The Taste The Taste

Let the second annual Tasting Games begin! May the odds be ever in your flavor.

ABC kicks off the second season of its reality cooking competition show The Taste on Thursday at 8/7c with a two-hour premiere. "It's crazy. Good crazy, but a lot of stuff goes on this year," chef and mentor Ludo Lefebvre tells "Each mentor wants to win this competition so it's almost like two competitions in one show. Everyone has an ego, you know?"

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The basic recipe is the same: home cooks and chefs must prepare one bite to present in a blind taste test. Based upon that spoonful, the judges will decide whether or not they want that person on their four-person team. One ingredient, however, has changed from last year's show. Chef Marcus Samuelsson joins returning judges Lefebvre, Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson, replacing last season's Brian Malarkey.

"Better watch out for Marcus. He knows what he's doing," Lefebvre says. "He has a lot of experience and has proved to all the world that he's a great chef. He knows what's good. Even though he's a rookie, it's true, but at the end of the day, it's about the taste. So anything is possible."

Samuelsson is best known for winning the second season of Top Chef Masters and has guest-judged numerous cooking competition shows. Off-screen, he became the youngest chef to receive a three-star review from the New York Times, has earned six James Beard Awards, cooked for President Obama's first state dinner, owns four restaurants and has authored cook books in both English and Swedish.

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It's clear that Samuelsson has the cooking chops, but it remains to be seen what his mentoring personality will be. Will he be nurturing like Lawson or get loud like Lefebvre? "I don't yell, guys. You people need to stop saying that," Lefebvre says. "I don't yell, OK? I express myself, thank you very much. And Marcus too. Marcus is a chef like me and is very competitive like me. He wants to win. It's a competition between four mentors, but it's a big competition between Marcus and me. And Anthony Bourdain too. Anthony loves to compete. Anthony wants to win too."

As for the food, some contestants will try a few different strategies this season, even if that means going (gulp) meatless! "For a judge like Anthony, maybe it's difficult because Anthony doesn't like to eat vegetables or dessert," Lefebvre says. "But this competition is about the taste, and if I love something vegan then I'll take it. I'll take whatever I like. I don't try to judge or see who is behind this spoon ... I go with my gut."

Fortunately, there's one ingredient that the judges are happy to do without, or at least see less of this season. "This year you'll see less scallops for sure," he says. "But we still see a lot of shrimp. A lot of people think they know how to cook shrimp, but that's their mistake. If they overcook it, it's chewy, and a lot of people overcook their shrimp."

Which mentor are you rooting for? Check out this preview of The Taste, which premieres Thursday at 8/7c on ABC.