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'Worst Cooks in America' isn't just a title: They're horrible

January 2, 2010 | 10:25 am

Worst Cooks in America

Chef Beau MacMillan said his starring role in the new competition "Worst Cooks in America" left him feeling optimistic about his future.

He knows he'll always have a job.

The chef and culinary instructor said he knew the contestants on the show, which debuts Sunday night at 10 p.m. on Food Network, would need plenty of handholding and help. But he didn't realize just how completely helpless they would be.

In the opening episode, the 12 players -- all competing for a chance at a $25,000 payday -- were asked to serve up a signature dish for MacMillan and fellow chef Anne Burrell. One contestant, Marque Hernandez of Brea, above, prepared asparagus for the judges by cutting off most of the tops -- and serving the hard, stringy bottoms. (He explained that he thought they looked better that way.) Another contestant cooked a whole chicken by plunging it into boiling water, plating it up, and then covering the beige, rubbery skin with a canned sauce. Goulash was made, inexplicably, with rice and lentils thickened with flour and mustard. And one person made a pasta dish and added pineapple at the end. "For crunch."

"These guys could not follow common sense, infantile instructions....They were just deer in the headlights," MacMillan said.

Also in Sunday's episode, the chefs demonstrate a dish and then asked the contestants to recreate it. The recipes were written on a blackboard for all to see. Chef MacMillan lowered the bar on his team even further: He told them to just make the dish "look" like his. Still, several competitors failed in spectacular fashion. One player, realizing she was in trouble, piled serving utensils on top of her dish to hide what was below. Another went crazy with added garnishes. MacMillan looked down at that plate and began fuming, tossing the greenery aside before he would even taste the dish. (Read more about the show here.)

"They would just let their imagination get the best of them every time, and try to do something way out of their range," he said. "There were fires, smoke. It was so hard to watch. They blew up that kitchen every day."

MacMillan said the show wasn't just a culinary bootcamp for the contestants. "It taught me so much about who I am as a teacher." He said the show left him a little sad, as well. "It's a lost art, cooking." Food awareness is greater than ever before in this society -- the cooking shows, the magazines, celebrity chefs, the proliferation of restaurants, the awareness of concepts such as seasonal eating and the slow food and farm-to-table movement, etc. But that doesn't translate into an ability to cook at home.

Which means lifetime employment for a chef and culinary instructor.

--Rene Lynch

Photo caption: Marque Hernandez, left, with chefs Beau MacMillan and Anne Burrell. Photo credit: Food Network.

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