One-on-One With the Latest Red Team Recruit to Go Home — Worst Cooks in America by Maria Russo in Shows, March 24th, 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.
In the first challenge of its kind this season, the final four recruits swapped roles with their mentors on Sunday night, communicating via headset the how-tos of creating a dish while the chefs cooked on, not having seen the recipe or finished plate themselves. Working in teams, it was up to the competitors to accurately name the cooking techniques and ingredients they recognized in the plate so that their team leaders could recreate the dish successfully. While Team Bobby’s Alina and Chet were caught up in disagreements and confusion, Team Anne’s Rasheeda and Sue managed to pick out key methods and flavors with relative ease, even identifying the taste of lemon zest in a charmoula sauce, something the Blue Team failed to do. During the next day’s Main Dish Challenge, the recruits were surprised with a visit from their loved ones, who would taste their own and their teammate’s dishes and decide whose they preferred. For their twin sister and son, respectively, Rasheeda and Sue tackled homemade pasta dishes made with fresh, hand-kneaded pasta, and ultimately their loved ones decided that their own family member’s dish trumped that of her competitor. Despite both ladies’ success in this last challenge, Chef Anne could choose only one to compete on her behalf in next week’s finale, and she gave that honor to Rasheeda, which meant that Sue Mangogna turned in her apron after six weeks at Boot Camp.
You seemed to struggle with self-confidence in the beginning of the competition. What happened that caused you to change your outlook and believe in your abilities?
SM: In the beginning of the competition I felt like I was a deer in headlights. I needed to get myself into a groove because that clock above our heads really put a lot of pressure on my performance. I felt as if I was in a rat race against it instead of taking control of the time and focusing on the task at hand. It was getting the best of me and I couldn’t focus. However, being a competitor in athletics my entire life, I told myself that I was here to learn and to do my best; anything less would be disappointing to myself and my son. So I stepped up, forgot the clock and focused on what Chef Anne was teaching me. I was here for a reason – to improve my cooking for my son and me, and I told myself that nothing was going to stop me.
Before going home, you gave yourself a new nickname: “Sue Can Do.” What do you consider to be the most valuable piece of culinary know-how you learned in Boot Camp?
SM: Before I went home, Chef Anne kept telling me “Sue can do,” and believe it or not I found strength and confidence in her words. I know she meant that I can do anything as long as I relax, smile and have a good time in the kitchen, and she couldn’t have been more correct. She believed in me and that meant the world to me, having her confidence, and for that Chef Anne has opened my eyes and mind up to a whole new world. The most valuable piece of culinary know-how that I have learned was definitely the confidence I needed. Chef Anne has given me the tools now to be able to open up her cookbooks and pick absolutely anything out of it and not have the fear I once had. I actually enjoy the challenge now of taking on the toughest recipes in her cookbook, and they have all been delicious. I also acquired measuring skills and my knife cuts have been beautiful. Chef Anne taught me that the size does matter a whole lot when it comes to cooking: if my knife cuts are all different sizes and shapes my food will not cook evenly. That’s huge…who knew? Confidence in my cooking and the ability to enjoy it and have fun have been the gateway to my success in the kitchen, and I will forever be grateful to Chef Anne for this!
What’s your proudest achievement of the competition?
SM: My proudest achievement of the competition was when I actually felt that release that Chef Anne knew I had in me. In the Biker Bar Challenge, I took a deep breath, smiled, laughed and had FUN cooking, and that was when I had one of my biggest personal wins in the competition. I knew then that I could do anything in the kitchen because cooking is enjoyable and so incredibly rewarding. I tapped into my creative side in this challenge and had a good time with it and the outcome was a success for me personally. Winning the challenge was a bonus.
Tell us about your cooking ventures since returning from Boot Camp. What’s the most successful meal you’ve made?
SM: Since Boot Camp I have been cooking every single night at home for my son and me. My goal for being on Worst Cooks in America was to instill the family values I grew up with in my own family – home-cooked meals every night together at the dinner table. Laughing, the conversations, everything always began at the kitchen table – so many beautiful memories. I felt like I was cheating my son out of the amazing childhood I had in which a lot of family values were taught in our kitchen. I had to be a recruit on this show because I wanted so badly to learn how to cook so I could bring back tradition and values, which is so incredibly important. I am so happy to say that I use Chef Anne’s and Bobby’s cookbooks just about every night and my son, Christopher, actually helps me out too. He absolutely loves my cooking now and is proud of me. Having your son say that to you, you can’t put a price tag on that. I am indebted for life to Chefs Anne and Bobby for giving me the tools to put the last piece of the puzzle together in making my kitchen a warm and inviting place for my son and me to create the most incredible memories together. Not only is Anne Burrell an amazing chef, she is an equally amazing teacher, and it has been my honor and great pleasure having this incredible and unique opportunity to work with her and learn all she has to offer and teach. Bobby Flay and Anne Burrell together – although their cooking techniques and tastes differ – is what made for a perfect food marriage. They complement each other beautifully as a team and really made this Boot Camp a life-changing experience.
What advice would you give future Worst Cooks recruits to help them make it to the final four of the competition?
SM: The advice I would give to Worst Cooks competitors to help them make it to the final four is to take deep breaths. Allow what each chef is teaching you to soak in, pay less attention to the clock and more attention to your inner you and believe in yourself. The chaos will be there, believe me, but smile and HAVE FUN because when you are happy, everything in life comes out better.
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