The Taste Returns, with a sour taste

Last night I watched the season premier of The Taste on ABC. The competitive reality TV cooking show splits contestants into teams of four and assigns them professional chefs as mentors. For the second season ABC brought back chefs Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson and Ludo Lefebvre, and added Marcus Samuelsson to the mentor team – who also serve as the judges.

So what separates The Taste from all of the other competitive reality TV cooking shows out there? At the end of each episode the judges take part in a blind taste test; they don’t know what they are tasting, how it was prepared or who cooked it; they then have to vote based solely on the taste of that one bite.

Watching the show for the very first time it was cool to see that all of the judges offered varying levels of constructive criticism. But what would a reality show be without a bully? Enter Ludo. This is probably old news to anyone familiar with the fiery Frenchman, but as a newbie to the show I was surprised by his overwhelming negativity.

From doling out insults and exasperated expressions to spitting out contestant Kevin Schutte’s reconstructed caprese salad, Ludo didn’t seem to have many helpful contributions. He also seemed to flip-flop between tasting a contestant’s food and meeting them; when Ludo tried chef Shehu Fitzgerald’s sautéed scallops with a celery root puree and a red wine reduction his initial reaction was positive: “That, for sure, was a professional chef.” Ludo changed his tune upon meeting Fitzgerald: “for me it was a little too flat, it was missing some texture, so it’s a no.”

Three-quarters of the way through the show and Ludo still only had two team members. The remainder of the show was spent watching him reject a stream of contestants with a barrage of nonspecific insults like “for me it was a little boring… flat, the dish was very sad” and “not good… disgusting… terrible… I refuse to eat that.” Anthony Bordain even implored him to “pick someone, Ludo… stop waiting for your mystery date here.”

Ludo finally added his third team member in Louise Leonard, a food stylist from Los Angeles who won him over by telling him that she went to the French Culinary Institute in New York. With his final choice, Ludo picked wild card Marina Chong, an amateur chef from Duarte, Calif. who brings new meaning to “the joy of cooking” as she danced down grocery store aisles and grinned while talking about drinking animal blood.

Just because Ludo completed his team doesn’t mean he was done doling out the insults; he snuck in a backhanded comment as he told his fellow judges, “look, I don’t like to agree with you guys because I don’t have the same palate as you.” Yes, Ludo is French and refined, but will he make a good coach?

Or will he wind up getting a taste of his own medicine?

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