We were enamored with "The Taste," Anthony Bourdain's one-bite cooking competition, last year -- and not just because the ABC series was short and feisty. (Although we do love short and feisty.) But the repartee between judges Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, in-your-face Brian Malarkey and the explosive French firecracker, Ludo Lefebvre, was fun. The competitors were talented and driven. And -- boom -- eight short weeks later, our favorite feisty chef, Khristianne Uy, was crowned the champ.

Tonight, the second season kicks off with a few changes. Malarkey has been replaced by Marcus Samuelsson, the elegant Ethiopian-Swedish chef, who won "Top Chef Masters" in season two. Samuelsson has earned six James Beard awards, authored multiple cookbooks and his top notch restaurants draw rapturous crowds. (Do not get us started on New York's Red Rooster Harlem -- where Samuelsson's chicken and waffles with chicken liver butter and bourbon maple syrup is so delicious, it will make you weep -- or we'll never get to the show.)

So season two kicks off with a new judge and the promise of fewer scallop dishes and plenty of stabbings and poachings, some of which may actually involve food. The prize is a cool $100,000 -- and we've got a San Francisco street food chef in the race.


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As you may recall from last season, "The Taste" is the culinary equivalent of "The Voice." There are no big twirling chairs, but four judges compete against each other, building teams based on blind auditions -- each cook, pro or avid amateur, submits a single spoonful for each judge to taste. Needless to say, some dishes are considerably better than others.

Among the rejects: Sevan Abdessian, a self-described "arrogant, sophisticated and excellent" Hollywood chef who promises to "annihilate all humanity" -- with his raw "Tower of Power" tuna dish.

"It's like every food crime," Bourdain says. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no."

But street food maven Shellie Kitchen -- of San Francisco's Brass Knuckle truck fame -- makes Bourdain's shortlist, earning a spot on the team for her "stoner comfort food," thanks to her Chorizo Beurre Blanc Prawns (identified in the subtitles as a "beer blanc," but it's a butter sauce, so we're going with beurre).

Bourdain accuses Lefebvre of betraying his buttery French heritage when he takes Cassandra Bodzak, a giggly New York vegan and self-styled health food "guru" -- that's right, she called herself a "guru." And a pomegranate meets its demise in a particularly brutal manner, but Nigella takes the perpetrator, Reina Bazzi, a "professional home cook" with a larger than large personality, whose ingredient handling is downright violent.

The invitations, rejections, bon mots and back stories continue to flow. There are some truly delicious-looking dishes, including Brooklyn waiter -- and burned-out former exec chef -- Lee Knoeppel's ghee-poached lobster in bacon chowder. The dish "utterly seduced" Nigella and wowed Marcus and Bourdain. Ludo doesn't like his attitude, but chooses him anyway. This is the first time any competitor has gotten the yes vote from all four judges -- and Knoeppel chooses Bourdain.

Two hours later -- and after just one scallop sighting -- the teams are nearly complete. Ludo still needs one last chef and after rejecting more cooks than we can count, he's down to the last two: Michele Wilson, the owner of Oakland's Gussie's Chicken and Waffles, and Southern California home cook Marina Chang, who chops carrots blindfolded -- literally -- and says, "I'll cook anything, racoon, whatever. I'll kill the animal. I'll drink the blood."

Ludo chooses Chang and her broccoli stems over Wilson and her filet mignon-topped corn cake with cilantro and cotija. (Aw, Ludo ... Seriously?)

Next week, the knives comes out.

Best lines of the night:

"Old age and corruption beat youth and beauty anytime." -- Anthony Bourdain

"Do you remember that one last year with the fried watermelon thing? That frightened me too." -- Nigella Lawson, unknowingly describing the exact same person

"This tastes like food made by a person who's never had sex in their life." -- Anthony Bourdain, talking about the same poor guy