Sunday, January 3
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.