It’s hard to believe that 10 weeks ago, 16 terrible cooks entered Worst Cooks Boot Camp, and now the two recruits who’ve excelled the most made it all the way to the finale to cook it out for $25,000. The Red Team’s Daniel and the Blue Team’s Ann came into the competition clueless about techniques and lacked any skill necessary to remotely pull off an edible meal. Remember Daniel’s frugal frittata that he overdosed on garlic powder and saffron, or Ann’s less-than desirable chicken breast with rice and tomato sauce? It’s better to forget!
In this last cooking challenge, the two recruits had the opportunity to show off all that they’ve learned for a panel of three culinary experts. The judges tasted both Ann’s and Daniel’s three courses before picking a winner, the one cook who served the best meal overall. Hear from the winning recruit and find out which mentor earned the glory and bragging rights.
Daniel impressed the judges the most with his three-course meal, shedding his Worst Cooks title, and earning $25,000, a well-deserved prize for lasting through 10 weeks of Boot Camp with one of the toughest mentors, Anne. And for the Red Team’s coach, it means a seventh win. Hear what Daniel had to say just moments after winning the 10th season of the show.
When you started this whole competition, did you ever think you’d make it this far?
Daniel Mar: No. Well, you know what, here’s the thing. I do know myself, and I can be competitive, especially if it’s something that I decide to take on, but I thought I would go far, but no one really ever thinks that they’ll go all the way, because it’s one in 16, so I was like, “Ah OK, maybe middle at least,” because I’m a relatively intelligent guy — I think at least.
Why did you decide to sign up for Worst Cooks? What were you hoping to get out of this competition?
DM: I really do love food. I do watch Food Network, so I’ve seen Anne Burrell before, but I never knew how to cook. As someone who really loves food and actually has a pretty decent palate — I understand foods and how food should taste — but I don’t understand how to cook it. You know, I get busy, and you just go out and eat whether it’s really low-end junk food all the way to nicer restaurants. I run the gamut as far as the type of foods that I eat, but I don’t know how to cook them. So, I was, like, you know what, I think I should do this so I could actually learn, and I’ve learned so much in this competition. It was out of control. One of the biggest things that no one will ever think about when you think about what would it take, other than the knowledge, to be a very successful cook is really sharp knives. I have the crappy little one-dollar store knives. So, really sharp knives, believe it or not, that’s what I’ve learned.
What was it like having Anne Burrell as your mentor, and what would you say was the number one takeaway working with her?
DM: I love the way Chef Anne teaches, because she’s clean, concise, she’s straight to the point. All the information that she provides answers all the questions, so if you ever notice me when I do a demo, I’ve never asked one question before — not even once, because I just look and observe. Everything else is just logical, there’s nothing that’s left for the imagination. … I’m 35 years old, you can kind of figure things out. … But, I love the way Chef Anne teaches. It’s clear and concise, and it gives you the information that you need. Nothing else. She doesn’t go off on a tangent or anything. She’s great.
You were in the top and the bottom many times. How would you characterize that emotional roller coaster of never knowing where you’d end up?
DM: Especially the first time being in a cooking competition or any competition like this at all, it’s a new experience, so I didn’t understand, maybe it’s something that’s normal, but I was just glad that I was able to stay here and continue to learn. Sometimes when I was in the bottom I didn’t quite agree for the reason why I was in the bottom, but I’m glad I made it this far and won it.
A bunch of times Anne called you out for phoning it in or not taking her directions seriously, just taking them as suggestions. When did you begin to realize that you have to work really hard to impress her?
DM: There were a few times when Anne said I phoned it in, and right now I do disagree with that. I thought I was being clever. I was trying to use the knowledge and apply the knowledge that I’ve learned during Boot Camp into a new dish, so I didn’t think I was phoning it in, but I could see from someone else’s perspective how they could see that. But in my mind, I thought it was just like, “Wow I’m learning, I’m using your knowledge and doing that.” … I compartmentalize the way I do things, so I can’t say I didn’t follow directions. But you know what, at the end she wanted me to do certain things that she was yelling at me. I’m like, “You know what? I want to win $25,000, I’m just going to listen to her and not even argue.”
How did your practice cook go the day before the finale? Did you get everything you wanted to get done? How were you feeling?
DM: The practice cook that we had the other day was overwhelming. There was so much information. I’m a visual person. Most of the cooks, if you see most of the challenges that I’ve done before, I don’t even have to look at my cookbook, because I look at it during our break, I just visualize it and I just run it over and over again in my head, and then when I go there, I just kind of — boom. During the time, I just go in a Zen mode, and I think about all the equipment I’m going to get, so that’s why when I start the competition I just go straight and grab everything instead of being all frazzled. But this was a lot, so I’m glad that I had a full day to really go through it.
Anne didn’t have you take any notes in the practice cook, she just ran through things with you. Were you comfortable doing that? In the past I think she called you out for being too methodical. Did it make you anxious at all or were you happy to be free of any sort of written guide?
DM: Chef Anne reassured me that she’d run it through me. At this point in time, after week 10, she understands how I work, so she knows I’m a visual learner, so we just did hands on, and basically I was just giving myself a demo, and after that we had a brief little break, and we ran through the items that I had to create, and that was the perfect way for me to recreate it today. Obviously we won, so it worked.
Were you nervous at all this morning, going into the final cook?
DM: Ann and myself — I can speak for Ann as well. We were both nervous, because it’s a lot of content to remember, and we’re cooking in a brand-new environment. We’re unfamiliar with the tools and the set-up and everything, but that’s the reason why we’re culminating this final challenge in a new place, because we need to be able to apply all our skills in a new environment … . So I think it’s still learning, we’re still continuing to learn. So if there were more weeks of Boot Camp, I’m sure we would learn even more.
Does it feel like you’re no longer a worst cook? What does it feel in this moment to win, and will you be cooking more?
DM: Definitely not a worst cook anymore. In fact, according to the culinary panelists, our meals — of competitor Ann and myself — they were restaurant-worthy, not even just regular restaurants, finer dining restaurants, as good if not better than most. … I’m sure we could apply those skills at home. Of course [I’m going to] buy a new set of knives, which is important, maybe some pans, too, and definitely I will be cooking more at home.
How would you sum up this entire experience of being here with these other competitors, just the whole competition?
DM: This whole experience was amazing. I’m always going to remember it unless I get Alzheimer’s — hopefully that doesn’t happen. But, I’ve never had roommates before … and I had 15 roommates. It’s crazy, and I’m a grown adult having people take care of me. It’s insane. And also learning how to cook, learning how to properly do it, you do [have], just like Chef Anne says, those lightbulb moments. Like I said, I do eat out a lot. You go to restaurants and you see these weird cuts, the shape of that vegetable is round, how do you get it like that? And it’s one of those ah-ha moments … .
What does it mean for you to win the prize money, and what do you plan to do with it?
DM: Right now, the prize money, it’s awesome. It has not sunk in yet. It’s going to take a couple days. Right now I’m actually more happy that I actually won, because it’s a pride thing, but once the money thing, once it sets in, I’m sure I’m going to be ecstatic about it. But with the money I am going to go on an international trip. I deserve a nice trip, probably eat some awesome cuisine. I’m not sure where I want to go. I might actually, because my mom — love her to death — she hasn’t been back [to China] since she’s been to the United States, so I might take her to Hong Kong with my girlfriend. We might go there and do that, or I’ll think about going to Croatia, because it’s right next to Italy, around the Mediterranean. … So, maybe somewhere like that. So, I’m not sure yet, but I’m definitely going to go on a trip. Oh, and also most of the money is going to investment caps — I run my own stocks.