One-on-One With the Latest Red Team Recruit to Go Home — Worst Cooks in America by Maria Russo in Shows, March 3rd, 2013
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For the 14 recruits competing on Worst Cooks in America, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime to learn kitchen basics and culinary how-tos from Anne Burrell and Bobby Flay — two of New York City’s top restaurant chefs and some of Food Network’s most celebrated stars. It’s up to the contestants to use the tools the chefs provide to learn how to master certain skills on their own and demonstrate progress in the kitchen. Despite their best efforts, however, one recruit from Chef Anne’s Red Team and another from Chef Bobby’s Blue Team will ultimately succumb to the challenges of Boot Camp week after week as they compete for $25,000 and bragging rights for their coach.
Check back with FN Dish every Sunday after the episode for the first interviews with the latest eliminated contestants to read their exclusive reflections on the competition, thoughts on difficult challenges, plans for the future and more.
For the first time in Boot Camp, the recruits were forced to put their developing culinary chops to work on the sweeter side of food: dessert. They met their mentors in the kitchen of Il Laboratorio del Gelato to learn the how-tos of making from-scratch Italian ice cream and hand-formed waffle cones, on which they’d soon put their own individual spins using signature flavor combinations and select ingredients. After undergoing a blind tasting, Sue’s and Michael’s gelatos were found to be the least successful of the day on account of odd taste and poor texture. Sue continued to struggle during the next day’s Main Dish Challenge, when she prepared a cheese-stuffed burger that Chef Anne found to be painfully dry. But given that he made a grilled cheese sandwich during the hamburger cook-off, Aadip’s dish was quickly named the other flop of the day, especially since it was contaminated and thus off-limits for tasting. In the end, Chef Anne asked Aadip Desai to turn in his apron, but he promised, “This is really just the beginning for me in terms of learning how to cook.”
What do you think was your greatest challenge in Boot Camp?
AD: Meat, meat, meat and more meat. Hands down, all the meat. When you haven’t eaten flesh in almost 20 years and suddenly you have to cook it, know how it’s supposed to look and know what it’s supposed to taste like, that’s a tremendous challenge. I was terrified to taste the meat, but I had to. It would be like saying to a nonmusician, learn a country song and play it back on a guitar in an hour, but you are tone-deaf, you haven’t heard country music in decades and you don’t even know how to tune a guitar. Um, OK. The last thing I wanted to do was poison someone, especially a person with so many shows on Food Network. You’d have to air dozens of reruns without a functioning Anne Burrell. During the burger demo, I accidentally swallowed some lamb bits and got very ill. I was chugging Pepto-Bismol backstage just to get through the rest of the day. But, I know I made my family proud because I stepped up and tried my best. I butchered and cooked meat as well or better than some of the other contestants who are seasoned carnivores/omnivores. Did I mention meat?
How was your experience working on a team? Did it teach you something about yourself?
AD: Did you know “team” and “meat” are anagrams? Weird, right? I love working on a team. I’ve played in tons of bands, worked on corporate teams and crewed on film shoots. Worst Cooks wasn’t a true team environment. Although there’s always competition within a team, usually teams focus on beating the other team, not competing against one another to stay alive. Also, not all team members are created equal. Some will answer your questions, others will ignore you and others are just too freaked out. I probably fell into the freaked-out category. Sue and Kitty were especially generous, but we all tried to help each other as much as possible. No judgment here. I genuinely love the Red Team. These people will be my lifelong friends. We’re already planning vacations together. I learned that even though others can be incredibly generous, you’re ultimately on your own…IN LIFE.
Talk to us about the “loops” you’d get stuck in – first the onion loop, then the pin bone loop, the chicken loop and finally the waffle loop. Was it fear that was holding you back, or were you unsure of what you were supposed to do?
AD: Fear and anxiety are huge issues for me in the kitchen. In this case, they short-circuited my ability to perform in such a frenetic environment. I can stay calm in a real-life emergency situation, but somehow Worst Cooks got me all “deer-in-the-headlights.” I’m a pretty kinesthetic learner. I can’t watch a physical activity and flawlessly replicate it under time constraints without practicing it once. Each feedback loop had its own particular complication. Let us call this section “the levying of excuses”:
Onions: Right out of the gates I had written bad notes. I missed the part where you chop through the hairy part of the onion vertically. Also, I was freaking terrified of cooking a pork chop and it made my brain TILT (that’s a pinball reference). I was Einstein’s definition of insane — doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Ultimately I should have thrown caution to the wind, peeled the sucker, chopped it like I had learned nothing and served it. I wasted 15 minutes chopping onions. I’d also like to point out that other folks had trouble with onions, but they weren’t on Anne’s radar as much.
Pin Bones: I tried to feel around for the pin bones, but had a heck of a time. I got all of ‘em out except for maybe one, but I had to cook that fish ASAP. Luckily Anne didn’t bite into a bone. She probably has dental through Food Network, so she would’ve been OK. Plus, the chefs on Chopped forget to grab all the pin bones, so I didn’t feel that bad. They’re pros!
Chicken: Once again, since I haven’t eaten chicken in 20 years and was suddenly tasked with cutting its head and feet off with a cleaver (which I’ve never used and which was not demonstrated), you can imagine why I had trouble. The spine-ectomy was tough because I really had to force the poultry shears through without damaging valuable meat. I wanted to do a nice clean job. My dad was a surgeon and he loved what he did, but you usually don’t eat your patients. He’d probably yell at me more than Anne! I’d rather fix ‘em up, feed ‘em ice cream and let ‘em play Angry Birds on my iPad.
Waffle Cone: I put agave in the waffle cone batter for flavor, which made it too runny, preventing the batter from forming well and crisping up. I didn’t have time to start over with a whole new mixture, so I kept trying to get one or two out the door. Kitty and Sue both tried to make cones from my batter, but didn’t have any luck either.
Cheese: The bread was too thick. I tried an experiment of putting thick mozzarella on a warm surface to see if I could grill it like halloumi. What an idiot. I should’ve gone with my gut feeling — the portabella mushrooms — but I hesitated and went with grilled freaking cheese. Oh well; that was a big mistake and it got me sent home. I should’ve made a straight-up burger with something that used to be alive.
What’s the most valuable culinary lesson you’ll take away from this experience?
AD: Don’t be scared to make mistakes. Just go nuts. Perfection is for professional chefs. Your family doesn’t care that you have uneven knife cuts or that your reduction sauce has a tad too much wine (they’d probably like that). They wanna eat when they’re hungry, not two hours from now when it cuts into Revenge or Scandal. Nothing in the kitchen from here on out will be as stressful as having Anne and Bobby yelling at me while a giant red clock ticks down … I’d also like to point out the second most valuable lesson: “mise en place,” French for “everything in place.” Get your workstation organized and all your ingredients prepped before cooking — it’s huge.
With only four contestants left on each team, is there one recruit on the Red Team that you think is particularly strong, who will give the other contestants the greatest run for their money?
AD: What do I care? I didn’t win the cash. Just kidding. This is like asking me, “who do you want to win?” versus “who do you think will win?” I’m not falling for it, Food Network! I will say that Rasheeda has Anne’s eye, so to speak, so she might bounce through, so to speak. Ciao!
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