This season on Worst Cooks in America, 14 new hapless home cooks have joined the ranks to be mentored by chefs Tyler Florence and Anne Burrell. Split into the Blue Team and the Red Team, the recruits face new cooking challenges every week, gathering new cooking skills until just two finalists remain to face off in the last cook-off. That winner will walk away with $25,000 in cash, and his or her mentor will win bragging rights. Unfortunately, every week the two lowest-scoring recruits will be kicked out of Boot Camp. They lose the chance to win the prize money, but they leave with new skills learned from their mentors.
Every Sunday night, FN Dish has the exclusive interviews with the eliminated recruits, one from the Red Team and one from the Blue Team.
This week’s challenges really tested the recruits’ creativity and flexibility, as the competitors faced exotic proteins and whole fish. Working with bison to create a slider, Holgie couldn’t get the meat to stay together, which resulted in a crumbly patty that left Tyler disappointed. Going into the Main Dish challenge, Holgie felt confident she could fillet a fish, but her efforts looked more like a massacre. With not enough time to complete her fish and chips, she rushed into action, forgot to batter some of her fillets, recovered, but then once again rushed, when it came time to fry everything; she ended up overcrowding her pot and turning out soggy fillets. For the second week in a row, Holgie ended up in the bottom two, but this time Tyler sent her home.
Why did you sign up for Boot Camp? What did it mean for you to learn how to cook?
Holgie Forrester: OK. I’m a lady of a certain age. I’m 66 years old, and I’ve never really cooked. I’m not one [who] … knows my way around the kitchen and wanted to fake it to get on TV. … I’ve been married to my husband 30 years, and he’s a pretty good cook. He’s had some health problems, so he eats very, very healthy meals. So, there’s not a lot of extravagant … food preparation going on in my house. I’ve cooked three meals in my life. I can tell you the three meals: One was in 1967 for my history professor at San Jose State. The next one was for a boyfriend [for whom] I made a grilled cheese sandwich, and I thought you deep-fried grilled cheese sandwiches. He took one bite out of it. The grease dripped down his chin. He took it, he threw it in the garbage, and said, “What are you trying to do, kill me?” He left, and I never saw him again. The third time, I cooked for a boyfriend; I made scrambled eggs in the morning, and he took one look at them, put them down the garbage disposal and made them himself. So, that is the extent of my cooking. … So, I thought, if I’m ever going to be exposed to the kitchen, maybe this might be a good time.
How did the Skill Drill challenge go for you? How was it making sliders?
HF: When I looked at the demo, it didn’t seem that difficult, but I also … noticed that Chef Tyler and Chef Anne like things that are a little edgy, a little artsy, and that’s what I like too. So, I tried to do something a little unusual with my slider, but I am not that adept at the different tastes that you put together. … I selected a cheese, Swiss, which was probably not a great idea, which I recognized after Chef Tyler let me taste it, that I should have used … a sharp cheddar … and, of course, I burnt my first bread, so I had to toss it, and for some reason, even though I did the 80/20 on the bison and the fat … my meat wouldn’t stay together. … I believe that I lost some time in the things that are fun to do, which is the, sort of, final preparation of making it look good. I think I made a great sauce, but then I didn’t take advantage of the sauce by doing both sides of the bread … and then I learned also [that] if you’re going to do a mushroom and an onion on a slider, don’t cut it up into little pieces, because you can’t keep it on the little slider. … I should have kept the onion a solid little circle the size of the slider — and same thing with the mushroom. I should have just grilled it as a whole mushroom instead of cutting it up. So, once again, I learned a lot of what not to do. So, I don’t think my slider was all that successful.
During the Main Dish challenge, it looked like you had an issue with frying the fish because of overcrowding, as Tyler pointed out. How were you feeling during the challenge?
HF: Well, I tend to get very enthusiastic, and when I’m doing something I enjoy and I’m running with it, I tend to overdo [it]. …. I knew I had the flame up high enough to really make the batter crispy. … The first couple of pieces of fish I dropped in didn’t have any batter on it. Luckily I recognized that before I put all my fish in. So, I unfortunately put three more pieces of fish (that were battered properly) in the fryer on top of the other one. … I wanted to do potatoes, and I wanted to do the onion rings. So, I went ahead and put those in, because I wanted them to get nice and crispy, too, before time was up, and I could plate them properly. So, yes, I probably gilded the lily until the bow almost broke.
You mentioned to Tyler at one point that you are tougher on yourself. Can you talk about that a little bit?
HF: Yeah. I’ve always been a perfectionist. … When I was a kid in high school, my parents were the kind of parents that came in and saw me at my desk doing my homework all day on a Saturday afternoon and scolded me and told me: “Don’t you ever do that again. Get up from that desk. Go outside. Look at that beautiful day you’re blessed with and never waste another day like that inside sitting at a desk looking at paperwork.” Because I was driving myself. They weren’t telling me to do my homework. I wanted to be Miss Perfect, and I would copy a 10-page report over because maybe I didn’t think it was neat enough. So, I’ve always been that way — very, very driven. And I think I’m Superwoman. I think I can do anything I put my mind to. … And most of my life I’ve been able to do that, but, you know, I’ve come to realize, even at 66, a little bit of wisdom. You can’t do everything all the time and be Superwoman perfect at everything.
Is there a skill or technique that you learned during your time here that you think you’ll use again — maybe something that gave you an aha moment?
HF: Well, it’s wonderful just to know how to properly make breakfast. I never understood that — that technique of scrambling an egg, or even the fried egg. And I feel very confident doing that now, and that’s something I’ll definitely use, and I enjoy knowing that you don’t have to be afraid of the kitchen [and] that you can always take something off the heat [and] that you control the kitchen — it doesn’t control you. … I love Anne’s technique of pickling vegetables. … I know the proper way to cut up a chicken. I could do chicken wings if I had to. I love … that filet mignon. I could do that. That’s not that difficult. … The finished dish looks intimidating … but once you break it down into its particular parts, it’s not really that complicated, and it’s not like you’re trying to do it in 45 minutes for anyone. You could do it at home at a nice leisurely pace, and, yeah, I can prepare, like, the chicken Marsala … [and] even the empanadas.
Will you be using this experience to cook more at home?
HF: Well, yes, because … when you’ve never [been pushed into] a kitchen you sort of push it away, and then the further you push it away, the less likely you’re ever to cross that barrier again, and having lived with my husband for 30 years, and him doing all the cooking, I just didn’t bother. You know, I would go in to try to make coffee, and I’d break the pot on the Mr. Coffee machine. … I was just kind of a klutz in the kitchen, but now I’m not really intimidated by the kitchen. I mean, when I walked in here I didn’t know a whisk from a spider, or, you know, I didn’t know that one appliance could, like, grind meat and make ice cream. … I learned that … a lot of fear is fear of fear itself, of the unknown, and once you’re exposed to it, it’s not so fearful.
How was it working with Tyler?
HF: Now, Tyler is a prince. He’s a prince of a gentleman, and Anne Burrell is pretty wonderful too. I mean, obviously they’re both … [at] the top of their fields, and … I’m sure people would pay a lot of money to be able to study under chefs like this, and here I am. … When [Tyler] looks at you, he looks like he really cares. He’s talking to you. He’s not just role-playing. … When he says, “I’ll give you a hundred percent of what I have,” he lays that at your feet. I mean, he means it. That’s a pretty special thing, and he’s just a gentle giant of a guy. I think he’s a terrific human being. … I get a vibe from people, you know, you get their essence, their aura, and I get that from him that he’s just an all-around pretty terrific guy.
Sum up this experience for the viewers. What has it meant for you to be here?
HF: I’ve done a lot in my life … and I’ve always said there are peak experiences in life, and you either go along and you observe other people living life, doing things, watching them from afar, or you get out there and be proactive and do it yourself, and … I’m very aggressive about that. I want to aggressively participate in life, and at 66 I still feel young and crazy and adventurous, and … I feel like I just want to grab all the gusto I can. I just always wanted to have any experience in life that’s adventurous that I have access to. Why wouldn’t anyone, you know, conduct their life like this? There’s so many people that kind of sit back and coast, and I’ve never been that way. Every time I’ve had the opportunity to take a leap of faith and maybe do something a little bit risky, I’ve never regretted it. The regret would be not to do it.
Now there two people left on your team. Do you see either one of them making it to the end and possibly winning this whole thing?
HF: I don’t know if I should tip my hand. … I hate to judge others, and I hate to be disloyal, and I hate to … put myself in the position of someone, like Chef Tyler or Chef Anne, because they’re the ones, in the long run, [who] are going to be represented by this person they pick. But I will go on record as saying that there are a couple people that I feel are real strong contenders, but I’d rather not name names.