The casting of Adam Pechal on ABC's "The Taste" made perfect sense. The chef and co-owner of Tuli Bistro and Restaurant Thir13en has a culinary school pedigree and paid his dues in some of Sacramento's top kitchens.
Plus, the guy's known for his booming voice and sometimes brash attitude, a good combo for reality TV, a medium that banks on conflict among contestants.
But in the end, "The Taste" was just that a mere hint of Pechal's personality and cooking prowess.
This past Tuesday, Pechal was eliminated from the show, which plays something like "The Voice" but with kitchen knives and exploding pressure cookers. His dish of Thai-influenced sweetbreads was given a thumbs-down by all-star judges including Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson. Pechal was sent packing, his chances of winning $100,000 and a Ford C-Max Hybrid going up like a wisp of hot peanut oil smoke.
"It was everything I expected it to be, and it wasn't," said Pechal on Wednesday. "I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything."
Pechal still had a solid run on the show and represented Sacramento well. He endured four weeks of culinary challenges, plus the audition episode, which landed him a spot on Team Brian Malarkey, the "Top Chef" finalist who served as a judge and mentor on "The Taste."
Ultimately, Pechal was one of the final 10 contestants (out of an initial 16) and was just a week away from landing in the semi- finals episode.
Until getting dismissed, Pechal was an especially consistent chef on "The Taste." He won his spot with a seared-scallops dish that earned props all around the judging panel. From there, Pechal tended to land right in the middle of the playing field, never among the week's top chefs but not among those facing the chopping block that is, until Tuesday.
Some of Pechal's creations for "The Taste" were familiar to regulars of Tuli Bistro and Restaurant Thir13en. The pork-based Cubano from the show's sandwich challenge and the fried chicken he whipped up for the comfort food episode are all Pechal staples, but with some tweaks added for "The Taste."
Pechal's usually amped-up attitude came in glimpses: describing a fellow teammate's dish as "crap" and pulling a few bossy alpha-male moves.
In the end, the typical viewer will probably remember Pechal best as the wily-eyed chef with his long hair in a bun, the guy who made fun of Lawson's lilting British accent and said, "If food's your drug of choice, you have to figure out a way to become the dealer."
The show itself is somewhat of a convoluted mess, like trying to force-feed the mentor concept behind "The Voice" into a cooking show. Contest rules are complicated, dishes get only cursory descriptions, and there's little time spent with contestants to get a sense of who these people truly are. Nobody's going to get much insight about cooking techniques from "The Taste," but viewers will get the occasional feigned f-bomb from Bourdain and lots of wincing as dishes are tasted.
"The Taste" has still fared well in the ratings. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the show's Jan. 22 debut averaged a solid 2.2 rating among adults ages 18 to 49, or just a little over 6 million viewers. That rating's one-tenth of point higher than the "Dancing With the Stars" kickoff for its current season.
Pechal's appearance on "The Taste" was some nice prime-time exposure for one of Sacramento's signature chefs, but that's likely where the impact ends for Sacramento's dining scene. Does anyone have a better sense of San Diego's dining culture from watching Malarkey on "The Taste?"
Pechal still did well with introducing some of his fellow contestants to Sacramento. Many of them attended his weekly viewing parties at Restaurant Thir13en, and one chef who was cut early from the show scoped out a possible job opportunity in Sacramento a few weeks ago.
That's to say that Pechal's run on ABC might be done, but there's plenty more to taste from him.
"I want to spend a little more time at Tuli, but also want to move in the direction of doing stuff outside the restaurants," said Pechal. "I can see a book being a reasonable goal for the next year or so. You might just be seeing a little more of Adam Pechal."