Each week on ABC’s new reality competition show, contestants must please the palettes of four high-profile judges with just one single spoonful of food. So far Anthony Bourdain, Brian Malarkey, Nigella Lawson and Ludo Lefebvre have chosen their teams through a few rounds of blind tests.
But now the real pressure comes, they must guide their protégées to victory on The Taste. In a recent exclusive interview Ludo talked about what makes the perfect bite, how he assembled his team and what he’d be eating right now if he had the choice.
The 41-year-old French culinary master clearly wanted to find competitors who had innate talent but were ready to learn. Ludo explained the criteria he used in judging each entry, “The perfect taste for me, it’s something very simple, not too complicated… It’s a small spoon. It’s one bite.”
Of course all of the judges were vying for competitors, but first they had to throw their name in the hat to even have be considered if a contestant had more than one option. Ludo reflected on the one challenger he let get away, Charlie Sheen’s personal chef Khristianne [Uyl], “I almost pushed my button. I want to pick her. But my team was almost complete and I did not pick her. I loved the dish but [I wanted] to wait more to see if I find somebody better than that.”
Instead she found herself on Team Malarkey. On a few occasions both Ludo and Malarkey went head-to-head, hoping to woo the same contestant to their teams. On all three occasions they chose Ludo over the former Top Chef competitor.
Ludo gave his theory on why he won out in each instance. “I’m a real chef, I’m cooking. I have a restaurant and I’m always in my restaurant. I don’t have six or seven restaurants like Malarkey. I just have one. It’s enough. I’m there with my staff. I’m teaching. I’m always cooking. Always, guys. Always on the line.”
He recounted, “I was like, ‘Brian, don’t get me wrong you have six restaurants, seven restaurants. I just have one opening now.’ But it’s my job as a chef. I love to teach. It’s my passion. My first job as a chef is to teach people how to cook. And people who know me, they know that. I’m all the time in the restaurant.”
And he’s bringing that enthusiasm to the kitchen as he works with the four members of his team on The Taste, too. He noted that his first concern was “to find some people who have good technique. And after I want to teach them how to put flavor in the food, to make the food more exciting to give life to what they’re doing, to their food to learn in the kitchen how to season it, how to put flavor together, to play with flavor.”
In this battle of home cooks and pros, Ludo might have his work cut out for him. But it’s anybody’s ball game. As he conceded, “I realized [home cooks] did a good job because they cook simply, from the heart and I have a feeling they really maybe master one dish that will get them through, and put it on the spoon and it’s good. So we’ll pick it.”
On the other hand, the more experienced competitors could sometimes over do it. Ludo observed, “A lot of professional chefs, they complicate too much. That’s a problem of chefs. Sometimes we are too complicated. We put too much frou-frou, and make no sense. I do this too myself sometimes, trust me.”
In fact if he could be eating anything at all, anywhere in the world he picked good down home cooking. Ludo confessed, “I would go back to France, sorry guys, and I’d be eating just a good roasted chicken with a good roasted potato and a big glass of Marcel, I love Marcel. I grew up with chicken. I love chicken. And my grandma she would make the best chicken every weekend. I love it.”
Tune in to The Taste every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. EST/7 p.m. Central on ABC.