The Food Network prides their self on showcasing some of the most revered chefs in the world—so, it was time for the cooking challenged got their chance to learn to their way around a kitchen from the pros. Enter Worst Cooks in America premiering on the Food Network on January 3rd at 10pm ET. The premise is simple—twelve of the country’s self-professed, gastronomic disasters are divided into two teams (Red and Blue). They enter a ten-day culinary boot camp with a $25,000 prize for the last chef standing. Team Red is lead by Chef Anne Burrell (recurring sous chef on Iron Chef America and host of the Food Network’s Secrets of A Restaurant Chef) while Team Blue is helmed by Chef Beau MacMillan (a one-time Iron Chef America winner). Turning their teams of hapless wannabes into respectable cooks was no easy feat. It tested their skills—and patience—to the extreme! So, Radar Online caught up with Beau and Anne to chat all about the daunting task of making America’s worst cooks into superstars!
RadarOnline.com: What made you want to do this show?
Anne: I spent a few years in my career as a culinary school teacher and that’s what I do on my show Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. I feel like that’s what I do—I teach people. It’s about trying to teach people technique so they understand when doing other recipes.
Beau: I just thought the concept was killer and so I knew I would grow and learn from it. I saw the opportunity to share my passion and if I could walk away inspiring some people and sharing some things with them that they didn’t know before—that was a win for me. The contestants still contact us and tell us what they’re making and are like, ‘Oh, I made my first braised, short ribs this weekend’ and I’m jazzed about that.
Anne: I think these people applied the confidence they got from this show to a lot of parts of their life. The whole thing was a growing process for all of us. I know it was a reality show but I was so unprepared for the real part of the show and people’s real reactions to everything. When people got sent home and there was tears and how scared they were doing the challenges and how they were pushing themselves and you could really see them trying.
RadarOnline.com: You had to taste a lot of bad dishes from hopeful contestants before the top twelve were chosen. Were you worried about getting sick?
Anne: Food poisoning wasn’t really an issue. It just all looked really bad and tasted bad. This one girl made “turnip surprise.” If you know that you’re really not a good cook—ingredients like rhubarb are not the things to work with! Then there was another who made Goulash with flour and mustard.
Beau: I blocked that one out!
Anne: What about the girl that made pasta with olives and powdered cheese sauce and pineapple for crunch? Like what? It was a hot mess.
Beau: Your memory is spot on. All I remember thinking is it’s gotta get better than this. And then the next one came and nope and then the next . . . it just went from bad to worse!
RadarOnline.com: Is there such a thing as “raw talent” when it comes to cooking?
Anne: Clearly there are people that have more natural talent than others. But, for the home cook, you need to read your recipe from start to finish, pace yourself and really know what you’re doing and get all your prep work done first. Cooking isn’t rocket science but it needs to be learned. It’s not a genetic thing. You’re not born knowing how to cook.
RadarOnline.com: Were you afraid any of the contestants would be hopeless?
Beau: These people came in initially and said, ‘Look how bad I am.’ But they saw how serious Anne and I were as chefs and all of the sudden you realize how badly they wanted to learn and wanted to try. We gave them some basic skill sets and put them in these challenges but really they felt the heat of that kitchen instantly.
RadarOnline.com: How did you walk that delicate line of teaching without their hurting feelings?
Anne: The contestants went into this knowing that they’re terrible cooks so if they make any sort of progress at all than it’s a victory for everybody. And, you can definitely be honest and tell them that things aren’t perfect but I always try to give something on the flip side that’s positive as well.
Beau: Anne was awesome at that. I mean from one day to the next you have a frontrunner on your team and you’re thinking this person is my best guy and tomorrow – boom – they’re done. So the contestants got to see each other fail and they got to see each other succeed. But, in the scope of things, what I feel was nice about it was we were allowed to be who we are. They gave us those tools and let Anne and I be brutally honest when we had to. We got to be a coach and be inspiring and could teach and be a friend. There was an emotional connection. Our goals were to get everyone up for the challenges. And if these guys didn’t make it – everyone knew it and they could have picked for themselves who was staying and who was going home.
RadarOnline.com: It seemed like in the first episode, a lot of the cooks tried to put their own spin on their assigned dishes. What were they thinking?
Anne: I’d get frustrated when I’d say ‘Do it like this’ and they purposely took a left turn. It’s like, you know you’re here because you’re bad – why are you trying to put your own thumbprint on it?
Beau: They’re their own worst enemies. A lot of it comes down to basic common sense and when something is good as is – leave it alone. Most people want to put their own interpretations on stuff and that’s when you’ll start seeing disasters happen.
RadarOnline.com: What were your biggest surprises from the show?
Anne: We had the contestants cook seafood in the first episode and many had never eaten it before! They were like, ‘I’ve never had clams!’
Beau: I’ve worked with a lot of culinary students that are right out of school so they had a basic premise. But, with these contestants you really had to be so precise with instruction or else they were lost. That was a shocker for me.
RadarOnline.com: Both of you have been on Iron Chef America. Did that experience prep you in any way for this show?
Anne: For me, I’ve done Iron Chef about twenty-five times and it played no part in this. Iron Chef is about as extreme as it gets and there is no room for failure or wasting time. If you make a mistake there, you’re really screwed.
Beau: After my Iron Chef experience, I don’t think there was anything in life that can intimidate me or get inside my head like that. That was the most pressure I’ve ever faced in my life. Anne, twenty-five times? Unbelievable, I tip my hat off to that. I think about the other Iron Chefs that are hanging out there night after night and I went on it one time and I prepared for like three months! Once I found out I was going to be on the show, I had a few weeks before it happened and I think I slept about three hours a day. I was in constant fear. There was no room for failure. I think for Anne and I, we had a lot of different roles on the show. We were teachers and we got to help people succeed and compete in all these factors and the twelve teammates really felt the intensity.
Anne: I’m sure to them that this show felt like Iron Chef because of the intensity they felt when they’re looking at the clock and going through some of the challenges that we put them through.
RadarOnline.com:What are your tips for first-time cooks?
Anne: Food is like a dog—it smells fear. If you’re nervous while cooking, your food will act accordingly. I feel like a mom saying this but read your recipes all the way through before you start. Read it and understand it. Don’t get out all the ingredients and not prep anything and turn on the burner and start throwing things into the pan. You will make a mistake. And, taste things as you’re going along!
Beau: It’s the same advice that I gave to the contestants. Cooking is like little league—you have to love the game of baseball before you can be good at it. Before the technique and before the skill and before the lessons come—you have to love to cook. As a chef, you succeed and fail every day in a restaurant. You have to learn to be okay with that because most of your greatest successes will come from the failures.
RadarOnline.com: What are some of your own bad cooking experiences?
Beau: I remember a point in my early culinary career where I didn’t know sh** and I got beat up in the kitchen. I was willing to take it and grew a thick skin. I realized I had to listen and be a part of the team. I had to get those fundamentals first before I could function as a chef. I cooked for a good seven, eight years before I felt like I knew what I was doing.
Anne: I agree with that. When you graduate from culinary school, you spend years practicing what you learned and you’re by no stretch of the imagination a chef. And I remember that two or three years after being out of school, light bulbs would go off and I’d realize ‘Oh – that’s why we do that!’ But, I’ve had some screw ups and think it’s the screw ups and learning to cook on the fly that helps your creativity get better. A lot of good dishes come from screw ups.
RadarOnline.com: What are your tips for preventing kitchen disasters?
Beau: I like tequila. That’s usually my answer! A little 1942 Don Julio never hurt nobody! Seriously, I think with professional chefs, we plan out our cooking timelessly and we plan things out in stages and we monitor our time so we never really have too much going on at once so it never gets overwhelming. And I see people get into their kitchens and try to do too many things all at once and all of the sudden it’s a nightmare. You’ll see some episodes where people can’t manage their time or prep schedule and it’s like two sinking ships colliding.
Anne: And some people can’t break down the jobs and they try to look at the whole picture rather than one little piece at a time. And when they look at the whole picture they got completely overwhelmed and they lose it.
Beau: I’ve had some of the most beautiful dishes in my life and food that really inspired me in texture to flavor and these dishes had four ingredients and that’s just what it says about cooking and that less is more factor. Use what you have, use it in its best qualities and let the ingredients do the work for you.
Anne: Especially when you’re new and not sure what you’re doing. The more complicated it is, the more places you have to screw up. In the beginning, it’s best to start basic with just really great ingredients and with the more confidence you get, work up to things that are more difficult. I like simple dishes. That’s how I like to cook and that’s how I like to eat.
RadarOnline.com: Do you think your ‘worst chefs’ can now call themselves ‘good chefs?’
Anne: I do think that everyone who made it through really did make progress.
Beau: They made progress and we got them to respect the craft and the art of cooking. And, maybe some of these guys even have a real passion for food and an understanding of what we go through on a daily basis. I think they all took something away whether it was the joy and love of cooking or the camaraderie and competition of team work. That was amazing and what I love.
RADARONLINE.COM: What are your own philosophies when it comes to cooking?
Anne: Well, my holy trinity in the kitchen is salt, olive oil and bacon. I work mostly in the Italian vernacular so simple and seasonal.
Beau: My style is something that’s developed and hopefully continues to evolve but I like to serve farm fresh American fare with Asian accents. That’s what I’m doing right now. But, just love the products and love the food and cook beautiful things for beautiful people and beautiful places and there you go!