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.
Since many of the recruits have unhappy memories of making loved ones sick with underdone, overcooked and simply poorly prepared plates, this week’s challenge of cooking food for strangers was an unpleasant surprise. Working in teams at a local grocery store, contestants had just one hour to shop for ingredients and cook up a selection of Asian-inspired dumplings that would be served to supermarket shoppers. Although Chef Anne’s team was ultimately deemed less successful than Chef Bobby’s, the Red Team mentor was wowed by her contestants’ performances, each managing to craft from-scratch gyoza, shu mai and wontons successfully in the allotted time. During the next day’s Main Dish Challenge, however, several of her competitors were more disappointing as they worked to serve chicken wings and casual appetizers to a crowd of bikers at a waterside bar in Brooklyn. In an effort to prepare Asian-style wings, Michael attempted to dress his wings with a ginger-mango glaze, but after just a few bites of the wings, Chef Anne noticed they were wholly devoid of taste, lacking any semblance of mango. Rasheeda’s wings, too, were met with criticism; while they were flavorful, they were undercooked, which caused them to be “flabby,” Chef Anne said. This shortcoming, however, wasn’t enough to send her home, and in the end, Michael Haydin turned in his Red Team apron.
You said after the competition that you think you’ve “done the whole nerd community proud.” What have your fellow accountant buddies said about your run on television?
MH: Well, on the whole I think I didn’t let them down, most of my friends are amazed I made it as far as I did. I can honestly say I did my best and am pretty shocked with how far I made it, but I also don’t think I’ll be quitting my day job anytime soon to pursue a career in the kitchen. I just hope that any clients who were watching keep in mind I’m better at taxes than cooking! Ah well, I think I came across as ready and willing to learn, which is all I could really ask for.
Which challenge in particular was the most difficult for you? Why?
MH: The cake challenge. I’ve absolutely never baked anything and WOW that was hard. That was the only challenge that I felt totally overwhelmed the entire time. Chef Ron Ben-Israel was just so effortless with his demonstration that I think I underestimated both how difficult it would be to decorate the cake and how much time decorating would eat up. Plus my “red” buttercream never really got much past pink … and I’m not very artistic. All in all, that was the one challenge I wasn’t really mentally prepared for, and obviously my performance suffered.
Talk to us about your day at the gelato lab. Before cooking began you tasted the chefs’ gelatos — despite your lactose intolerance — and fell sick. Do you regret tasting the ice cream, and do you blame it for your next-to-last-place finish that day?
MH: I wish everyone at home could taste how delicious that gelato was. It was delicious. I mean really delicious. I mean the most-delicious thing you’ve ever tasted. I mean so delicious you’d give your right arm to keep eating it. That is definitely the reason for my second-to-last placing that day. I was feeling so awful I couldn’t focus on anything and only got through that challenge because of Sue.
Now that you’ve survived five weeks of Boot Camp, do you finally feel like you fit in better with your wife’s food-loving family? Have you finally mastered the art of grocery shopping for the correct, intended items?
MH: Absolutely! I can hold my own in the kitchen, and although I still am not really sure where things are in the store, at least I know what they are! In all seriousness, though, I am now good enough that I can be my wife’s sous chef without being a total liability. It has taken cooking from being a chore Liana would have to do without me to something that we really enjoy doing together, and I think we will keep cooking together for a long time.
What’s the most-valuable skill Chef Anne taught you during your time in Boot Camp?
MH: Cooking is not rigid and is something that, in many ways, can be experimented with. I think Chef Anne showed me that, if you’re not afraid to try, you can be successful, even if you aren’t really sure what you’re doing. Plus, problem solving in cooking is much easier than I thought it was. Chef Anne was always talking about “low-tech solutions” to cooking problems, and it’s true: If you’re willing to put some thought and effort into what you’re making, it can turn out alright, even if you don’t have a ton of experience.
Tell us about the food scene at the Worst Cooks house. We saw an empty refrigerator during the takeout challenge, but did anyone at least attempt to cook? Any stories to share from behind the scenes?
MH: We did have some of our own cooking nights at the cast house. I remember the Red Team made some really yummy porchetta one night with potatoes, Brussels sprouts, sage, rosemary, garlic and celery (of course!). By the end we were cooking quite a bit, cooking almost anything we could get our hands on, from steaks to burgers to tofu to noodles to stir-fry to lasagna — anything really. I think by the time I was eliminated we were all having a lot of fun with it.
Since you’ve returned home, have you put any of your newly acquired culinary know-how to work? What’s been the most-successful meal you’ve made your family?
MH: There’s quite a few meals I’ve gone for with reckless abandon since I’ve been home, some more successful than others. The most successful I’ve made that come to mind include braised lamb shanks, from-scratch pasta and meatballs, chicken scarpariello with polenta for 40 people, smothered pork chops, flat-iron steak … actually I think I’ve tried to cook a little of everything since I’ve been back. Except for cakes. I’m still scared to try cakes.
The competition is down to just Sue and Rasheeda on the Red Team. Looking ahead to the finale, which of the ladies would you choose to represent your team in front of the culinary experts?
MH: Man, that’s a tough question. Sue has an underdog thing going on right now. She started slow in this competition but has been surprising people for a while now. Still, I think I’d pick Rasheeda; she’s been going strong for a few weeks now and seems to have really hit her stride. I have to say, there’s some pretty stiff competition over on the Blue Team, though.
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