A blind taste test will determine the fate of 16 culinary competitors -- from top chefs to home cooks -- when "The Taste" debuts tonight on ABC. Unlike other food shows where the judges are served an entire dish, on "The Taste," not only is it a blind test, but the mentors/judges only get to sample one bite on a spoon.
"There was often a time when the professional chefs would try to get too clever, because when you are presenting a plate in a restaurant, you want to put it down and everyone to go, "Wow!," says TV personality/author Nigella Lawson, who is one of the four mentors -- Anthony Bourdain, Ludovic Lefebvre and Brian Malarkey round out the panel. "So the reality is chefs want to make everything look great. Home cooks want to give people pleasure, so sometimes the home cook has an advantage because they are not trying to make the spoon look like what my grandfather called "landscape cookery."
The 16 culinary competitors -- pro chefs to home cooks -- are put to the test with just a short amount of time to prepare their entry. At the end of each episode, the mentors judge the competitors' dishes with no knowledge of whose creation they're sampling, what they're eating, how it was prepared or whom they could be sending home.
"I am a mentor all the time anyway," says Malarkey, who is co-owner of five restaurants in San Diego and one in Scottsdale, Ariz. "That is what I do. I mentor my kitchen staffs along and I find out what their strong points are and I make them better."
Even with all the competition, there was a lot of fun on the set and Lawson, who was the only woman and the only home cook among the mentors, says she had to keep the "boys" in line.
"I think that food on TV can be dominated by chefs," she says. "I love chefs and I love restaurants, but, to me, real cooking is home cooking and I felt that it was important that home cooks be represented. I kept shouting at those boys whenever they said, 'This is really good. It must be a chef.' I said, 'Stop being so rude.' And often, it was a home cook. We can cook, too, you know."
The standard of cooking was high, but as so often happens, there were several contestants who had skill but let their nerves get the best of them. Still, according to Malarkey some very talented people made it to the end.
"There was a whole bunch of them at the end who could have made it in my restaurants," he says.
"The Taste" premieres tonight at 8 p.m ET/PT on ABC.