Yahoo! TV Q&A: 'Taste' judges Brian Malarkey, Ludo Lefebvre hope to find a top chef, one bite at a time
"The Taste" is like "The Voice" for foodies. The competition, which begins tonight on ABC, starts with a blind taste test, in which a combination of professional chefs and home cooks try to impress chef/TV personality Anthony Bourdain, British domestic goddess/cookbook queen Nigella Lawson, restaurateur/"Top Chef" Season 3 third runner-up Brian Malarkey, and chef/author/"Top Chef Masters" contestant Ludo Lefebvre with just one spoonful. Each judge picks four people, based on the dish alone, and then mentors their team through weeks of team and individual challenges with a variety of themes. At the end of every episode is a blind tasting, and the owner of whichever bite the quartet deems the worst is revealed and eliminated.
Malarkey and Lefebvre spoke with Yahoo! TV about the stressful process of eating mystery meat (and the unstressful follow-up of washing it down with alcohol), what they looked for in a team member, which judge they most wanted to impress, and what they would have prepared if the tables were turned.
First things first, Brian. Why not one of your signature hats?
Malarkey: They wouldn't let me wear one. The lighting wasn't right, and it would block my eyes. I was a little bummed because my trailer was full of new hats I bought for the show, but it lets the world know I have hair.
Why should people tune in to "The Taste"?
Lefebvre: It really is completely different from any other show out there. We never know whose food we're tasting. It is all blind. We try to help our team, but the minute we leave the kitchen, they could ignore what we said, and next thing we know, we could be voting off our own. Also, no one holds back, and Nigella is hot!
Malarkey: It was always very exciting to see the big reveal of which chef we'd voted for and who made the best bite. And this setup is just honest. On other shows, it's easy to think that someone goes home because they don't like their attitude, or maybe they stay because they're good TV. This cooking show is based entirely on the taste of the dish.
How was the transition to judging rather than competing?
Malarkey: When I first got the job, I was like, "This show's going to be great. I'm going to sit next to Bourdain telling people what I think about their food. I'll be breaking hearts and making dreams come true." But then I realized we were going to be in the kitchen with them, so it wasn't as comfy a job as I had imagined. It was very stressful. We were competing with our teams half the time, and you could send your own teammate home on accident. That could really play with your head. We put our own egos and styles on the line, too.
Was it easy to reject people and dash career plans?
Lefebvre: It's never easy to criticize people to their face. We didn't realize the contestants could hear us when we were tasting and discussing their bites. I don't think any of the judges wanted to destroy someone's hopes and dreams, but we had to tell the truth, and some bites just didn't taste very good.
Malarkey: We just picked our favorite and least favorite dishes every week. We didn't do it maliciously. But it was rough sometimes. People cried.
Did you eat every bit of every bite?
Lefebvre: I ate every bite in full. Sometimes I didn't want to, and I promise you I did not enjoy them all, but I was there to "taste" everything and had to pay respect by eating one full bite. [Poor] Anthony does not like scallops, and we had four or five in a row once. We were all so stuffed by the end of the tastings. I felt like I had a 60-course tasting menu from a chef on some crazy drugs.
Malarkey: I believe I only spit one thing out the entire show. Once we picked teams, we expected a certain level of quality, but during auditions, there was some stuff I wish I hadn't eaten. We ate a lot of really rich food on a day-to-day basis. I was surprised how full I was at the end of a round.
Did you cleanse palates between bites?
Lefebvre: We had water to help wash things down but nothing truly cleansing. In between groups, I might have cleansed my palate and mind with a sip or two of tequila.
Malarkey: Water, beer, and wine. And a gin and tonic. What? There was definitely alcohol involved in the show, but most of the time we just took a sip of water between bites. As a chef, I'm used to walking around and trying this sauce and that sauce and a bite of potatoes. I multitaste all the time.