Few of us would argue that there’s anything quite as satisfying as a great home-cooked meal. Food Network hopes that watching talented home cooks hone their skills at the hands of famous mentors will come close.
This month, the network introduces America’s Best Cook, a six-episode competition that features past and current Iron Chefs Alex Guarnaschelli (Team East), Michael Symon (Team North) and Cat Cora (Team South), plus The Great Food Truck Race’s Tyler Florence (Team West), coaching teams of amateur kitchen whizzes chosen from across America to see who can serve up the country’s best home cook.
Ted Allen, who also presides over the network’s uber-popular competition series Chopped, hosts the show and says that the chance to let a novice live their dream — and score $50,000 — is a big part of its appeal.
“This is a network that’s about something that’s a part of everybody’s life, whether you cook or not,” he explains. “So there are so many people who think that they might have a shot at succeeding on the Food Network. Not many of us think that when we’re watching the NBA or an acting drama. So I find that kind of ‘dream come true’ wish fulfillment, when we have amateurs on, tremendously exciting. And stepping onto the set of another cooking competition, it’s a completely different vibe and a totally different setup.”
If not a totally different room.
“It shoots in the same room that we shoot Chopped — the same room that Iron Chef America shoots in, too — but you’d never know it,” Allen says. “It’s a big black box with an X-shaped, elevated catwalk in the middle. In the quadrants of that X, there are four kitchens and the amateurs are cooking in those kitchens while the mentors pace like caged animals on that catwalk. If one mentor loses all of his or her cooks, they’re gone, too. And as you know, these guys do not like losing.”
Allen singles out his Chopped costar and good pal Guarnaschelli as a prime example.
What’s different about this competition is two main things for me,” he says. “One is that you get to see how much it drives Alex Guarnaschelli crazy to have somebody else representing her — and somebody who is not even a professional cook. So it becomes her personal mission to hammer a good cook out of these people — to somehow badger then into being good cooks. And she’s feeling it. It’s always personal with these guys. But this time, this game requires them to get that out of somebody else. They don’t get to do it themselves. And that is a very interesting tension to watch!
“The other side of that is how exciting to watch [celebrity chefs] cook because they’re so damned good at it — but what you don’t get is to know what their thought process is,” Allen continues. “And on America’s Best Cook, you learn their thought process because, Alex has to say it to the cooks — so she’s saying it to the viewer as well. I’ll go up to Cat and I’ll say, ‘What’s your strategy, Cat?’ and she’s gotta say, ‘Well this person is good at this, good at that, and they’re from this part of the coutry, so I thought that they should do something that’s true to themselves. You get to watch the thought process unfold in a way that you don’t get when it’s just [these chefs] competing. So that’s a very different and very fascinating wrinkle.”
America’s Best Cook premieres Sundays April 13 at 9/8CT.