Every time I saw a preview for the Food Network's "Worst Cooks in America," I changed the channel. I wrote it off as just another reality TV competition loosely based on cooking and didn't think twice about it. But Sunday night, I found myself sitting at home watching TV and stumbled upon the new season. I laughed so hard I started crying and found myself professing out loud, on more than one occasion, "Best show ever, best show ever."
The show's premise involves Bobby Flay and Anne Burrell competing to turn the worst cooks in America into decent cooks. Flay actually owns and runs restaurants around the country, but who exactly is Burrell beyond the spiky-haired, intimidating woman who yells a lot on the network? After a little digging, I discovered she was most recently an instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education and has worked at Felidia, Savoy, Mario Batali's Italian Wine Merchants and Centro Vinoteca.
Why is this show so entertaining? For one thing, the contestants really are the worst cooks ever. During the auditions for the show, one contestant made himself sick with his own food and another proudly proclaimed that her favorite ingredient to cook with was dog food. Dog food! This episode rivaled the best-worst "American Idol" auditions.
The 14 contestants honestly seemed helpless, but a couple stood out for pure entertainment value. My favorite is 47-year-old drug and alcohol counselor Carla Johnson of Long Beach. This woman is a mess, and she's in love with Flay. Luckily, Johnson got put on Flay's team, so viewers were treated to her blowing kisses and making growling noises at him with mock kitty paws. She also lost a nail while making enchiladas and still served the judges her dish. She alone is reason enough to watch the show, but there's more.
Alex Stein from Los Angeles likes to talk fast, rhyme his words and not make much sense at all. In the span of a couple minutes, he was able to drop these gems: "let a player play," "try to put some South in your mouth" and "all day making souffle every day." Genius.
Another contestant, "Big Mike," explained that people call him Big Mike because "my name is Mike and I'm huge." At one point in the episode, he picked up Burrell and threw her over his shoulder, splitting his pants in the process. Writer and musician Aadip Desai is also one to watch. He managed to make a spaghetti dish using peanut butter chocolate candies that he called his maniacal mole marinara mash-up.
Sure, the contestants are entertaining, but there is actual cooking instruction involved. Both Flay and Burrell taught their teams how to do basic tasks such as cutting an onion, roasting potatoes and cooking a steak. I even learned a recipe: Flay's red wine and mushroom sauce.
I'll be eagerly tuning in next week to see what shenanigans these home cooks get themselves into next. It's also fun to look at Burrell and try to imagine what she looks like without hair gel.
"Worst Cooks in America" runs Sundays on the Food Network at 9 p.m.