By Ellen E Jones
With Team Nigella already whipped into a state of expectant devotion by her court appearances, her show couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune moment. But The Taste, which began on Channel 4 tonight, is no ordinary Nigella Lawson cookery show and no ordinary competition, either. The contestants may come from the ranks of professional chefs or enthusiastic home cooks, but all will be judged, sight unseen, on the flavour of a single spoonful.
Our Nigella was joined on the judging panel by Anthony Bourdain and Ludo Lefebvre, two equally prestigious cooks who are not as well-known in the UK as they are in America. Bourdain is the punk-rock New York food writer who used to send busboys out to pick up his heroin from Alphabet City back in his early 80s cheffing days, and he hasn’t lost his edge yet. Ludo Lefebvre, however, is the show’s uncontested diva and in the opening episode he stomped and sulked his way through every professional chef stereotype. “He’s French,” explained Nigella. “He’s very French...He’s very, very French”. You can say that again, Nige.
The format is new to British viewers, but The Taste’s three mentors already know each other well, having appeared in the show’s original US version (which C4 promises to screen later this year). That explains their perfectly balanced banter, with its noticeably patriotic flavour. It was evident in Nigella’s championing of British home cooking, her gentle admonishment’s of Anthony’s Americanisms (“Prawn, we call it, in this country”) and in Ludo’s pantomimed astonishment that these rosbifs can actually cook: “I’m very, very impressed to be in Britain to eat good food like this. It is such a shock for me!”
This week the judges’ internal bickering took centre stage as they competed to secure the best four cooks for their own teams, but since the knives were out, and sharpened too, the contestants also came in for a skewering. Even baby of the group, 18-year-old Dale, was not spared when he dared insult the judges tastebuds with an over-sweet tomato, pear and ginger chutney. When Dale burst into tears, Ludo and Anthony looked on in contempt, while Nigella rushed to offer maternal comfort. Likely, it was Dale’s ploy all along to end up nestled in Nigella’s bosom. And who can blame him?
Tense, flamboyant, and blessed with two more judges who both equal Nigella in charisma, it’s already obvious The Taste will be delicious – and from just this single spoonful!