"We don't know about a second season yet but we are cautiously optimistic."
Tonight, two former kitchen disasters will go head-to-head in the Worst Cooks in America finale (10 p.m. ET on Food Network). Anne Burrell, a Food Network fixture and chef-coach of the culinary boot camp's Red Team, recently chatted about her experience on Worst Cooks with a small roundtable of bloggers (so if you catch portions of this Q&A on other sites, that's why!) Read on for her thoughts on teaching extreme novices to cook, breaking into TV, and returning to the restaurant kitchen.
What's the biggest challenge of working with true novices? They get in their own heads and psych themselves out. They get nervous and don't stop and synthesize the information. It's a stressful situation, with cameras everywhere. They really do a good job of overcoming some of these challenges. The pasta the other night, I was really proud of how all of them did. All of the recipes they used, I had written, and they're deceivingly simple dishes. The end result is a big payoff, but the process to get there is very simple.
What inspired you to sign on for Worst Cooks? Is it more about the competition between you and Beau, or about teaching people to cook? I would say the latter, inspiring these people. The same way as you create a dish and watch it all come together, I'm creating cooks. You start with something that's kind of a hot mess that turns into something really great.
How did you decide to become a chef? Were you ever as bad as the worst cooks? Happily, no, I was never that bad. That's not to say I never had some serious mistakes in my career. I just always decided to consult a cookbook, which rarely any of these people do. I started waiting tables in college and realized how much I loved the business and loved to cook. I decided to go to culinary school and never looked back.
Do you think throwing contestants into boot camp is really an effective method of learning to cook? Clearly, when you get a formal education, it takes a lot longer. If you want to be a home cook, just have fun with it. Pick up a couple cookbooks. You're gonna make some mistakes, just go in and try it.
What surprised you the most? People ended up really caring about each other. It was a really hard thing to watch Jenny crash and burn the way she did [in the hors d'oeuvres challenge], it made me really upset. Starting from where they did, it was a big transformation. It hadn't even occurred to me at first that this is really real. That makes you care for the people even more.
What do you hope this show teaches people out there watching? That a recipe is a piece of instructional writing. That's a really good place to start. Read the instructions! Know that you're the x-factor, you have the ingredients, there are things that can go wrong. At the end of the day it doesn't have to be that stressful. Food is like a dog, it smells fear.
You were an instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education. Does this show compare at all to that teaching experience? Did you ever have students who were as clueless as the Worst Cooks in America? Definitely in any teaching situation, there are the clueless students, then there are the ones who get it a little quicker. Not so many clueless students in cooking school. When you go to culinary school, you start with the absolute basics. I always started with mise en place just like on the show. One of the culinary producers on the show had actually been my student at ICE. As I started to talk about the mise en place, he said it brought him right back to school.
In the finale [tonight], the finalist from your Red Team has to cook a meal for food critics representing you. Do you feel confident about this? They're representing me for a meal, not opening a restaurant in my name. I feel like I can teach anyone to cook a dinner.
Would you like to do this show again? Of course, absolutely, without even a question! We don't know about a second season yet but we are cautiously optimistic.
How did this experience compare to your other shows on Food Network? Shows on Food Network are so different, it's like comparing apples and oranges to bananas. There are things that I enjoy about each one and things that are stressful about each one—each has a different purpose.
I love the pressure of Iron Chef and working with Mario [Batali] and Mark Ladner, and it's amazing to see what we can create in an hour. In Secrets of a Restaurant Chef it's like a one-on-one cooking experience, like I'm teaching someone individually. You can be your own supastar! Worst Cooks is that on a bigger level, and starting with much less than zero. To see that right before your eyes, it's really special.
How did you make the jump from restaurants into TV? My first foray into TV was doing Iron Chef with Mario, that's how my relationship with Food Network started. I've been doing Iron Chef since the pilot back in 2004, and it just went from there. I do love restaurants, I'm not in one at the moment, which is becoming an apparent hole in my career. I'm getting myself together to get back into restaurants. But TV is a blast, all the amazing opportunities that I've had because of it. I mean, being on the Macy's parade Thanksgiving turkey...I got here from being a cook?
With Worst Cooks, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, and Iron Chef America on your plate, will you have time to return to the restaurant kitchen? I hope so...I'm in talks with people currently. It will be something in New York, absolutely.
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