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Nigella Lawson is back with a new show, The Taste. Poured into a va-va-voom blue dress and wearing the biggest, fluffiest pair of false eyelashes seen on global television since Miss Piggy in her pomp, this new Nigella is primped, tweaked, ready for her close-up and hoping to put the horrors of the past seven months behind her.
After the strife, the strangle, the intimate terrorism, the divorce, the bullying, the court case, the “Higella” drug allegations, the awful things said or left unsaid and the haunting mortification of it all, are the sun-lit uplands of celebrity once more in sight for the scandal-strewn stew-basher?
As she says towards the end of the first episode of The Taste: “I can see victory ahead, but I don’t like to jinx everything.” Indeed.
Still, it might be slightly embarrassing that the opening credits of The Taste are etched out in a fine powder – but at least it is cocoa and not cocaine. In this series, the domestic goddess reinvents herself as a judge in a 10-part reality cooking contest that is equal parts MasterChef and The Voice, with a dash of Great British Bake Off thrown in for good measure.
Nigella has already appeared in the US version of the show, along-side her fellow judges: French chef Ludo Lefebvre and the maverick chef, television presenter and author, Anthony Bourdain.
During a trailer for the show, Nigella – very much in the chief judge, bossy head girl mode – describes Bourdain as the “ultimate cool dude”, someone who is “very knowledgeable about food”.
And Ludo, whose restaurants in Los Angeles are among the best in the city. According to Nigella, who is billed as a “culinary superstar”, he makes “absolutely the best food I have ever eaten in my life”.
In The Taste, 25 cooks compete for 12 places to be mentored by the three judges over the coming weeks.
They are given one hour in which to cook whatever they want, and the judges consider their effort on one single spoon, which they taste blind.
“My life is in this spoon,” whimper the contestants. “This spoon is the most important spoon of my life,” they cry.
Just like the judges on The Voice, who listen to the singers perform but do not see them, there is supposed to be extra honour and merit in the fact that Nigella and Co do not know who has cooked what.
Yet can someone’s culinary skill really be measured by a single, isolated spoonful? Surely that would be like appraising the merits of an opera by a single aria, or a football match by a solitary goal.
The judges talk about “balance” an awful lot – about “perfect balance” and spoons being “properly balanced”. And sometimes after that there is not much more to say.
“You sliced your duck so beautifully,” Nigella tells one contestant. Later, she leaves her seat to comfort rather brusquely an 18-year-old who cries at her criticism.
“I can’t bear that for him,” she says, when he has exited stage left in tears.
“He has to toughen the **** up,” says Bourdain.
“He is just a child,” says Nigella.
What is interesting is that The Taste reveals a very different side to sex strumpet Nigella, who turned 54 this week.
Yes, of course she still smoulders like a burnt pot – it would be impossible for her not to. And there are plenty of close-ups of her lips, which are as glazed and pink as festive hams. No change there.
However, the slurping, pouting, finger-lickin’ parsnip molester of yesteryear has been replaced by someone sharper, determined to be taken seriously, someone who is less camp and much flintier.
After the non-stop campery of her cooking shows, one suspects this is the real Nigella – or at least nearer the real deal than her cartoon cooking vamp ever was, forever drooling over her chocolate sauce and fetishing about Christmas.
Certainly, revelations about the reality of her home life – it was said she rarely entertained at home, never made a mince pie – have made many fans look askance at her creatively imagined persona.
On The Taste, Nigella and her fellow judges are searching for the cook who makes the best-tasting food in Britain – but are they really?
Often, such reality shows and celebrations of craft are merely star vehicles for the judges, not a quest for the best or an effort to improve the circumstances of the competitors. – The Daily Mail.