‘Worst Cooks in America’ – Burrell takes the inept under her wing
Now in its 18th season, Food Network’s “The Worst Cooks in America” has corrected the deficient cooking skills of hundreds of home cooks since 2010. It’s a fact not lost on co-host Anne Burrell.
“Tell me about it,” the chef says with a laugh. “It’s like pushing a boulder up a hill all the time and it keeps rolling back on me. That’s the way I feel every time I start a new season.”
Airing Sundays, the new season pairs Burrell with a new co-host, Alton Brown (“Good Eats”), as they each lead a team of decidedly inept cooks in a rigorous boot camp designed to transform their kitchen skills. The recruit who shows the most improvement at the end of the 10 episodes wins a $25,000 grand prize.
According to Burrell, who has been on the show since its premiere, the mistakes mostly fall into the same few categories: knife cuts, not understanding the temperature of their burner, not tasting their food, and probably the biggest sin – a lack of organization.
“People get flustered and they get really disorganized,” she says, “so their workstation is a complete disaster and then they can never figure out which is for what and what’s going where and that kind of stuff, so things just kind of spin out of control that way.”
“I always teach people mise en place,” she continues. “It’s a French term and it means ‘put in place.’ It’s the very first thing you learn in culinary school. It’s the very first thing that I teach people and I tell them, ‘Trust the mise en place process. Get all your prep work done first and then start cooking and you can cook in a really neat, organized way.’ And when they trust it and when they go with it, it really works. … It takes so much stress out of it.”
A former instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, Burrell clearly derives satisfaction from teaching these clueless cooks these life skills, and she’s kept in touch with a number of the show’s success stories. Her enthusiasm for the show and the process of education is obvious.
“I love so much when people come up to me and tell me that, you know, ‘My family and I now cook together’ or ‘This is the only show that my teenager and I can agree on,’ ” she says. “So it brings families together, which makes me absolutely overjoyed. You know, if a family can get together and eat dinner together, or when there’s things in a household when kids don’t know how to cook but are learning and parents really don’t know how to cook and are learning, they come together and they do it together, it’s a lovely thing.
“And to think that a show that I’m on can do this outside of a family just watching TV, it’s another perk to my job for me.”