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February 13, 2012 / beatricebunny

Worst Cooks S3 Ep1

Last night was the season premiere of season 3 of Worst Cooks in America.  As I mentioned in my introductory post, I love this show.  There is something really exciting about watching a bunch of people learn a new skill and get really excited about their accomplishments.  In past seasons, this show has refreshingly lacked the irony, self-awareness, and gamesmanship of other reality shows.  I hope that those qualities remain through this new season.

Tentatively, I plan to write about each episode, since the show is related to cooking and something I enjoy.  Just to get a few things out of the way:

  • I am unapologetically Team Burrell.  I admit that I am not the biggest fan of Bobby Flay, and I love Anne Burrell.  Normally, I root for the underdog, but, I am all about Miss Undefeated here.  Go Red!
  • These posts will have spoilers.  I’ll include a spoiler alert.
  • I also live-tweet the show using the #worstcooks tag.  You can follow me at twiterlessterri– or not.  I don’t promise that my heat-of-the-moment comments will jive with my morning after comments.  So it goes.

RECAP (This means spoilers)

Episode One, started of course, with the search for the actual worst cooks  in America.  My husband and I wonder when someone is going to sneak by this process, after all, at Season 3, these people have to know the score.  In a new twist, the contestants selected then had to cook a meal that “represented them” for Anne and Bobby.  I remember being an epically bad cook at one time in my life.  I know a lot of people find the food served on this episode completely unbelievable, but as someone who once turned fried eggs and sausage a drab green color, I am willing to suggest that terrible cooks, pressured to be “creative” would come up with exactly the sorts of things these people served up.

For all that the show plays up the drama and the gross factor, if you listen to the critiques, they are the same mistakes that we all make learning to cook:  Overdone, underdone, over-seasoned, under-seasoned.  Bad flavor combos.  Failure to understand the chemistry of cooking.  (and thanks to Google, I know that dishwasher salmon is an actual thing real people do…)

The other issues, and to me the more interesting ones, are the ones that come from the fact that cooking is a skill.  Most contestants- and many viewers- think that people just should magically know how to cook.  They are amused by  Melissa trying to cover the top of the blender with her hand.  (Did the poor girl also never make a margarita?)  The fact is, all of us who learned to cook did so through trial and error and made our own share of mistakes.  Some people made those mistakes at nine or ten years old, some make them at 30.  Fortunately, most of us didn’t make them on National television.

The first challenge brought these issues to the fore.  Breakfast food has a couple of things going for it as a first challenge.  First, many people (including me) start their cooking journey with breakfast.  Eggs are cheap and allow for a lot of variations.  Second, to cook a breakfast that doesn’t involve cold eggs, hard eggs, and/or burnt eggs, timing is paramount.  Eggs, bacon, and pancakes require a certain level of multitasking and organization – what the don’t require is knife skills.

A lot of the drama comes from not understanding how cooking works – the process.  In order to complete a meal effectively, you need to be organized and focused.  Mise En Place is not just about putting your food in pretty prep bowls or wasting your time cutting up veggies ahead of time.  Just last week, I planned to make cardamon lamb tagine.  In prepping my Mise En Place, I discovered that I was completely out of cardamon.  Fortunately, since I hadn’t started cooking yet, this let me make some decisions about the future of the dish before me.  It’s so much easier to keep the prep work from getting ahead of me if I do it first – veggies can go into hot oil in the right order.  Items don’t sit on the stove while I search for the next ingredient or chop something that takes longer than expected.  Not every home cook needs to prep every part of the meal ahead of time, but it makes any kind of complicated cooking easier.

The other part of the drama- and the part I have less patience with- are the people who don’t realize that they are terrible cooks.  I get that you may think that you’re an okay (or even good) cook during the selection process, but by the time the show has winnowed down to 16 contestants, those few souls who cling to their abilities just confuse me.  Every season someone goes home because he tries to mask a lack of skill with “creativity.”  So far this season, no one has tried to “improve” Chef Anne or Chef Robert’s recipes, but hey, we are only one episode in.  That time is coming.  It always bemuses me to see some contestant try and “work around” the chefs’ directions.  If they had the ability to do that, they probably wouldn’t be on the show.

So, in episode one, two people went home for very different reasons.  On Chef Bobby’s team, Libby, who couldn’t get organized was sent packing.  Frankly, I think that she was completely intimidated by the whole process.  It did make me sad that she  said that this totally disheartened her and that she would not try and cook again, but I understood her frustration.  Chef Anne sent home Richard, whose attitude clearly hid some serious issues with his lack of cooking skills.  Still, if someone told me that they wouldn’t marry me unless I could cook (or sew, or had good handwriting, or whatever), I’d probably have a little chip on my shoulder too.  Let me just say about his girlfriend – WTF?  And to Richard, if she is putting these kind of conditions on the relationship now, don’t think that she is ever going to satisfied with you.

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