Worst Cooks in America review: Incognito Cuisine


With just three Worst Cooks in America recruits on each team, we are rapidly approaching the finale. This time, the remaining recruits learn about seafood. Who will take one step closer to that $25,000 prize?

As usual in this season of Worst Cooks in America, we warm up with a game associated with the theme of the day. This time, the recruits will need to guess the name of seafood dishes or ingredients based on clues. A correct guess will reveal a piece of a picture puzzle. The winning team will be the first to guess the dish represented in the picture puzzle.

The game runs without incident except when Kelly has a brain fart and guesses an octopus for “this moody shellfish has ten legs.” Leslie wins the game for Anne’s team when she guesses coconut shrimp, mango and pineapple empanada as the picture puzzle. I am impressed that she got it because the picture clue for empanada is Chef Anne plus a pan plus an otter (Anne-pan-otter).

For the skill drill, it is not surprising to learn they will need to make seafood empanadas. Alton demonstrates curried mango crab pocket pies with a spicy vegetable sauce. Anne demos crab, jalapeno, tomato and corn pocket pies with a garlic aioli. Once demonstrated, the teams will have forty-five minutes to create their own version of a crab empanada and dipping sauce.

I am interested to see that most of the recruits are using their own food history for inspiration. They recall a dish they enjoyed in the past and reference that, which is often what I see professional chefs do in competition. So, Mike recalls the pastelillos that his girl back home makes and uses potato and cheese. Leo fondly remembers apple hand pies. Kelly goes Asian-inspired. On Anne’s team, Shannon enjoys Jamaican food so that is her inspiration and Leslie is from Maryland so she riffs off a Maryland crab cake.

The only person who does not follow this pattern is Bridget. She admits that she still struggles with thinking about flavors and combinations, so she seems to just randomly select things that she likes to eat. She grabs bacon, capers, red peppers, Fresno peppers, Italian sausage. Still, she is feeling OK about her choices with plans to cook her sausage in the bacon fat.

As she finishes rendering the bacon, Anne stops by. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to cook sausage in bacon fat as it is already flavorful and full of fat itself. Anne wonders why she didn’t cook her vegetables in the bacon fat, something they have gone over in Worst Cooks in America boot camp many times. It is too late by the time Anne arrives as she has already cooked her vegetables in oil.

Anne then asks about her ingredients and is clearly doubtful about bacon, crab and Italian sausage. Her crab will get completely lost. Bridget asks if she should delete the bacon and Anne tells her that wasn’t her first thought, so Bridget figures out that she should not use the sausage.

Meanwhile, over on Alton’s team, Mike has Alton cackling because he is peeling potatoes over the trash can and his peeled potato slips straight into the can. Leo is doing something weird with dried apricots. He is also taking forever to peel and cut up apples so Alton fears he will not have a dish to serve. Kelly has grabbed strawberries. Alton questions her and she says she really wanted peaches. He suggests corn to go with her Asian-inspired crab.

On Anne’s team, Shannon has grabbed what Alton calls “Food Network Death Fruit.” He tells us that, “in a culinary competition, it’s so often the last ingredient people reach for before they go on their way.” The ingredient is pineapple. Shannon uses it anyway. Leslie is ready to fry but thinks her oil is too cold. Turns out, she was misreading the thermometer and it is rocket hot, but she has to fry in her lava anyway or risk having nothing to serve.

Time is up and Alton judges his team first. He reminds us all of the challenge- a crab pocket pie- and that is when it hits Leo that he can’t remember using crab. Leo brings up his plate, a set of three pies. Well, according to Alton, two pies and one spleen. One of his empanadas is pale and misshapen.

Leo has used granny smith apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, apricots. Alton thinks cinnamon and crab sounds weird but no worries, there is no crab in the pies. Alton reminds him this is the third time in a row that he has forgotten a critical component. The list of ingredients doesn’t sound bad for an apple pie but Alton says it tastes odd and the crab wouldn’t have saved it. His dipping sauce tastes OK but is a thick paste.

Mike, ready with a name for the dish as always, calls it “Poppy, you can’t swim.” He has made something like a crab cake but the filling lacks dimension. On the plus side, he ran out of time to make his sauce so he threw together a honey mustard. The tangy, sweet sauce saves his dish. Kelly has used corn, water chestnuts, shrimp and cilantro. Her empanada is tasty but her sauce, heavy on vinegar and jalapenos, is “like getting punched in the face over and over again.”

On Anne’s team, Leslie presents her Maryland crab empanada with whole grain mustard, lemon and parsley aioli. Because her oil was way too hot, the outside is too dark and the inside is raw. Her aioli is too olive oil heavy.

Bridget’s bacon, Fresno pepper empanada with lemon and garlic aioli is nice but Anne can’t find any bacon. Shannon’s bell pepper, pineapple (AKA death fruit), onion and cayenne pepper empanada with lemon, ginger and cilantro aioli is bright, interesting, and has a depth of flavor. Take that, Alton.

For the Worst Cooks in America main dish challenge, the recruits will need to cook a shellfish dish. Alton demonstrates what he calls “Mussels-O-Miso,” a mussel dish served in a miso broth. Anne demonstrates a lobster roll with red cabbage slaw. Bridget, who has made it clear that seafood creeps her out, looks horrified throughout the demo. We get lots of fearful reaction shots to Anne cooking the lobster live and then getting all the meat extracted.

The recruits will have sixty minutes to replicate their chef’s dish. On Alton’s team, they have to do all their mise en place (prepare all the ingredients) first. He will then check everything and if he finds anything to be incorrectly prepared, he will throw that out and make them start it again.

Alton’s dish calls for fish sauce. Mike helpfully narrates his thoughts. “Fish sauce. Stuff right there is potent. That fish sauce smells like straight booty. You would think, if something smelled bad, you wouldn’t want to put it in your food because nobody in here would eat a fart, right?” I have to admit, fish sauce has a less than yummy smell for me.

The first time I really learned to use it, I was in a Thai cooking class. The teacher dumped fish sauce onto a shrimp and fruit salad and said, “smell that? That smells like Thailand!” The whole class looked at each other as dirty gym sock smell wafted from her station. As weird as it smells, it really does lend a special depth to food. I can’t recommend her cold fish fruit salad, but I have a great recipe for a hot beef and basil dish. All I’m saying is, give it a try. It tastes a lot better than it smells.

Alton goes around checking mise en place and Kelly fails on her chilis and garlic. Mike fails on his garlic. Mike and Leo are taking forever to cut things up. Alton tells us he could 3-D print each piece of garlic in the same time, but in the end, everyone gets approved to cook.

Leo begins cooking when an odd thing happens. Alton doesn’t think his pan is hot enough though Leo insists it is. Alton goes down to listen for a sizzle and has to admit that the pan is, in fact, sizzling. He then notes the plastic containers on Leo’s station. In a weird fit of anger, he picks them up and throws them across the room. He then tells Leo, “look what you’ve done to me. I was a nice man before I came on this show.” The show seems to want to play this off as a funny moment, having Alton calmly tell us this was cathartic and cleansing for him, but it seemed unnecessary and rather violent at the time.

Anne has a moment of rage herself. She notes that Leslie has somehow decided to mix her lobster roll filling and slaw together. Leslie figured they both had mayo in them, they both get served on the same plate, why not mix them. Leslie almost instantly realizes this is a mistake and tells us she is horribly embarrassed.

Anne hustles down to talk to Leslie and tells her she is really mad at her, but she doesn’t yell or throw anything. Instead, she tells her to do her best to fix it. She leaves Leslie to try to hand-separate the slaw from the lobster.

Time is up and Alton judges first. Leo delivers “sputnik,” his bowl sporting four giant bread slices sticking out. While he has served half a loaf of bread, Alton has no complaints about his mussels. Mike delivers his “Put the Guns Down” dish, a clever play on people calling muscles “guns.” Mike’s mussels are cooked properly and he has cleaned them well. He tells Alton he was careful to remove their “mustaches,” meaning their beards. However, he has forgotten cilantro and his sauce is not quite right. Kelly is last to present to Alton and all he does is chew, stare and say OK with no feedback.

Bridget brings her lobster roll to Anne for judging. She has gotten big chunks of lobster in the filling but it has too much mayonnaise. On the other hand, her slaw needs more mayo and her knife cuts are not good in the slaw. Anne pulls out huge slices of onion to show her. Shannon gets a solid review with the correct amount of mayo in her filling, big chunks of lobster, a nicely toasted roll and good knife cuts.

Leslie is last to present and she can’t even make eye contact with Anne. She is so embarrassed about mixing her slaw and filling and begins to cry. Anne has consistently been pretty hard on Leslie but I honestly think this mistake has helped improve their relationship. Anne can see just how seriously Leslie takes this and how much she wants to do well. Anne comes around the judging table to hug her and tell her it’s alright.

Leslie’s filling still has some slaw in it but it tastes good and her roll is nice and buttery. Her slaw is good but missing a little mayo. All in all, Anne is pleased that she worked quickly enough early in the round so she had time to correct her mistake which is a step forward as Leslie is often plating last minute.

In the end, Shannon is deemed best on Anne’s team and Leo, much to Alton’s shock, on Alton’s team. Anne eliminates Bridget who surprises Alton with a goodbye hug. Alton eliminates Mike who dances out of the room. Alton tells us he likes that exit more than a hug.

Next time, we have the classic remote control chef challenge where the recruits dissect a dish and tell their chef how to recreate it. Alton appears about to lose his mind in the preview.

So, how do you feel about Alton as a teacher? I learned a lot from his shows over the years but I am wondering if his style is really a good fit for this show. His sarcastic demeanor is not exactly encouraging and he often chooses to be more of a personality than a mentor.

Also, does anyone want to explain to me the “incognito cuisine” title today? How is seafood incognito? Is it the shell? We may never know.

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Finally, as we narrow the field, who are your picks for the finale? I’m sticking with Shannon and Kelly but Leo and Leslie are nipping at their heels.