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Sunday, January 3

'Worst Cooks In America' Review - Food Network Addict

For years, standard programming on Food Network meant instructional cooking shows. Trained chefs donning proper attire and expertly sharpened knives navigated around infomercial-like sets in a New York studio where they ad-libbed for 30 minutes straight, only taking time to work in the occasional commercial break or "swap out" a pre-prepared dish to keep things moving.

Then it was deemed that kind of programming didn't reflect "real life' America. The perceived audience (stay-at-home housewives) lead a busy life. They didn't have the time to sit in the kitchen for hours cooking recipes that needed 30+ ingredients.

Instead of thirty ingredients it become thirty minutes. In walked Rachael Ray.

But as quick and easy as it is, Rachael Ray and her trademark 30 Minutes Meals are not real life. Her shows are highly orchestrated with super luscious looking ingredients fit for TV. Also, what housewife wouldn't want someone standing right outside their own kitchen always preparing the same exact meal exactly one-step behind them, ready to pop in at a moment's notice and erase any mistakes?

And that's why I like Worst Cooks In America so much.

In this 5-week elimination series, 12 of the worst cooks in America—and they are bad—come to New York and work with chefs Anne Burrell and Beau MacMillan in a "culinary bootcamp" for the chance to cook for food critics (there's a twist) and a $25,000 prize.

What's so entertaining about this series is the same thing that works for so many other reality TV shows: watching people initially fail, often in humorous ways, only to get built up to greatness.

But it's the failing that we all secretly enjoy. Why else would American Idol both showing the audition episodes if all we cared about was the sappy winner's sendoff song? The miserable failing is what makes it a little easier to sit on the couch and judge people through the TV screen. "Well, I know I could do better than that!"

In the premiere episode, the top 24 have to prepare a signature dish that best represents their cooking ability. I laughed out loud at some of the contestants' dishes: a whole boiled chicken with swiss cheese melted on top, "peanut butter encrusted cod", and triple chocolate pancakes that the contestant likens to cow patties.


Exaggerations aside (and it is hard to tell if some of these contestants are for real or not), I'd guess that a good portion of America really is about this clueless when it comes to cooking. Many are surely unaware what mise en place and shocking vegetables--two things mentioned in this first episode--means.

Some contestants seem to have a sense of humor about themselves and their abilities. Others seem genuinely upset by their shortcomings and desperate to change. I think if this limited series can keep the humor and lightness up and the tears down (the first ep already had two bouts of crying!), then we're in for a yummy, yummy treat.

Worst Cooks In America premieres TONIGHT, Jan. 3, at 10pm ET.

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At 1/03/2010 12:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This show can't be for real. I'M not there:)

At 1/03/2010 4:17 PM , Blogger sawslow said...

I love to see how far people will go to be on TV, and this show should be good, I mean really, people who can't cook? In this day and age of recipes off the web and cooking shows.

Crying?? is there crying in cooking? Because there seems to be no crying in modeling or fashion.

At 1/03/2010 4:57 PM , Blogger Karen said...

I never learned to cook growing up. My mother hated cooking and cooked the same five things over and over. (I had ground beef smothered with ketchup and called "meatloaf" once a week for 18 years.) I had to teach myself to cook, and I found cooking shows invaluable (particularly America's Test Kitchen, which is great at teaching the basics). I think a "cooking boot camp" could be helpful to a lot of people. I intend to watch it - I might even pick up a few new skills!

At 1/03/2010 11:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I LOVE Anne Burrell, she's not a skinny stick, she's natural, funny, and who in the hell is this on the show? Who did her makeup? Where is her spunk? I dunno but I don't think this one is a keeper.

At 1/04/2010 2:17 AM , Anonymous S03 said...

If you believe that the yodeling frat boys who audition in the early rounds of American Idol are serious, then you'll love this show. Seems like a bunch of people suffering from fame-lust or assorted other mental retardation being led around by an overdirected Anne Burrell and some other guy.

Another FoodNetwork miss for anyone with half a brain.

At 1/04/2010 3:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought the show was average overall, but one moment made me laugh until I cried: When Wilhelmina strategically placed her silverware over her dish "to make it more enticing," it was priceless!

At 1/04/2010 6:01 PM , Blogger Lord of Light AZ said...

Show was kind of fun to watch.

To bad they kept Eddie. Hamed knew not to put the clams on the dish since they didn't open.

At 1/04/2010 8:08 PM , Blogger Leslie said...

From what I've read, FN has gotten heavily into competition shows to attract more male viewers.

Jake, I'm surprised (and disappointed) that you didn't weigh in on last night's 2 hour long ICA.

At 1/07/2010 5:31 PM , Blogger Jennifer said...

I really wanted to like this show, but I found it very fake and scripted. The melodrama at the end during the elimination portion sealed the deal for me. Not sure I will watch much more of this, but I'll give it another shot to see if it feels a little more real.

At 1/08/2010 4:40 PM , Anonymous Swissmiss said...

It's too bad they booted off so many at the end of the first show. EVERYONE should have had a few days intensive training and then the competition would start.

And the least they could do to the losers is give them some simple cookbooks when they get booted off.

At 1/10/2010 10:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a total cheating show .. Esp people like Rebecca Hooper she knows cooking very well, and moreover for everything she says .. my family my kid .. well is she fighting in iraq ? Stop this drama, its already a bad show, this drama is killing whatever is left, drop this useless reality hungry person. Its a fake show.

At 1/11/2010 2:32 PM , Blogger Greg said...

I really wanted to like this show too but, in addition to the fact that it seems so scripted and contrived, does this not go against everything Food Network has ever tried to stand for: cooking is not complicated, everybody can do it, no need to be afraid.

So they take these nice "home cooks", subject them to intermediate level dishes, then intimidate the hell out of them? What are they taught the second show? How to chiffonade? I consider myself a very good cook and I don't worrry about chiffonading stuff very often. How about more instruction on seasoning? Cooking meat? And then the bit where they erase a somewhat complex multi-step recipe? Yes, by all means, new cooks should feel like crap, afraid, confused, like cooking is insurmountable.

And this is not Top Chef, where the loser is already accomplished. Why not give each person who loses some instruction in his/her state, a great way to promote local cooking schools - because isn't the goal of FN that everybody can learn to cook?

It was fun at first, now it's just mean.

At 1/14/2010 1:09 PM , Blogger Jonathan said...

Exactly how I felt watching it. I felt uncomfortable watching Kelly get kicked off. She seemed like she was really disappointed in herself. I was hoping that the boot camp would be training and then they would compete with each other, but instead the boot camp is the competition. I'm a teacher, but I don't think it's too big of a secret that teaching through intimidation and humiliation isn't always the best strategy. I'm surprised that other contestants haven't spoken up like Jennifer has.
I think this is a case of looks good on paper but wasn't made well. The production is awful, and the sets are ugly. What is with that hideous sheet/curtain thing that is a backdrop I think when Anne does the elimination, did anyone notice that? Also, Anne with her weird noises is not my favorite personality, but this show stifles her to having no personality. Why is she such a hard ass? And there is no character development (or whatever the real life equivalent is) for the contestants, I feel like I know nothing about them except for that Rebecca has a family.
Bad move, Food Network. I was hoping it would be funny, but it is sad and embarrassing.

At 1/16/2010 10:36 AM , Blogger Charles said...

I ditto Jonathan's comments. I feel Anne's real personality is that of which she displays on her weekend FN show. In this series, she's albeit sarcastic and not very likeable and I do not wish to watch her on this horrid show.

At 1/17/2010 5:42 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your characterization of the way FN used to be is way off. They didn't do 30-ingredient meals, but they did cook. And when they ad-libbed it was usually fairly good. Sara Moulton even used to answer people's call in questions on the air -- something Aida could never dream of doing.

Taking out a pre-made dish to show how it turns out is one way of doing things, you may not like it but it's just as effective as the time-lapse that they use now (you don't think they don't tape that separately, now do you?) And most of the shows are too over-scripted and with too many stylized shots that simply waste time from teaching something useful. That it now takes 15 hours to tape one of Giada's episodes is proof of it too.

At 1/17/2010 6:46 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This show is ridiculously stupid. The whole point seems to make struggling cooks look bad - I'm not thinking they will like cooking very much when they get done. Anne and Beau are just mean and condescending. I haven't seen them actually "teach" anything. All they do is tell them what they did wrong. I would say, if they didn't cook it well, it's a reflection of the poor teaching job. I had hoped to learn something from this show, some good cooking basics, but clearly it's just feeding the chefs egos and showing how little they understand mainstream America.

At 1/17/2010 10:55 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this show because of the Harry Potter look alike. She cracks me up. :)

At 1/17/2010 11:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great news, Harry is still on the show!!!

At 1/18/2010 3:47 AM , Blogger foodguy said...

Terrible show. Just what these contestants need lots of pressure and impossible tests. It's obvious they don't know the basics. So teach them some basics. Bechamel sauce PLEASE! Using spices and herbs they are best unfamiliar with. Setting them up for stress and failure. I'd be surprised if they learn anything except fear and even go into a kitchen again. Bad format.

I have a better test, see if these CHEFS can really teach. Give them a month to turn them into cooks and then a series of competitions.

Or better yet each chef has to teach something each week and then the teams compete. After 3 losses the CHEF whose team looses gets booted off, because obviously they're a bad teacher. This way the CHEFS might have to actually think about teaching people who have few kitchen skills and are not comfortable cooking.

Because of the time limit, most very good home cooks would have some trouble with these tests.

I would certainly not want either of these CHEFS as my teacher. They're impatient, terrible, and snarky.

At 1/19/2010 11:05 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

FN has gotten into competitions, for whatever reason. They seem so anxious to give away money just to get ratings. I think this show is just for entertainment rather than what it says its purpose is. Somebody threw this together pretty fast.

At 1/22/2010 9:12 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this show COULD have been really great if FN had been able to imbibe more empathy and less competetion. The contestants are pretty likable and it's a shame the FN isn't highlighting the fun stuff. Only all the formulaic drama reality-TV crap. For pete's sake, what's up with all the crying???? I wanted to puke when they showed Rebecca getting choked up about pleasing Beau. Puh-leeez. And then there's that wierd love triangle with Ann, Harry Potter and Betty Page... That said, I really love all the average joes on there. Go Mark! I love that guy.

At 1/26/2010 11:37 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Show seems way to fake. Like the idea, but come on, boiled chicken with melted cheese on top. Way to hokey, but I am watching it.

What I fail to understand time after time with these competition shows is the food selection and or dishes. I really feel that 75% of what the chefs on the network make, we would never make in a million years.

At 1/31/2010 10:36 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 1/31/2010 10:36 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 2/01/2010 9:34 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harry's last chance to show Dumbledore that she is the real deal. "B.E.A.T BEAT THAT CREAM!!!"

At 2/01/2010 11:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The students at Hogwarts are going to be eating great now. Harry won the challenge, you go ya wizard you :)


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