At its foul-mouthed best, Tony Bourdain's shtick is absolutely empowering, but not in thefaux-populist manner of a Sandra Lee or Guy Fieri. What's made his voice so important is his steadfast refusal to coddle anything but eggs.7 Unlike most food shows, the central message of No Reservations was actually, no, you can't do this; you can't cook it, you can't re-create it, you can't dumb it down. Bourdain was a knight-errant of good taste, a champion of expertise and authenticity. Real food experiences, he argued, whether at a sushi counter in Tokyo or a hot dog stand in Chicago, are worth seeking out. Appreciation is just as important as enthusiasm.
Which is precisely what makes his involvement in ABC's The Taste8 so disheartening. "This is a cooking competition unlike any other," Bourdain brayed at the start of the series last month. It was a lie. There have been plenty of terrible cooking competitions in the past, though maybe none as teeth-grindingly cringey as this one. Conceived as a glitzy, kitchen-oriented version of The Voice, here it's the judges who must repeatedly open their gobs, the better to shove in an unending conveyor belt of porcelain spoons. Every spoon arrives laden with a "perfect bite," each one cynically crafted by one of a well-groomed armada of knife-wielding fameballs. The idea, the show repeatedly tells us with all the subtlety of a Sriracha shooter, is that only through blind tastings and novelty flatwear can food actually be judged by its most important characteristic: The Tas — oh, I can't even bring myself to type it.
Look, it's perfectly fine for Bourdain to cash in and try new things. He's spent a decade traversing the world, consuming calories as if they were frequent flyer miles, and collecting hangovers like snow globes. He's 56 years old, married, with a 5-year-old daughter. Everyone deserves a chance to experiment, and I've got nothing at all against selling out.9 But Bourdain's entire post–Kitchen Confidential career — embodying his bedrock belief that food cannot and should not be separated from the richness of experience that surrounds it — has been an eloquently stated and vibrantly lived refutation of everything The Taste stands for. Now he sits on a garishly lit soundstage, defanged like an aging circus lion, ginning up halfway constructive things to say to deluded Capoeira instructors who make "food for awesomeness" when the only reasonable response would be laughter.Read the whole thing. I've been reading a bunch stuff on Grantland and have been thoroughly impressed aka entertained.