Appetizers

Dishing the news about the Sacramento area food scene

'Worst Cooks in America' goes farm to fork

02/12/2014 12:00 AM

02/11/2014 5:02 PM

America has no shortage of worst cooks. That’s good news for celebrity chefs Anne Burrell and Bobby Flay.

“Definitely, there’s still a lot of worst cooks out there,” said Burrell, noting the producers received a “mountain” of applications. “We have no fear of losing our jobs any time soon.”

Burrell and Flay co-host “Worst Cooks in America,” which starts its fifth season at 9 p.m. Monday on the Food Network.

Split into two teams captained by Burrell and Flay, the 14 “recruits” — each nominated by family and friends for their awful cooking skills — go through an intense seven-week boot camp and a long list of kitchen challenges. One recruit is sent home each episode. The two cooks who show the greatest transformation by the March 31 finale square off for a $25,000 grand prize.

Burrell has seen one constant throughout this popular series. “The most intimidating thing for these cooks — fear of the unknown,” she said in a phone interview. “Anything you don’t know how to do is scary. ... You look at all the parts of anything together, it can appear overwhelming.”

Her advice: “Break it up, then it becomes easier. When you break it down to small parts, it’s more manageable. You take it step by step. Then, you realize — I can do that!”

This new season includes a farm-to-fork twist. The recruits visit a dairy farm, “and let’s say there might be some comedy,” Burrell said.

“We try to get the (local ingredient) message across to them as much as we can,” she said. “That’s the kind of cook I am and it’s what I try to instill (through the program).”

Cooking with seasonal ingredients adds a special touch to menus year round, noted Burrell, who has a running list of favorites.

“Using tomatoes and corn in summer; that’s a no brainer,” she said. “But there’s so much more. Spring starts with strawberries, then ramps (spring onions); those are very exciting. That’s followed by asparagus, sugar snap peas, beets, onions, new potatoes, chard, mustard greens; the list just goes on and on. Every season has something to get you excited. It’s like the return of an old friend — ‘I haven’t seen you since last year and I sure missed you.’ ”

The key to the show’s popularity is simple, Burrell said. “To me, these ‘worst cooks’ are lovable losers. You start out kind of laughing at them. Then, you see these people learning things and transforming themselves. You start cheering for these underdogs. You go from laughing to rooting for their success. That’s what’s so lovely about the show — people really do get better.”

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