For the past two Sundays, we've been hooked on Food Network's new show, Worst Cooks in America. Maybe it's because this gem stars local celeb-chef Beau MacMillan. Or the fact there's a contestant from Scottsdale. Or maybe it's just that we all had an Aunt Mildred or Grandpa Joe or heck, Mom or Dad, who managed to scorch ramen noodles and ruin boxed mac n' cheese with ineffable skill.
Scottsdale lawyer Kelly Johnson (now Kelly LoCascio, as she married restaurant owner Michael LoCascio after the show taped) grew up with parents she describes as "phenomenal cooks." Somehow, the cooking genes managed to skip a generation and she ended up as one of the Worst Cooks in America. We caught up with Kelly after she was axed in last week's Episode 2 for not mastering a recipe the chefs erased halfway through the challenge.
How did you land a spot on Worst Cooks in America?
I went to California to audition. I brought an orange-crusted salmon dish. [The Food Network judges] didn't try the fish, which was probably best because not only did I make it but it had to fly there with me. They gave me feedback on what they anticipated was wrong with it.
It was crazy being in a room full of other people who can't cook. I can't say I would've tried anything they cooked!
Did you personally think you were a horrible cook prior to auditioning, or did someone nominate you for this "honor?"
A combination of both. I volunteer with HomeBase Youth Services. I cook for youth ages 18-21 and let's say these kids are not discreet in their comments about your cooking. I had a lot of feedback from them about how terrible I was. Luckily, my husband runs a restaurant, so I can bring them takeout.
After cooking a dish representing yourself on Episode 1, you discovered Chefs Beau and Anne were looking for the worst 12 dishes, not the best. At that point, did you want to get picked as one of the worst?
It's almost a catch-22. You're about to get the opportunity of a lifetime to work with Food Network chefs, but at the same time you're going to tell the entire country you're terrible and you're going to display something that's one of your worst attributes.
But I was excited to be there, even if it meant that I was going to tell everybody that I was the worst cook. I was signed up to give 100% and was there to learn.
Had you met Chef Beau MacMillan or been to elements prior to the show?
I had never heard of Chef Beau. I watch Food Network and I had some recollection of his battle with Bobby Flay on Iron Chef, but I had never met him. After the show, he was actually the chef for my wedding.
[Meeting him] was a blessing in disguise because the facility that I booked my wedding reception at in Arizona went bankrupt. So I thought, I met Chef Beau for a reason. I called him and begged him for a favor and the wedding turned out wonderful.
Are you watching the show?
Absolutely. You're there in the middle of it, but you don't get to see even a scintilla of what's going on. It's so much fun to see how the show is playing out.
It's hard to watch because it's such an emotional roller coaster. If you take something that you feel so insecure about and you have to do it in front of an entire camera crew, two chefs that are just fantastic at what they do, it's hard. And it's hard to watch it. I wish I was watching it with the other 11 people. As we're watching it, we're e-mailing back and forth saying, "Oh, it wasn't that bad, don't worry."
So...*wink, wink* do you know who wins?
I don't know what the outcome is. We've got four more episodes and I'm just waiting to find out!
The contestants on Worst Cooks all seem amazingly nice. Is that just good editing?
I had anticipated the worst, and what happened was the best. For 12 people that came from such different backgrounds and have such different lives and living together in the same place for that amount of time, we got along famously. We played cards and hung out and talked about our families -- and now three of us are pregnant. [Editor's Note: Congratulations, Kelly!]
What's happened since the show? Have you put your newfound cooking skills to use?
I still don't eat shrimp with heads, or fish. I know the names of cuts. And I have definitely learned how not to cut my finger, thanks to Chef Anne's marker trick.
I still go to HomeBase and have been working on my cooking there. With the baby coming, I've been working on making some healthy dishes and trying to use the skills I learned. I'm pretty sure I'm an amazing teppanyaki chef; I think that might be my next calling! That was one of the most fun challenges that we had. Not that I have a teppanyaki grill at home.
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What was the best part of working with Chefs Beau and Anne?
The most fun for me was to watch how passionate Chef Anne and Chef Beau are about their profession. I can relate that back to how passionate I am about my profession, and that was the connection. I can't mimic what they do, but I can appreciate why they do it.
We know you didn't win the show, and the $25,000 prize, as you were chopped in Episode 2. Was the experience still worth it?
It couldn't have turned out better -- even if I lost. It brought me to Chef Beau, who saved my wedding reception, and to amazing people some of whom I still keep in touch with every day. There's so much more other than learning to cook that this show offered.