Review: The Taste, Channel 4, episode 2
Nigella Lawson's cooking contest is both constantly frantic and ceaselessly boring.
It’s really difficult to make a TV programme that is both constantly frantic and ceaselessly boring. But Channel 4 have certainly managed that with The Taste, which has just broadcast its second highly-strung-but-dull episode.
The Taste has nothing original about it. Its format is bought off-the-shelf from American network ABC – notwithstanding the public service obligation to innovate that Channel 4 accepts in return for its comfy prime slot on your electronic programme guide.
The recycled format is itself a mish-mash of two other shows – MasterChef, the well-established cooking competition, and The Voice, which introduced the idea of blind judging to talent shows. Indeed in this episode, the 12 competitors competed in three Voice-style teams – one each mentored by Anthony Bourdain, Ludo Lefebvre and Nigella Lawson.
The competitors cooked, their dishes were judged, one was sent home. It was all so prosaically derivative that Channel 4 clearly thought they had to ramp up the tension with every production trick in the telly book.
The music was constant and manic, veering from harpsichord to booming drums to – my personal favourite – the urgently accelerating brush of a hi-hat cymbal. The studio was expensively huge. The judges' outfits were so tightly colour-co-ordinated that they looked like Chris Tarrant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The camera-work veered from hand-held jiggle to close-up slo-mo. The editing was choppier than the North Sea. And underneath it all, straining every sinew to be a little bit interesting, were 12 hapless punters doing MasterChef.
To be fair, Lawson herself was mesmerising – but for the wrong reasons. It was hard not to wonder if her jawline has always been quite that sharp – especially when her dress took voluptuousness literally to new heights.
Because the programme doesn’t have a presenter, Lawson was also forced by the producers to adopt Jekyll-and-Hyde personas. She was by turns maternal in her mentoring of her team, and then scary-nasty-mwah-ha-ha when she introduced the final judging segment.
Each contestant’s dish was presented, anonymously, to the judges on large Chinese-restaurant-style porcelain spoons – which then had to be piled high to get everything on. As the judges opened wide to get each enormous spoonful in, they looked like the space aliens in the Eighties sci-fi series V, who famously dislocated their jaws to swallow live rats in one go.
In the end, it was poor charity worker Barry who was eliminated. By this time, he had not only been unmasked to the judges, but quizzed on his sourcing of ingredients (shop-bought frozen strawberries? Very feeble). All of which denuded the programme of its one claim to even a whiff of originality – that the food is judged blind.
Barry looked dejected as he sloped off the set. But he’ll surely come to realise that he’s better off as far away from this dog’s breakfast of a cooking show as possible.