Media Monday: Cooking Shows

Worst Cooks in America
Worst Cooks in America

Sometimes when I’m working on my laptop in the living room, I want some background noise and so turn on the TV to the Food Network. It’s comforting to type words while having Ina Garten roast vegetables or Giada De Laurentiiss toss some pasta with olive oil.

Sometimes this plan backfires when I hear a recipe that sounds really good or get involved in a show’s premise. That’s how I discovered WORST COOKS IN AMERICA a few years ago.

It seems contradictory to learn new recipes and cooking techniques by watching the people who do it wrong, but one of the most fun shows currently airing on the Food Network is WORST COOKS IN AMERICA.

Season 6 is airing now. I think I’ve watched every season. People arrive thinking Mac and Cheese tastes better with gummie bears added and they end able to cook a real meal.

The setup: Two celebrity chefs teach teams of people who’ve been nominated as a worst cook in America. Anne Burrell has been one of the chefs every season. She’s won four of the five seasons already aired. The other chef has been Bobby Flay, Beau MacMillan, and Robert Irvine. This year’s contender is Tyler Florence.

The contestants (called “recruits” since the whole show has a Boot Camp premise) are introduced, usually by preparing their own “signature” dish for the chef/coaches. Viewers get to know the recruits and invariably, the contestants want to learn to cook better because they want to feed and nurture and care for their loved ones. Men want to cook for their wives or girlfriends. Women want to cook for their husbands and kids. But somehow, they got to this place in their lives without knowing that peanut butter and kidney beans do not make a good casserole.

The coaches demonstrate a skill and the recruits have to make a dish using that skill. These are not easy tasks. The contestants get dropped into the hot water at the outset. This year, one of the first dishes they had to make was paella. I’ve never made paella. Well, to be honest, not because I don’t think I’m able, but because I can’t afford the saffron that goes into it.

But anyway, I watch and enjoy this one, it’s not just background noise. And I’ve learned a few things too, about chopping and searing and some of the basics. One contestant … (Season 2 or 3 or 4, I think), decided to go to culinary school after the show.


Everyone who gets washed out is grateful for the things they learned and looking forward to making better meals at home for their loved ones.

It goes to show that we often equate food with love. In the movie Spanglish that was out several years ago, the male lead was a chef played by Adam Sandler and his hard-charging wife was played by Téa Leoni. They have a nanny who has recently arrived from Mexico with her daughter. The chef/father and the nanny develop a friendship as their children and his wife demand various things from them each. Then one night they share a meal. When his wife finds out, she cries and carries on and howls, “Did … did he kiss her?” I thought the writers missed the mark with that line. It should have been, “Did he cook for her?” Not that kisses aren’t important but for a chef he’s going to show his feelings with food.

Something the recruits know even without knowing what is a mandoline and what do you do with it.