Nigella Lawson is a mentor and executive producer on ABC’s The Taste. She is the author of eight bestselling books including Nigella Kitchen, Nigella Fresh, Nigella Christmas, Nigella Bites, Feast, How to Be a Domestic Goddess and How to Eat, which have sold more than six million copies worldwide. Her latest cookbook is Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes. Below, she shares her thoughts on the penultimate episode of The Taste and the team she’s mentoring.
While I graciously concede that the life of a contestant on The Taste must be pretty damn stressful, can I just point out that it isn’t such a joyride for a mentor, either. Though perhaps that isn’t the right way to put it: joy there is, for sure. And it has been, continues to be, one hell of a ride. But the tension, the sense of engagement and responsibility, is breathtaking in its force. Even a tough old nut (a term imbued here with affection and admiration ) like Anthony Bourdain has been afflicted with the touchie-feelies.
But then, I always knew it would be frightening. Fear was part of the reason I took the gig on (the above-mentioned Bourdain being the other part) as I firmly believe that in life, you do need to do things that frighten you. Evidently the contestants feel likewise.
So what, you might ask, is so frightening about eating food and passing judgement on it, and helping a team towards (it is to be hoped) victory? Well, chiefly what made me anxious was the same reason I was keen to take on the role. I am not a chef. I am a home cook. Unlike my fellow mentors, my work has never involved bossing cooks around, giving orders, or shouting at people. I worried that I would shrink from telling people their food sucked, or would fail to be a commanding force in the kitchen. As it turned out — and this is due to the premise of The Taste, namely that we don’t know whose food we’re eating, so that any pronouncement is purely on what we’re eating and is never a personal judgement — no venture into rudeness or disrespect was called for, and furthermore, I still believe that encouragement is better than admonishment as a learning device. But being the only home cook amongst three feisty chefs did have its pitfalls. These guys are skilled at intimidation tactics. And you know the thing about intimidation tactics? They do, indeed, intimidate.
But then you learn. For a start, all of us mentors were hopeless at identifying much of what we were eating, most notably when it came to proteins. Ludo and I exchanged — to give one example — many words as to whether the beef in one spoonful had been seasoned adequately; the meat in question turned out to be lamb! We made fools of ourselves equally and constantly. What’s more, for all the bickering and — among some who shall remain nameless — shouting, there was mutual respect. That matters.
What matters more is that we all respected the cooks and chefs who we’d chosen, and those the others had chosen, too. Taste is so subjective — I mean, last week one contestant got a gold star and a red star and was one mentor’s best spoonful and another mentor’s worst spoonful — that there are bound to be disagreements, but a disagreement doesn’t imply a lack of respect. And it’s such a cliché, but we really did learn as much as we taught. Who knew Bourdain or I would 1) be part of a reality tv cooking competition, or 2) be spouting wet-eyed about ‘journeys,’ but there you have it.
Now — and I clear my throat — there is no hiding the fact that I enter the penultimate episode with only one cook to my name, and only just at that. But you know what? You need only one cook to win, and Lauren not only seems to be the contestant most urged on by the viewers, but has a natural gift in the kitchen and feeling for flavor that many chefs in fancy restaurants lack.
Besides, tonight is the Seduction challenge. Team Nigella has a licence to thrill and we are more than ready to serve up the ultimate lovin’ spoonful.
Tonight’s The Taste airs on ABC at 9 p.m.