No stranger to television, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain takes on judging full-time alongside Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre and Brian Malarkey for "The Taste," which pits home cooks against professional chefs in a contest where every dish is sampled blind in a single bite. To get the conversation started about this latest entry in the cooking competition genre, we sat down to lunch with Bourdain for a meal of dishes inspired by the judges' recipes, including Bourdain's coq au vin — which was fine but not outstanding, though Bourdain didn't prepare it himself, so we can't really judge him on it.
With all the shows you're already involved with, why take on this one as well?
I think because it seemed like such an uncharacteristic and foolhardy thing. I travel with a crew of four people [for "No Reservations"] — more or less the same four people for the last 10 years. I never knew any other way of making television, so to go from that into this gigantic set that looks like the end of a Bond film — you know, inside the volcano — with a giant crew, a big network thing, to say it was a challenge would be an understatement.
How did the home cooks measure up against professional chefs?
The people that did well were aggressive with their seasoning. They were looking to make an impression and they were very forward with their flavors. We were fooled all the time with that. "Oh, this is a professional." No, it turned out. We were four very jaded palates, and I think that the cooks who figured that out were the ones who did well. These are people who've eaten a lot of food. Truffle oil is not going to work with these people. People who cooked looking for an emotional response, I think, were the ones who did well. I think we were all very emotionally involved in the progress of this show.
Were the challenges designed to take into account both types of contestants?
The challenges were all designed beforehand, and there were a couple that were geared more toward home cooks. A comfort food challenge is obviously in a zone where a home cook is just as likely to be good at it as a professional. I'm not going to say which one, but there was one challenge where it was just a slaughter-fest, where everybody across the board just really had a hard time with it, and there was a lot of weeping and rending of garments. I'm talking about the judges. [Laughs]
What did you think of the team you ended up coaching?
I love my team. I would stand there that first day and think, 'I don't want any of them to ever go home. I don't think I could bear it if any of them ever go home.' Of course, even in the best-case scenario, at least three of them are going to have to. It's horrible. I hated it. I became the biggest wuss immediately. That was the biggest surprise to me, that I ended up giving a s—. Like, a lot — like, in a really big way.