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Top chefs rate aspiring cooks with a single ‘Taste’ on new show

Anthony BourdaNigellLawsLudovic Lefebvre Brian Malarkey put 29 professional chefs home cooks through their first grueling round blind taste tests 'The

Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludovic Lefebvre and Brian Malarkey put 29 professional chefs and home cooks through their first grueling round of blind taste tests in "The Taste." Judges decide their fate based on one spoonful of the aspiring chef's di

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Updated: January 21, 2013 7:09PM

Imagine the culinary version of “The Voice” and that’s “The Taste,” a new cooking competition on ABC.

A blind taste test of one spoonful of food from each contestant is how “The Taste” judges determine who stays and who gets sent packing.

Famed foodies Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre and Brian Malarkey whittle down a field of 60 hopefuls to four teams of four, whom they mentor throughout the competition. At the end of each episode, judges sample the dishes blind, not knowing what they’re eating or who prepared it.

“You’re just hoping and praying you’re not about to find fault with somebody on your own team,” Bourdain said in an interview at a recent TV critics’ gathering in Pasadena, Calif. “It’s really disorienting but merit-based. ‘Is it good?’ That’s all that matters.”

“The Taste” has a wide range of contestants auditioning for spots on the judges’ teams. Some hopefuls are home cooks. Others are pros heading up restaurant kitchens. Charlie Sheen’s personal chef is among them. So are several people from the Chicago area, including a cocky guy named Sieger who calls himself “the best sous chef in Chicago.”

“This is a playing field where a talented amateur really had as near a crack at beating a professional as they could ever have,” Bourdain said. “Technique, precision — none of that mattered.”

ABC is taking a risk with a food-focused show like “The Taste,” which seems like it would pair better with the Food Network than a broadcast net.

The two-hour premiere (7 to 9 p.m. on WLS-Channel 7) is twice as long as it should be. Watching an endless assembly line of rejected contestants made me feel as fed up as Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory.

Because I’m a big fan of cooking shows in general, I’ll give “The Taste” another try. Hopefully it will be more appetizing after the audition rounds, in its more appropriately portioned hourlong format.

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