Chef Brian Malarkey On ABC’s New Food Competition “The Taste”


Chef Brian Malarkey spoke to us about his new series, “The Taste”

In 2007, on the last episode before the finale, contestant Brian Malarkey was voted off on Bravo’s Top Chef. Since then Brian has been building a restaurant empire on the west coast and will now appear on ABC’s The Taste. Sitting at the judging table with Brian are Anthony Bordain, Nigella Lawson and Ludo Lefebvre. All well known culinary experts, their role is less “judge” than “mentor” (as the show bills them). The show which easily described is “The Voice meets Iron Chef” has a bevy of contestants vying for the chance to join a mentor’s team to continue along the competition. The catch is: the mentors don’t know who they’re judging. The mentors vote before the contestant is relieved leaving them judged solely on their dish. The audience at home gets to know the contestants though. “We don’t know the back stories on these people, the contestants, now I’m gonna watch it on TV, I’m as excited as everybody else.” Brian Malarkey offered. “I know they filmed their back-story, I get to see it on TV.”

THE TASTE - In the two-hour series premiere, "Auditions Part 1," the pressure is on when 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 which just a single spoonful will decide whether or not they make it past the audition phase and into the competition. "Auditions Part 1" airs TUESDAY, JANUARY 22 (8:00-10:00 p.m., ET) on ABC.  (ABC/SASHA SHEMIRANI)BRIAN MALARKEY

Basing the judging on one bite of a dish can be stressful for the mentors. “The idea is, are you a gambler? Do you want to keep letting them come at you and hope something better is coming or take a safe one so you have a decent one on your team?” The judges, after all, have only four picks for their kitchen. “You’re always scared you’re going to use up one of your four slots on something that’s not worthy, you’re a little apprehensive.” The mentors, like Brian, are looking for contestants they can work with throughout the rest of the show. “When I pick people for my team, I’m picking people that have similar tastes to mine, a familiarity to me, something I can actually help them and make them better.”

This isn’t the first time Malarkey has met with Bordain on the set of a cooking competition, although this is the first time they’re on the same side of the table. “Bordain almost kicked me off, a couple of times, on Top Chef.” This show is different from shows like Top Chef though as Brian explains, “Once I got cast on The Taste I was like, “Yes, I can kick back, eat food, criticize people and be a judge.” but then come to find out we’re in the competition with them.”

“On Top Chef you get to see a guy, look him in the eye and in your head you think, “I know the backstory, do I want to kick him off or let him hang out?” On Top Chef you have that conversation with yourself, as I imagine Tom [Colicchio] do. On this show, we don’t know. You’re eating it.”

The show is an exciting watch. The audience gets insight the mentors don’t which leaves you rooting for underdogs that might not have what it takes. Just because someone is a professional doesn’t mean they’re getting through easy though. “You’re really impressed when you find out it’s a home cook. You’re like, “Wow!” You’re really disappointed when find out it’s a chef that made something that wasn’t good.” There are, unfortunately, great cooks who are sent home. “There were a few really good ones that got away from all of us.” Some of the contestants are not professionals, just people who love to cook at home. Brian, with excitement, discussed the emergence of that trend, pointing to the rise in cookbook sales as other books go the way of the e-reader. “Everybody is a hobby chef at home.”

The experience changed the way Brian thinks about food now, especially in his restaurants. “The Taste actually helped me as a chef. I had gotten my taste buds muddled in that I had spent more time thinking about the plating, the music, the ambiance, the sound, the silverware, everything else that goes into a meal. I hadn’t focused on the drop-dead taste in a long time.” The change made an impact on how he works with his chefs, “It reaffirmed and brought me back to the basics.”

If sitting at a table, judging contestants on their best dishes sounds like a dream job, Malarkey reminds us of the grind of television production and how many contestants there are, “You think one bite at a time isn’t that much? I felt like Cool Hand Luke eating fifty hard boiled eggs.”

The Taste airs Tuesdays on ABC (check local listings).

Thomas enjoys 90s pop culture, hates reality television and enjoys long walks on the beach.

1 Comment

  1. AJ Bender

    January 23, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    The one thing I love about this show is that it’s not easy to make it through to the second round. These judges are no holds barred, honest about what they taste and why they picked one contestant over another. The mix of culinary backgrounds makes for a very interesting show and my DISH co-worker says that the show can get intense because each additional round is based on a blind taste test as well. That means that the judges can eliminate their own contestants without knowing it was their dish. I’ve got my DISH Hopper recording the show and thanks to the PrimeTime Anytime feature I don’t have to set any timers for the show. It automatically records all prime time shows on ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC seven days a week and that means I won’t miss anything. I’m really looking forward to next week’s episode.

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