Nigella Lawson's The Taste fails the test

SCOTT ELLIS
Last updated 15:06 19/06/2014
Nigella

LAID ON THICK: Nigella Lawson's seductive delivery works best in her solo shows.

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OPINION: There are few certainties in life: Death, taxes and that Nigella Lawson cooking shows are likely to be pretty good.

Even if you're not into her pseudo-sexual presentation style, there's no doubt Nigella knows her way around a kitchen and can explain in simple terms what you need to do to turn out some very good meals.

But with her latest small-screen effort, it's looking like we're back to death and taxes as the only sure bets.

The Taste, based on a very successful American reality series, puts Nigella in the hot seat as the star judge (alongside Anthony Bourdain and Ludo Lebreve) of a reality/cooking/game show where cooks try to prove they're the best in the land through a series of challenges, the first of which is a blind tasting of a single spoonful of food.

The wannabes can be either professional or amateur chefs, can cook sweets, mains, whatever they like, it just has to impress from that first bite.

That's exciting! That's new! That's Masterchef versus The Voice! What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot it would seem.

Nigella and Bourdain are incredibly good TV talent, they have both hosted multiple very watchable series focused on food. Lebreve too is a rare find, one of the few chefs who actually makes the often mechanical process of preparing food look like alchemy. They're just not particularly able to do much with these ingredients.

The tension here seems contrived, the prize everyone is competing for a bit nebulous (they get a trophy... and what else?) and the production never seems sure of whether it's a straight contest or a series demonstrating things you can cook at home.

Which is the other failing. It's unlikely many home cooks would be able to replicate the majority of these dishes.

In the pilot episode for example, one of the contenders turns out a caremalised tea smoked duck breast with sprouts and pickled cherries and grated bitter chocolate, a tough dish by anyone's standards.

But key to this is Nigella. And she doesn't look comfortable. Her trademark silky delivery which works beautifully when she's by herself, offering up a morsel to the camera, comes across here as contrived.

"It would be satisfying," she purrs at one point, "almost to the point of sinful gratification [insert pause for effect] to beat (pause again) Tony." Was that supposed to be a sensual moment? Or a declaration of war? Who can tell, it didn't particularly work as either.

Or her description of Lebreve: "He is French. He is very French. He is very, very French." Ok, we get it.

Throw in the fact she clearly finds the competition aspect unsettling - at one stage after voting someone out, Nigella leaps to her feet to comfort them - and it becomes obvious this is probably not the best vehicle for her talents.

Bring on her next solo effort.

There is not screening date set for The Taste in New Zealand. 

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- Sydney Morning Herald

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