We wanted to like "The Taste," ABC's food reality show with judges Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre and Brian Malarkey. But it was pretty clear from the first episode that this was just not going to work.
So what went wrong? Let's start with the hosts. Two of them -- Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson -- have massive fan bases. One would think their fans would come flocking toward a new show. However, the format of "The Taste" was not at all aligned with either of their images. Bourdain became so well-liked thanks to his tell-all book, "Kitchen Confidential" and then later due to his always says-what-he's-thinking style on Travel Channel's "No Reservations." He's brash, candid and performs best when he can be the star. But "The Taste" puts him on equal footing with folks like Brian Malarkey, a former mild-mannered, not particularly famous "Top Chef" contestant. Bourdain's fans have repeatedly called him out for selling out and Bourdain continues to defend himself, but no one's buying it. People want to see Bourdain eat pig bladder a lot more than they want to see him eat a dainty spoonful of noodle kugel.
While one can argue that Bourdain isn't for everyone, Nigella Lawson is. She's beautiful, likable and relatable. But just as Bourdain does best when he can run his mouth wildly, Nigella does best when she's cooking and teaching -- not when she's critiquing others.
Combine these two personalities with Malarkey and Los Angeles chef Ludo Lefebvre, a dose of really horrible lighting, an unoriginal concept (oh, hello, "The Voice"), a strange mix of professional chefs and eager home cooks as contestants, and you get a bizarre and forced hodgepodge of a show.
The whole premise of the show -- that the fate of contestants is based on a single bite, or "taste," basically boils down the entire act of preparing a complete dish into one measly spoonful. Shows like "Chopped" and "Iron Chef" are at least about the full plate of food, and how different components come together. Basing a whole show on a single spoonful is like judging "Project Runway" on half an outfit.
There are some silver linings from the show -- although the judges perhaps don't come off as the best versions of themselves, they don't come off like horrible people either. It's good to hear that one contestant is now working for Lefebvre. And we suppose it's sort of nice that Charlie Sheen is making headlines for non-scandalous reasons.
Last month, a popular piece on Grantland blasted the current state of food television, "The Taste" included. Writer Andy Greenwald explained that the Food Network went from having talented, legitimate chefs to instead focusing more on the entertainment component. "...The TV part of the equation began to outweigh the food," he argued. What has happened with the Food Network is trickling down. People seriously interested in food don't watch shows like "The Chew" and probably gave up on "Top Chef" several seasons ago. "The Taste" is no different -- it is not a show for people interested in food, it is a show in which food happens to be a catalyst for supposed drama.
While we're optimistic that there must be a way to actually make food television palatable again, "The Taste" didn't even try to go there. It went for the easy, cheap shots -- staid concept, uncreative sets, tiresome pacing. And if the show was merely relying on existing star power and rehashed ideas, then viewers were right to give it a chance, then let it go.
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LOSER: Paula Deen
<strong>Why?</strong> One word: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/15/paula-deen-diabetes_n_1966745.html">Victoza</a>. Deen was criticized harshly for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/17/paula-deen-diabetes_n_1210049.html">simultaneously announcing that she had diabetes and endorsing the diabetes medication</a> in January, after years of pushing unhealthy food. <strong>Glimmers of Hope for 2013:</strong> The scrum surrounding Deen at the beginning of the year made Deen more famous (or at the very least, notorious) than ever. And, apparently, more lucrative than ever: in July, Forbes reported that she had <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/erincarlyle/2012/07/18/paula-deen-diabetes-diagnosis-hasnt-dented-her-earnings/">made $17 million</a> in the past year.
WINNER: Jamie Oliver
<strong>Why?</strong> He started a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/12/jamie-oliver-magazine_n_2116428.html">new magazine</a>, got his own <a href="http://foodrevolutionday.com/">day</a> of the year and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/27/pink-slime-fast-food_n_1237206.html">brought down pink slime</a>. <strong>Causes for Concern in 2013:</strong> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/pink-slime-criticism_n_1335022.html">Some people</a> think his campaign against pink slime <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/13/bruce-smith-pink-slime_n_2293580.html">was wrong-headed</a>.
WINNER: David Chang
<strong>Why?</strong> Chang opened an outpost of his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/30/david-chang-ramen_n_1121454.html">ever-growing Momofuku empire</a> in a third country -- Canada -- this year. His financial success hasn't come at the expense of critical praise. He was nominated for the James Beard Award for outstanding chef and his sweets deputy Christina Tosi won the award for Best Rising Chef. And he also got a little more well-known personally this year, thanks to a starring role in the first season of Anthony Bourdain's food show "The Mind of a Chef." <strong>Causes for Concern in 2013:</strong> The biggest challenge for any emperor-chef is to maintain high quality at locations spread throughout the world. Chang seems to have a good record to letting his Chefs de Cuisine feel empowered in their kitchens and support his independence, but there's always the possibility of a dud.
LOSER: Gordon Ramsay
<strong>Why?</strong> When it comes to the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/gordon-ramsay">"MasterChef" host</a>, where to begin? Maybe with the Dubai restaurant he "severed ties with" in Maybe with the time he slimily <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/20/the-spotted-pig-gordon-ramsay_n_2166741.html">stole a restaurant name from Mario Batali</a>? Or the time he was sued by his father-in-law's mistress for <a href="http://eater.com/archives/2012/09/04/gordon-ramsay-accused-of-hiring-detective-to-take-intimate-photos-of-fatherinlaws-former-mistress.php">hiring a detective to stalk her</a>? <strong>Glimmers of Hope for 2013:</strong> Like Paula Deen, Ramsay still <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/top-earning-celebrity-chefs_n_1686318.html">makes a whole lot of money</a>.
WINNER: Mario Batali
<strong>Why?</strong> Batali's flagship New York restaurants Babbo and Del Posto are sailing smoothly, his talk show "The Chew" is still on the air and his grocery store <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/29/dining/eataly-exceeds-revenue-predictions.html">Eataly grossed $70 million</a> in its first year after opening. <strong>Causes for Concern in 2013:</strong> We've been hearing some reports of quality control issues at some restaurants in the periphery of his empire.
LOSER: Guy Fieri
<strong>Why?</strong> "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/15/guy-fieri-pete-wells_n_2137105.html">Some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde.</a>" <strong>Glimmers of Hope for 2013:</strong> Apparently some people are <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/12/guy-fieri-draws-crowds_n_2285368.html">visiting Guy's American Kitchen & Bar "ironically."</a>
WINNER: Daniel Humm
<strong>Why?</strong> Young Humm skyrocketed this fame in 2012 after years toiling in relative obscurity. In the past year, he and his business partner Will Guidara opened a second restaurant, the NoMad, a few blocks away from their three-Michelin-starred flagship Eleven Madison Park and he won the coveted James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef. It didn't hurt that both the <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/09/10/120910fa_fact_colapinto">New Yorker</a> and the <a href="http://bit.ly/ZLpUc6">New York Times</a> gave him tons of adoring press over the past 12 months. <strong>Causes for Concern in 2013:</strong> Humm hasn't been in the game long enough to guarantee a strong career for decades -- so he has to be sure not to gamble too hard with the success he's found. And to be <a href="http://ny.eater.com/archives/2012/08/discussion_critics_weigh_in_on_the_changes_at_emp.php">wary of magicians</a>.
WINNER: Anthony Bourdain
<strong>Why?</strong> Despite inciting plenty of controversy, almost all year long, Bourdain emerged victorious by the end of 2012, if for no other reason than that he's in the midst of launching three new food shows on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/06/anthony-bourdain-twitter-rant_n_2083223.html">three different channels</a>. <strong>Causes for Concern in 2013:</strong> At some point, Bourdain could pick a fight with the wrong enemy. Things could get very ugly fast.
LOSER: Martha Stewart
<strong>Why?</strong> The former queen of America's linen closets just hasn't been able to retrieve her crown since going to jail, honestly. Trouble in 2012 came in the form of <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/10/business/at-martha-stewart-living-martha-may-be-the-problem.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0">a brutal New York Times article</a> dissing her influence on her company, which has saw <a href="http://observer.com/2012/11/layoffs-at-martha-stewart-living-omnimedia/">huge layoffs this fall</a>. Plus <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/13/martha-stewart-emeril-lagasse-sued-lawsuit-bogus-knives_n_1881770.html">a lawsuit</a> alleging she falsely represented the city of manufacture of a knife line she produced. <strong>Glimmers of Hope for 2013:</strong> She's apparently <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/business/media/for-martha-stewarts-new-fans-tattoos-meet-applique.html?_r=0">really popular in Brooklyn</a>?
WINNER: Eric Ripert
<strong>Why?</strong> Ripert is still one of the most highly respected chefs in country, but this year, he stepped out from behind the range like never before, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/08/anthony-bourdain-eric-ripert-chocolate-bar_n_2092462.html">releasing a chocolate bar in collaboration with Anthony Bourdain</a> and appearing in a new YouTube series. Plus his restaurant Le Bernardin got a spiffy renovation that won it the James Beard Award for <a href="http://www.aveceric.com/2012/03/26/le-bernardin-nominated-james-beard-award/">Outstanding Restaurant Design</a> and prompted <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/23/dining/reviews/le-bernardin-in-midtown-manhattan.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1355928387-bH+JTesk5o03rdd/xPitCw">Pete Wells to renew the restaurant's four-star rating</a> in the New York Times. <strong>Causes for Concern in 2013:</strong> He <a href="http://eater.com/archives/2012/12/03/eric-ripert-dc-philly-nyc.php">cut ties with his restaurants in DC and Philadelphia this year</a>... are there business problems beneath his impeccable culinary veneer?
WINNER: Giada DeLaurentiis
<strong>Why?</strong> DeLaurentiis started off the year with a bang by preparing all the food for several high-profile Golden Globe parties, and she continued strong (if not all that high-profile) for the next 11 months, signing <a href="http://stylenews.peoplestylewatch.com/2012/05/29/giada-de-laurentiis-clairol-natural-instincts/">a mondo contract with Clairol Natural Instincts</a> and announcing that she was starting <a href="http://eater.com/archives/2012/06/15/bobby-flay-on-his-show-w-giada-reopening-bolo-in-nyc.php">a new daytime talk show with Bobby Flay</a>. Plus she appeared on <a href="http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/giada-holiday-tips/50ca38c002a76038500000b9">HuffPost Live</a>! <strong>Causes for Concern in 2013:</strong> Nothing we can think of, frankly.
LOSER: Todd English
<strong>Why?</strong> We're tempted to say "just search his name on Google News," but it turns out that that doesn't actually paint the grim picture we have in mind. So instead, just <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/15/tully-wilson-chef-wanted-todd-english_n_2131917.html">read this article</a>. <strong>Glimmers of Hope for 2013:</strong> Some of his restaurants are still popular -- and he's <a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/birmingham/news/2012/12/17/todd-englishs-new-birmingham-bar-to.html">opening restaurants</a> almost as fast as he's <a href="https://twitter.com/NYNightlife/statuses/281068874668064768">closing them</a>.