On ABC's new food competition "The Taste," debuting with a two-hour premiere Jan. 22, contestants "were greatly encouraged to go out and buy fresh produce from Whole Foods and also not to be wasteful," says judge and mentor Nigella Lawson. There were no specifically green challenges, "but if we get a season two I think that's a really good idea," adds Anthony Bourdain, who serves in the same capacity on the series, and like Lawson, is also a producer. Both have an eco-aware attitude off screen as well. "My parents were children in the war so I was taught never to waste. I try to make it a part of life," says Lawson. "It's something I think about and try to live by to the best of my ability," says Bourdain. "I try to be a responsible citizen of the world."
Both bring their knowledgeable palates to "The Taste," which requires them and co-panelists and chefs Brian Malarkey and Ludovic Lefebvre to sample single spoonfuls of a dish without knowing what's in it and who made it. Once they assemble teams of four home and professional cooks, the judges go into mentor mode, coaching their contestants in challenges. The taste tests remain blind, so the experts may send one of their own packing. According to Bourdain, challenges include comfort food, wine pairings and utilizing a pig "nose to tail, using challenging parts of it in a creative and delicious way."
The only non-chef or restaurateur on the panel, "I'm very much a champion for the home cook. I don't like fancy-shmancy food, so obviously I'm going to go for people who have a simpler approach. But I think the standard was higher than I expected," observes Lawson, who signed on because Bourdain was involved and though initially "frightened because this is so not me," didn't want to pass up the opportunity. Bourdain similarly seized the chance to work with Lawson, with whom he goes "way back," and because as executive producer, he "had a lot of say in the show." What makes it stand out from other food competitions is "it's as close to a true meritocracy as has ever been seen on TV," he adds.
He thinks the panel is a good mix. While he doesn't know Malarkey well, "Bruno brings old school classic French training and a level of experience that I never had. Nigella brings a deep knowledge of food that's probably better than all of our knowledge combined." His contribution? "Age, guile, stealth, and experience," Bourdain quips, but he shoots down the notion that he'll be harsh or snarky. "I think people will be really surprised to see how emotionally invested I became in the show. For much of it I was a pussycat, really," he says. "I tried to do the best I could to provide a strategy for my team to succeed. I had the best team."
London native Lawson, the veteran of numerous cooking shows on Food Network, Style and E! and the author of eight bestselling books, is about to publish another Feb. 12. "Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes" reflects her love of Italian cuisine, although she favors Thai and Scandinavian cooking too. "There's no food I don't like," she says, singling out roast chicken as a particular favorite. As for what she tasted on "The Taste," "There was only one thing that was truly disgusting. Most things were good."
Bourdain is partial to Vietnamese food, "but if had to eat one cuisine for the rest of my life every day, it'd be Japan." Known for his best seller "Kitchen Confidential" and sampling exotic global cuisine in his TV series "No Reservations" and "The Layover," has a new book in the works as well: a crime novel. He's written three previously and they always incorporate food. "You can always tell the bad guy because they don't know how to eat."