So, before I started watching my Tuesday line up yesterday (and finishing Monday’s), I checked out TWOP to see if they had anything to say about The Taste. And I was rather confused when they referred to it as “The Voice, except with food.” Because I hadn’t watched it yet, and I didn’t really realize that the whole set up is indeed, exactly like The Voice. Four judge/mentors, who will be taking their team through the process. Blind auditions, sans swiveling chairs. Contestants getting to choose who they want to work with if more than one coach wants them on their team in their kitchen.  People who’ve been unfairly judged on their looks all their lives being thankful for the blind audition process.  Judges claiming they’re kicking themselves for saying no after they see what the person looks like (still doesn’t make any sense).  Pros and amateurs alike.

The differences? Umm. The contestants get to hear the critique of their food good, bad, and ugly, before the “classic Times Square peep show” doors pop open and they have to face the people who just loved/hated their food. People getting their stuff out of lockers and leaving, whether happy or sad. Models clad in skintight, short black dresses taking the food from the cooks’ workstations to the judges table. Oh, and one more thing — the blind judging runs all the way the way through the competition, and it doesn’t look like America gets to vote.  For me, this is significant, in that the mentors might wind up sending one of their team home all unknowingly. This is repeated a few dozen times, for those of us who are watching-reality-TV-challenged.

The chefs all cook at staggered times, standing in the doorway to what appears to be a kitchen positioned below and behind the judging table, while a countdown clock with their name on it is shown. The clock starts counting down from 1 hour, and the chefs rush in and to their workstation, holding a crate with their ingredients. They have to prepare four identical (actually six and then choose the four best, it looks like) amuse bouches for the noted palates of the jentors. Mudges? Something. They’re not all chefs, so I’m not going to refer to them collectively as that.

First up is Adam, a professional chef from Las Vegas, who creates some kind of disgusting mish-mash of a mac and cheese stir fry. He gets to hear Anthony Bourdain say it’s “revolting” before they all reject him. (The editors chose not to introduce the judges until a few minutes in to the episode, so neither will I). Anthony may be known to some of you for his Travel Channel show “No Reservations”. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him be a judge on Top Chef.

Next up is home chef Sarah, who manages to perfect the Top Chef staple of seared scallops, thus winding up with two judges fighting over her. She goes with Ludo. Ludo Lefebvre I definitely only know from Top Chef, but the Masters one, IIRC. Ludo has an almost unintelligible French accent and tattoo sleeves.

After that we have Kyle, another professional chef, of a restaurant here in Los Angeles, which I probably will not be going to any time soon. Mainly because I don’t have the money to be dining out, but also because he serves up deep-fried watermelon with pickled watermelon rind. Although it’s four nos, this is the first time where a couple of the judges claim they really should’ve picked him.

Kyle is followed by Khristianne, personal chef to Charlie Sheen and the royal family of Saudi Arabia. That makes her a pro in my book, although you can generally distinguish between the pros and the home chefs by the pros wearing their chef tops. Not that all of them do, so the judges usually ask. It’s interesting to me to watch the judges debate which one they think the contestant is. Khristianne also makes seared scallops, with creamed corn. This makes her right up Brian Malarkey’s alley. Brian, BTW, was evidently a cheftestant on Top Chef (before I started watching it), and owns some restaurants in San Diego.

After Khristianne are Jeanette, a home chef who makes a spiced up kugel, and Justin, a professional chef who makes a seared ahi tuna.  They both get sent home, although Tony invites himself over to Jeanette’s house for dinner, and Justin gets the second round of the “I’m kicking myself” routine. Nigella seems the most convincing at that, especially because she kinda slammed her hand down on a button at the last second before the reveal. I’ll give her the benefit of doubt, even though I’m very confused by this. Either you liked it or you didn’t. If you liked it, why the hell didn’t you push the yes button? Anthony gives me a clue later on when he explains that they have so many more tastings to go. I can kinda understand this. You don’t want to fill up your team too quickly, in case someone a lot better comes along.

Right now, though, Nigella Lawson is a food writer from London. (In England, not Kentucky.) I’m pretty sure I recognize her as a frequent judge on Iron Chef America, and perhaps Top Chef. She’d be the reason I’m not referring to the mudges collectively as chefs. And she winds up taking the next contestant, home cook Renatta, for her comforting mashed potatoes.

After Renatta is Marcus, who can’t even say he’s there to make friends with a straight face. Drink! He’s a professional chef who also gets the boot, so right now the score is 2-1, home. This is followed by a montage of professional chefs, with the male ones being arrogant a-holes about how much better they are than home chefs, but who all get sent packing. I feel somewhat bad for one gal, who evidently got fired from her job for wanting to come on the show, but when she’s asked where she works, has to pause, and then admit that currently she’s managing a bakery. After she leaves, Anthony Bourdain calls her a delusional (something that’s bleeped out) for thinking she’s a professional chef when she’s actually just a bakery manager, and I kinda want to smack him right now. I know the one percenters are deluded about how well the economy’s doing, but I’d think if you own a restaurant you might notice that people are still not spending that much on eating out.  Then again, Les Halles is expensive enough that it’s probably only frequented by one percenters, so maybe not.

After the montage, we are introduced to another home chef, Mia.  She makes an Indian spiced lamb, and while Brian says it’s muddled, Anthony, whom Mia has a crush on, picks her as his first team member.  Nigella thought she was a professional because of how finely the herbs were chopped. I admit I lack knife skills, and these shows all make me want to work on them.

Next up is NinaMarie.  Again, Tony is the lone yes for this home chef, who made sea bass with a butterscotch sauce. Which doesn’t sound good, and Tony even says he hates, but it “strangely” worked for him. After her, Paul, a professional chef who also made sea bass, gets to choose between Ludo and Nigella. He goes French.

Then there’s Sieger, a sous chef from Chicago, who claims he’s not a weird, creepy mama’s boy as the camera shows them holding hands under their kitchen table. He makes a watermelon ahi tuna crudo, which means the tuna is raw. You’ve been warned. Ludo can’t even tell what kind of fish it is, and hopes he’s not a professional chef. Might I remind you that the contestants get to hear all this conversation? Nobody wants him, so the home chefs are still ahead by two.

Cynthia, a home cook from Brazil, is cooking a national dish of shrimp and yucca gratin. Judging from her audition tape, she always cooks in a dress and heels so she can also get in some salsa.  The dancing, not the condiment, although maybe if she’d used the latter in her dish, she would’ve gotten through.

Micah, a home cook from San Fran who quit his job to join the competition, is serving  filet mignon with a funky parsnip puree with vanilla in it. Ludo’s positive he’s a pro, while Nigella pegs him as “a home cook who’s watched a lot of cooking programmes”. Oh, like me, then. But I wouldn’t put vanilla in a sauce for a beef dish. For some reason, this guy is also up Brian’s alley, so after Micah psychs out his wife, the score is 5-2 home chefs.

Next we have home chef TJ, whose introductory video is really unnecessary on a cooking show, because his job is to separate his home town’s collective number ones from the number twos, and the camera operators seem to be sadistically filming a lot of close-ups on the murk he has to wade into and work with.  TJ seems to also be willing to overshare about the details of his job. He says he counts the minutes until he can go home to cook, and I am counting the seconds until this montage ends. I actually had to watch these sequences for a second time to get names and dishes, and I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.  Finally the torture ends. Except not really, because he’s making chicken mole, and you know what color mole is. And evidently it tastes like that, too, because Ludo couldn’t tell what he was eating, and no-one picks him. For some reason, though, I wouldn’t mind seeing him on MasterChef. Especially since he has such a good attitude about getting eliminated.

Now, judging from the outfits, we are treated to a montage of loser home cooks. After which, we are treated to Diane, a chef consultant. A quick Google search doesn’t really help me with this career choice, but I’m going to give her the same credit I gave Khristianne, and say she’s a pro; they both get paid for their cooking expertise . She reminds me of Carla from this season of Top Chef, because when she tells the off-camera producer (who’s interviewing her while she prepares her seared lamb chops) she’s the best cook there, the contestant at the next station over rags on her a bit and she smacks him down but good. I admit I can see her point, though. You’ll have your own interview when it’s time, buddy. Wait your turn.  She dusts the lamb with cumin, and makes a tzatziki that rocks the judges’ socks off, adding bits of fig to it.  She wants to be mentored by Tony, and she gets her wish, since everyone else thought she put too much tzatziki on the spoon.

Now it’s time for Mr. Interview Bomb, an executive chef here in L.A.  by the name of Shawn. Which explains why Diane said all the home cooks and the bleeped professional chefs could go home. Shawn definitely enjoys the results of his job. While he’s not the first heavy chef we’ve seen, and I suspect he won’t be the last, I think he’s the biggest.  IMO, those are the restaurants I want to eat at.  He made seared ahi, and the judges all correctly guess he’s a pro, and love the bite, and Ludo and Malarkey fight over him. Since he tends to do French cooking, he picks Ludo.

Renee is another professional cook from Chicago, a culinary instructor. And another person who quit her job to come on the show. Unfortunately, none of the judges like her halibut with a fennel/pea-shoot salad, and it isn’t helped any when Tony tells her they’ve been sending people home for little mistakes but she did nothing wrong.  There is a bright side:  Unlike the bakery manager, she admits she left her job to be on the show, so Ludo tells her to stay here in L.A. and he’ll give her a job.

The final (home) chef is Laurel, and she decides to make a dessert, mainly to stand out from all the savory dishes, I think, but she says it’s because they’re just as complicated.  Well, I’ll give her that one. When you cook, you don’t need a recipe for anything more than a guideline.  When you bake, you have to follow the recipe exactly, because baking is chemistry.  Sorry, you still don’t have a use for algebra, though. This dessert-in-a-sea-of-savory worked for Brooke on Top Chef, but it almost backfires on Laurel, because none of the guys want pastry chefs.  Ludo claims he’s in love with her and the bite and wants the recipe, and begs Nigella to say yes after he says no.  And her flourless chocolate cake with pisachio brittle indeed wins over Nigella, who is very happy she’s a home pastry chef and not a pro like the others thought.  Laurel obviously watches MasterChef, because when she describes her dish, she adds, “It’s me on a spoon!” And the home chefs pull ahead yet again.  As they’re interviewing her, I notice the lockers behind her are numbered to 16, which is the total number of contestants we’ll wind up with after next week.  Hopefully, since we now have ten, that episode will only be an hour long.

The results so far are as follows:

Sarah, home chef, Ludo.

Khristianne, pro, Brian.

Renatta, home, Nigella.

Mia, home, Tony.

NinaMarie, home, Tony.

Paul, pro, Ludo.

Micah, home, Brian.

Diane, pro, Tony.

Shawn, pro, Ludo.

Laurel, home, Nigella.

Six home chefs, four professional chefs.  Brian and Nigella each have two spots left; Ludo and Tony one.  See you next time. NT

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