One-on-One With the Worst Cooks in America Winner by Maria Russo in Shows, March 31st, 2013
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After besting 12 rival recruits in a six-week Boot Camp, the top two Worst Cooks in America contestants took to the professional kitchen at New York City’s The Dutch restaurant for a finale cook-off to be judged by three no-nonsense culinary experts, Chefs Anita Lo, Frank Cardoz and Andrew Carmellini. The Red Team‘s Rasheeda Brown and the Blue Team‘s Alina Bolshakova relied on the teachings of their mentors to successfully compete against the clock and create not just everyday dishes but a restaurant-quality feast, complete with appetizer, entree and dessert courses.
Together with Alina, Chef Bobby designed a finale menu focusing on “big, bold flavors” in plates of garlic-laced shrimp atop polenta, spice-rubbed pork tenderloin with pesto and a sweet bread pudding. He wanted his “wild card” recruit to use the techniques she’d learned in Boot Camp to execute each component successfully, and in the end, her efforts indeed proved effective, as she managed to pull off each course on time and without any severe hiccups in the process. Her fellow competitor, Chef Anne‘s Rasheeda, also offered the judges a menu of awe-inspiring plates, but ultimately, they couldn’t trump the flavor-forward dishes Alina prepared. In the end, Alina Bolshakova was named the winner of Worst Cooks in America and earned $25,000 in prize money for herself as well as sought-after bragging rights for Chef Bobby. For the first time, the Blue Team outcooked the Red Team, ending Chef Anne’s three-year winning streak and her undefeated record.
Congratulations on your win! What does it feel like to be the first recruit who successfully cooked Chef Bobby’s Blue Team to victory?
AB: Thank you very much! And it feels incredible to know that I am the first Blue recruit that has led Chef Bobby to victory, but honestly I couldn’t have done it without his patience and mentorship. Thank God he likes to take risks, ’cause picking me was definitely a risk.
What were you most nervous about in cooking for the panel of culinary experts? Was there one course in particular, or an element of meal prep, that had you especially worried?
AB: Well, the whole concept of cooking for culinary experts was nerve-wracking. But I have to say that meal prep was stressful for me because I had to have everything prepared in the first hour of the cooking time in order for everything else to be completed. I mean, I had to start making my dessert before I actually cooked my appetizer.
Tell us about your cooking ventures since returning from Boot Camp. What are some dishes you’ve made that you’re particularly proud of?
AB: Chicken chasseur is definitely one of my favorites and fish with tomatillo relish. Besides that, I have signed up for some food magazines, and I always wait with anticipation for the next issue so I can learn new recipes and try them out.
Are you cooking for Marshall, the man you care for, on a regular basis? If so, what does he think of your cooking? Does he request one dish in particular?
AB: Yes, I am cooking for Marshall. He now asks me to cook, instead of running the other way when I offer to make something. Marshall is always requesting for me to cook the chicken cutlet that I made on the show and the fish dish. I did make the filet mignon for him the other night, which almost sent me home on the show. And he loved it. I do have to say, not having the timer over your head really helps.
What’s the first thing you bought with your $5,000 Kohl’s gift card and the $25,000 prize?
AB: Knives! When I got home, I was like, “How did I ever cut with these?” And I did get a food processor and a set of pots and pans. And with the prize money, I bought a ticket to go home to Latvia to see my family. I have two little nieces and my brother there and my grandma, and with tickets being so expensive, I don’t get to go very often. So winning this money was truly, truly a blessing. I am going to see them in the beginning of April and I can’t wait!
Looking back on the competition, what was the most-difficult challenge for you? Why?
AB: The hamburger challenge. For some reason, that challenge stressed me out really bad. And also the biker challenge. On the biker challenge, midway through cooking I thought, “Well, I am going home on this one, so I might as well have fun with it.” So I just had to let go and let it play out however it needed to, and at the end, it turned out to be a very fun challenge. I still don’t know how I pulled that one off. Beer, I guess.
How was your experience working on a team? Did it teach you anything about yourself or your cooking style in the kitchen?
AB: Challenging. Blue Team had very strong personalities and they clashed. Not to say that it wasn’t fun, but it was definitely a learning experience, so, of course I have learned a lot about myself — to be more patient and not so Russian. And as far as cooking style, well, I think I showed it on the show. My style was mad scientist style: Take risks, have fun and try not to freak out.
Any last words for your culinary mentor, Chef Bobby?
AB: I would like to thank him from the bottom of my heart for taking a chance on me — and thank him not only for picking me for the finals, but also choosing me for his team in the beginning. That meant a lot. I think he is a great teacher and is very patient and funny. He has a wonderful spirit, so anyone who has him as a coach is a very blessed individual! I will always remember this experience with joy, thanks to Chef Bobby Flay!
Think you have what it takes to go from worst to first? Email us and tell us why you should be on a future season of Worst Cooks in America.