Worst Cooks in America review: Simple yet sophisticated


Worst Cooks in America attempt French food this week with a technique heavy set of recipes. It is open for debate if these recipes are simple, or if the results of the recruits are sophisticated. What could go wrong when teaching “worst cooks” classic French fare?

In this episode of Worst Cooks in America, things get off to a rocky start immediately when the recruits hear they will need to master crepes. Many have never had one before and most disagree with the traditional French pronunciation. Before they can try their hand at the dish, though, we have to play a fairly disgusting game with no prize.

Cloches cover plates that hold traditional crepe fillings. The recruits will have to guess the filling ingredients blindfolded and without using their hands. For the blindfold, they are required to wear goggles with huge googly eyes covering the eye holes, and to get a taste they have to go in face-first like a pie eating contest. Worse yet, the portions are huge- giant blobs or chunks of the ingredients await the recruits.

We start off with the blue team taking the lead with ham and cheese. It is not to last as the red team successfully guesses coffee and caramel, a liquid in a bowl that they are forced to lick like cats. The next dish goes unguessed but not until we are forced to watch the two recruits try to taste enormous blobs of crème fraiche and huge slices of salmon. It is gross enough to induce Anne’s gag reflex, and Bridget of the red team says the crème fraiche feels like shoveling mayonnaise into her mouth. With the googly eyes covered in crème, the teams admit defeat after guesses of mayo, yogurt, pastrami and chicken.

Red team takes the next point with sausage and spinach and they take the final point as well with bananas and hazelnut spread. Anne’s team wins as usual, and both teams move on to a crepe making demo.

It is always interesting to watch Alton and Anne demonstrate something because Anne typically shows the traditional, classic way of making the thing and Alton shows something more of his own invention based on food science.

Alton is making mushroom and provolone crepes and serves them stacked on top of each other like a stack of pancakes. Anne is making ham and brie crepes rolled in the traditional style and topped with a fried egg. Both chefs make a similar batter in their blender using eggs, melted butter, milk, club soda and flour. Anne shows the recruits a traditional style of tilting the batter around the pan to spread it in a thin layer.

The recruits have thirty minutes to create crepes. Having taken a crepe class, I can vouch for the challenge. It is a trick to get the batter spread evenly and thinly and to get the crepes turned without tearing.

Everyone begins by making batter and then fillings, saving the crepe making for last. This leads to some tense moments wondering if anybody will serve anything other than a plate of filling. On the red team, Shannon has added her batter ingredients in the wrong order and must restart. Leslie uses the wrong knife for shallot dicing and has Anne breathing down her neck, changing her knife three times before she picks the correct one.

Over on blue, Kelly is trying to cook her mushrooms in a non-stick pan, much to Alton’s dismay. He tells her that mushrooms almost never brown in a non-stick (news to me) and he begs her to use a stainless steel pan, but she just keeps stirring away at her mushrooms as is.

As the chefs get nervous with just ten minutes left in the challenge and not a single crepe made, the recruits begin working on the fragile pancakes. Jolynn, stressed for time, pours batter into her pan without measure and everyone on Alton’s team seems to be trying to flip the crepes with a huge metal spatula.

Alton shouts to his team that he did not demo a spatula (he used his fingers) but no one listens. He begins to despair that he is invisible and Anne plays along, waiving her hands near him and asking if anyone is there? Already frustrated, he tells Leo he is going to explode if he doesn’t stop holding his pan away from the stove to fill it, cooling it in the process.

Time is called and the recruits present their crepes, but this time, they have made two plates and they will eat with the chef. It’s a weird little set-up which some liken to a really uncomfortable date.

Bridget tells Anne this was fun and it seems to show. Her dish is pretty nice, though her egg is a little underdone and her cheese hasn’t melted. Shannon’s crepes are misshapen and thick but her cheese is melted and it tastes good. Lulu has under-dressed her salad and lacks cheese in her crepe. Anne tells her she has to stop spending so much time with her nose in her notebook and more time cooking.

Ryan’s crepes are pale and thick and his egg is overcooked and broken. Curtis needed more browning on his crepe and more cheese. Leslie’s crepe also needs more browning.

I am starting to feel like Anne is unfairly targeting Leslie. Leslie receives little critique of her dish that we see, but Anne lays into her telling her, “if you’re going to choose to sort of ignore things that I say in the demo and go your own way, that’s great. You can go your own way and you’ll be doing it in your own kitchen.” Leslie looks shocked by this statement, and we certainly didn’t see evidence of this in the cook.

Over on Alton’s team, he tells Kelly that her no-stick pan was wrong for the mushrooms, and worse, it wasn’t hot enough so the mushrooms are still wet and squishy. Monica’s crepes are misshapen and small, and all he says is that she managed to get something on the plate. Jefferson needs more cheese.

I am expecting Jolynn to be told her crepes are thick (remember, she didn’t measure), but his complaint is that her batter is eggy. Leo’s crepes are gummy but overall he has made the tastiest plate. Mike, who always gives his plates a weird name, calls his dish the “oui, oui, who, who.” Alton tells him it will be very difficult to sell him on a dish called wee-wee so Mike changes it to the who-wee, who-wee. Despite the name, it doesn’t impress as the dish lacks salt.

To introduce the main dish challenge, a ballerina appears to dance to swan lake. The recruits decide they must be cooking swan, but instead, it is duck. Anne demonstrates a seared duck breast with duck fat potatoes and haricot vert in a whole grain mustard sauce. Alton explains this is the first dish he made for his wife…his current wife…his third wife- duck breast with potatoes and swiss chard.

Anne cooks her duck in the traditional way by scoring the skin deeply and starting it in a cold pan, skin side down. After the fat begins to render and the duck is browned on both sides, she pops it into the oven to finish. Alton, on the other hand, steams his duck first and then cooks potatoes in the steaming water.

The recruits have sixty minutes to create the same duck but to add their own green as a side. Anne is immediately worried when Curtis grabs okra, and she begs him to use vinegar in the shocking water to help cut down on the slime. On Alton’s team, Jolynn takes all the spinach which leads to a lot of bickering, so Alton says he will give extra points to anyone who tries asparagus. Monica takes his challenge, but he has not demoed asparagus and she is lost. He tells her to cut off the ends and she nearly cuts off the tips. Luckily he stops her. She fries the asparagus in a pan to cook it.

Anne’s impatience with Leslie continues as we see Anne watch her like a hawk and point out every flaw. Anne tells us she feels like Leslie isn’t absorbing anything and isn’t listening. Under Anne’s scrutiny, Leslie starts to doubt everything and even gets to a point where she asks what to stir with.

Meanwhile, Bridget is falling apart. Bridget can’t figure out how much “a little wine” is and as Anne tries to help, notices that Bridget didn’t sear the underside of her duck. Anne tells her to relax and to go ahead and sear it, but Bridget is on a fast train to meltdown.

Bridget isn’t sure if the pan should be hot. She puts her duck in a cool pan, which is wrong and when Anne tells her to take it out, Bridget stands holding the duck. Anne tells her to put it down, and she puts it down in the cold pan, so Anne has to tell her to put it down somewhere other than the cool pan. Bridget continues to find the browning of her duck confusing and at one point, Anne turns away for a moment to find Bridget has removed it from the pan and put it in the oven. It is only then that Anne loses it, but it seems to have taken a lot longer and a lot more frustration than she has for Leslie.

Over on Alton’s side, Kelly keeps taking the temperature of her duck, holding the oven open for long periods while she jabs multiple holes in the meat. Mike’s potatoes are mush and he has to start again. Jolynn gets everything done and then leaves a third of the duck off her plate.

At last, time is called for better or worse. Anne starts with Ryan’s plate. He has rendered the duck well but has no salt in his potatoes. Shannon has overcooked her broccolini and potatoes. Curtis has cut his duck poorly and his duck is overcooked and gray. Lulu surprises Anne with properly cooked vegetables, almost crispy potatoes and well-cooked duck. Bridget, after much help from Anne, has managed to cook her duck but her spinach has shrunk to one small bite. Leslie’s is far too salty and her potatoes aren’t cooked.

On Alton’s team, Jolynn gets called out for the missing duck and her controversial spinach, coveted by the rest of the team, is overcooked. Also, what duck is there is still full of fat and not properly rendered. Mike, calling his dish the quack attack, has overcompensated for his lack of salt earlier and made his vegetables way too salty. He claims this is the attack part of the dish.

Monica’s duck skin is not browned and her asparagus is overcooked. Kelly’s duck is overcooked, her greens are overcooked, and her shallots are burned. Leo’s duck is also not browned properly, his potatoes are overcooked, and his kale is undercooked. Best of the bunch is Jefferson who has nailed his duck cookery, but he is missing a glaze on the meat and his kale is full of stems.

On the red team, Lulu has won, but Alton says there are no winners on his team. However, he does declare safe Jefferson, Mike, Leo and Kelly. Safe on Anne’s team are Ryan, Shannon, and Bridget.

For Anne, Curtis and Leslie are on the bottom. She feels Curtis remains slow and steady but without improvement. She feels Leslie is not listening or learning and gives too many excuses. For Alton, Monica is on the bottom for not progressing in skill, and Jolynn is on the bottom for spending too much time in her notebook. To my surprise given how harsh Anne has been to her, Leslie survives and she sends Curtis home. Alton eliminates Jolynn.

So, what do you think of this Worst Cooks in America episode? Was it fair to ask the recruits at this stage to cook French classics, ones they might never have seen or tasted? If you were doing a French theme, what recipes would you have them try?

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Next week, it looks like we are back to more familiar food for a tailgating theme. Hopefully the recruits will find this easier as they know this food, but based on the preview, maybe not.