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen on Fox.

Talk about contrasts. Ramsay had 20 contestants fly in to LAX, then immediately flew them to Vegas, where the winners of the first competition (the women’s team), held before a live audience of 2,500, were rewarded with meeting Celine Dion and seeing her show, while the men rode a bus through the desert back to Los Angeles.

Ramsay’s a jerk, but he makes The Taste seem quaintly low-budget.

But back to The Taste. Tony’s buddy and (Khristianne’s all-time idol), Chef José Andres, was guest judge.

Four contestants (and judges) were left: Diane (Tony), Sarah and Gregg (Ludo), and Khristianne (Malarkey). Nigella, having lost her entire team, became a roving mentor. The first competition required preparation of 3 different spoonfuls each, and would end in elimination of one cook.

Ludo devoted most of his mentoring to Sarah, tossing little snipes at Gregg. Remember, Gregg had been Ludo’s favorite spoon 3 weeks straight.

All I can say is, with friends like Ludo…

Tony gave Diane the benefit of his insight into Andres’ tastes, and agonized when it looked like Diane might be eliminated because Tony made her put tomato caviar on a prawn, which “stole” the prawn’s flavor, according to Andres.

Andres’ judging stood up to the pettiest kvetching you’ve ever heard on Top Chef. He complained of not enough “acid” on many spoons, and that a date Sarah served was “too big” for him to taste properly.

Gregg smelled victory when Andres pronounced his prawn perfectly cooked, and was stunned to be eliminated, but then he uttered the best put-down of the series…

“I’d rather lose doing it myself, than win having my hand held.”

Ludo pretended to be shocked, SHOCKED, that Gregg was gone, confirming my earlier diagnosis of Ludo’s schizophrenia.

So, Khristianne, Sarah, and Diane were charged again with creating 3 spoonfuls apiece.

Diane, superb sportswoman that she is, said, “I sure as heck don’t want to lose to a home cook.” (meaning Sarah)

And Tony said that viewers should want Diane to win “because she wants it so badly.”

In your dreams, Bourdain. In her TV debut, she wants us to think she’s a bitch. Bitches should never triumph.

As the final moments approached, I realized I didn’t give a rat’s ass who won.

Sarah cooked for Ludo’s sweet spot, and everyone declared all 3 of her spoons simple, yet well-executed.

So she came in third.

I don’t remember Diane’s spoons, but the comments weren’t all rosy, and she ended up “close, but no cigar.”

Khristianne, from the judges’ comments, thought she only had one good spoon out of 3. So she WON.

The actual judging was a blur, and I’m thinking it was deliberate to spare some judge from looking like an ass. But after 8 weeks of sitting through this train-wreck, I call a foul because viewers deserved to see which judges picked the winner.

Confetti fell as Khristianne received her trophy of 2 huge spoons on a pedestal. Tony congratulated Diane on winning — nothing.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Bourdain shared some final thoughts with Entertainment Weekly.


“The Taste” Semi-Finals Get Political

March 6, 2013

By Karen

With only one more week to go of Anthony Bourdain’s ABC cooking competition, somebody should sell souvenir T-shirts…

I Survived

skull-crossbones

The Taste

Last night was semi-finals, with the theme “Seduction.” Ingrid Hoffman was guest judge.

The show’s biggest waste has been guest judges. They’ve been ineffective human spackle on the logic hole created by having judges mentor and blind-taste.

This week’s prize for that challenge wasn’t immunity, but a massive cookware set.

Ludo reluctantly passed over Gregg’s spoon in favor of his new squeeze, Sarah the food blogger. And Sarah won.

We got another brief moment of Ludo and Sarah making goo-goo eyes. And after seeing how she stiffened and averted her gaze when Ludo kissed her cheek upon winning, you’ll never convince me those two aren’t an item.

Tony’s team was down to Diane, and while mentoring he coaxed her to remind us she once lived in a cardboard box under a bridge or something. Then he had a cut-away to swear Diane really, really wants to win.

Nigella worked alone with her Mississippi trailer girl, Lauren.

Malarkey still had Jeff and Khristianne.

(For the record, can anybody tell Khristianne’s gender? ABC’s website uses “she,” and I thought she’s female, but last night everybody was calling her “Christian.” Wouldn’t “-ianne” be a female name and pronounced like “Ariane?”)

Ludo still had Paul, Gregg, and Sarah. Swearing at and demeaning his team has been a winning formula.

While waiting for the big challenge to begin, Bourdain emphatically declared, “There’s nothing sexy about dessert,” to show he had no idea Diane was doing something uninspired with fruit and melted chocolate.

When judging began, Gregg and Sarah suddenly popped into the finals. Because nobody hated their spoons? When Khristianne became the first cook to get 3 gold stars (likes), she joined them.

Then the suspense got intense with only one slot left, and Lauren, Jeff, Paul, or Diane to fill it.

Lauren had prepared octopus, which she’s never tasted or cooked before, and it was good. So they sent her home and wiped out Nigella’s team.

Paul got sent home because Ludo hates him and has never given him the first break.

So it was between Jeff and Diane. Jeff had actually gotten one gold star; Diane none. And Diane had the pedestrian dessert.

If you think Diane went home, you’re wrong. They eliminated Jeff — and all doubt that politics isn’t a factor. Any IDIOT can see it is.

If Diane got the axe, both Bourdain and Nigella became spectators in the finals, watching Ludo and Malarkey duke it out with 2 cooks apiece.

Bourdain had to keep a dog in the fight, and no way was a little old down-home cook like Lauren, who stuck her neck out and succeeded, staying instead of Ludo’s new girlfriend Sarah.

Gracious, classy Nigella was the most likely judge to accept irrelevance in the finale. (Tony could have pulled it off, but as an exec producer and the show’s “big draw,” why should he?)

At the end, we got a glimpse of the coveted trophy, optimistically engraved “Season 1.”

Now, I love most of Anthony Bourdain’s work, and he’s often just brilliant. But if he never wastes another minute of his life producing crap like The Taste, the world will be a better place.


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