It was fun. It was — compared to the hard beds, army cots, boat decks, and mosquito netting of my last weeks — luxurious. It was, at times, unexpectedly gut-wrenching. It was, at times, strange as hell. And yes, goddamnit, that was a real tan.
My first foray into network television was indeed, a bizarre trip to the Other Side, where the necessary glare of a million lights and I don’t even know how many cameras, and layer after layer of sweat-absorbing makeup give an unnatural hue, an otherworldly glow, a Barbie-like patina to even the most honestly acquired New York beach tan. By the end of day, you look like Jack Nicholson’s Joker from the first Batman film. But I wouldn’t have missed it.
First off, let me say, if you are lucky enough to be friends with Nigella Lawson, you are very fortunate indeed. Waking up every day to have a car take you to studio where the sublime Ms. Lawson is padding about in fuzzy slippers and an Ethel Mertz robe, her hair in curlers, is one of life’s great joys. I don’t know what the female version of a mensch is, but that’s what Nigella is: always there with a band-aid, magically-prepared fresh-ground coffee, her own toaster, a multi-disc DVD anthology of film history for the down hours. She carries her own supply of French sea salt in a suspicious looking container in her purse. She is not averse to a shot of tequila with the boys, should the equally delightful Ludo be offering some in his trailer. She kicks ass at beer pong. She is exactly who she is on television — but better.
And Ludo, by the way, is much, much nicer than he appears on television. A softie, truth be told. But I’m sure he’d rather I kept that quiet.
I learned a lot this year on The Taste. I learned that even after nearly 30 years in professional kitchens, it is often hilariously difficult to discern what protein you’re putting in your mouth without visual context. I learned that associating certain flavors with gender — as in, “This is barbecue, this must be a guy” — can and will make you look really, really stupidly wrong. I learned that professionals often make the kinds of mistakes that professionals make — overthinking, trying too hard to dazzle, over-reaching, being too technical — and that amateurs more often do what they know they’re good at. It’s an advantage, if only a slim one.
To answer a few questions:
YES. The teams were selected (from a large pool previously winnowed down by producers) absolutely blind. Everyone you saw us picking for our teams — everyone you saw “judged” on TV — was judged blind.
NO. I had no idea that the four delicious mouthfuls of food I selected as good enough for my team would turn out to come from four not-unattractive women. I saw this as karma — and as proof of something when I found out. It made me want to win all the more. It also made me all the more painfully aware of all the loud chest beating and man-growls — the obnoxious miasma of airborne testosterone wafting over from adjacent stations. As the father of a 6-year-old girl, I already knew that boys are monsters. But doing my best to mentor my all-powerful, all-woman team, The Taste really brought that message home. I like my team a lot. I miss them. Also, men kind of suck.
NO. Diane is not a bitch (whatever she’d like you to think).
YES. I was devastated to lose Uno in particular. I was outflanked, outvoted — and her shrimp head and dumpling didn’t really address the challenge — giving my enemies an excuse to gang up on me. I was surprised by how much I actually cared about the game — not just my team members, but others’ as well. I don’t know if it’s Stockholm syndrome or what, but all the judges took the process really seriously. There was much weeping and rending of garments over who went home and who stayed. Yes, we actually cared.
YES. In the end, I am proud to say that the best taste won. No doubt. It was a long, twisty and at times really weird road, but in the end, the right spoon and the right person took the gold.
The season finale of The Taste airs tonight at 9 p.m. on ABC.