If you've ever wondered what the world's most unappetizing dishes look like, here's your chance to find out. On Jan. 3, Food Network is exploring the opposite end of the culinary spectrum with Worst Cooks in America, a new reality TV series showcasing some of the nation's biggest kitchen failures.
I spoke with Food Network chef Anne Burrell — who, along with Beau MacMillan, is one of the show's hosts — about the new series, the biggest fail of a dish she's ever had, and her year ahead. More, after the jump.
YumSugar: Tell me about your new show, Worst Cooks in America.
Anne Burrell: There's a lot of twists, and a lot of tears, and a lot of laughing. It's a triumphant show. I was unprepared mentally for the real part of a reality show: people's reactions and emotions, and my own reactions and emotions. It was kind of crazy.
YS: It seems potentials would feign horrible cooking skills just to be on TV. How did you really know these people were some of America's worst cooks?
AB: That was definitely a concern of ours, so we were really looking [out] for it. Once they got in the kitchen there was no question about it: They really had no kitchen skills.
YS: What was the worst entry that you tried?
AB: The turnip surprise. It was hollowed out turnips and rutabagas, stuffed with tri-tip beef, asparagus, and rhubarb, tossed in a sauté pan and put in the oven — no salt, no oil, whole turnips, completely raw. Everything was weird looking, and completely unpalatable.
YS: Did you ever think you were being too harsh or hard on the contestants?
AB: I don't. I think that our job was to give them tough love. But working in restaurants and being a cook is a tough job. Sometimes it's a tough place, so that's just how it rolls.
YS: Did doing the show make you more or less believe in challenged cooks?
AB: I've seen a lot of challenged cooks, because I have a background in teaching, but I was truly shocked at how bad these folks actually were. But I do like to think that if you have the desire to learn how to cook, then anybody can.
YS: What are some of your favorite New York restaurants?
AB: My tried-and-true favorite restaurant would be Babbo. That is a truly special restaurant. I'm a big fan of Momofuku Ssam Bar, and a new favorite of mine is The Breslin. I'm friends with April [Bloomfield], but I'm also a huge fan of her cooking.
YS: What are you doing for New Year's?
AB: New Year's in Manhattan is tough. Usually I have a party out of pure selfishness, so I don't have to get a cab. This year I'm going to stay home and have an intimate dinner party. I have a big year coming up, so it's just a time to enjoy all the excitement.
YS: Tell me about your big year ahead.
AB: I'm starting to film a new season of Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. I'm going to start working on a book. I would like it to be based on Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, a book that could be used a lot, with sexy pictures in it, that's easy to use. Hopefully, the spine gets broken, and it gets all crapped up with food, and in a couple of years it will barely close, it's so used and loved.
YS: What's your advice for the hopeless cooks out there?
AB: Read your recipe before you start cooking! Get your ingredients all prepped up before you start. Then you feel like you're cooking on the Food Network, and you can clean as you go. Cooking should be fun, not stressful.