The Great American Recipe episode 1: Opening the doors to flavorful stories

Alejandra Ramos - THE GREAT AMERICAN RECIPE. Courtesy of PBS/VPM
Alejandra Ramos - THE GREAT AMERICAN RECIPE. Courtesy of PBS/VPM /

When PBS debuted its culinary competition, the food television world took notice. Instead of throwing dishes and cutting comments, this food show proves that competition doesn’t have to be combative to be great. On The Great American Recipe episode 1, flavorful stories filled the plate and left everyone wanting more.

Like any first episode of a culinary competition, it is difficult to highlight all the contestants. While there is a wide breath of regions and backgrounds, it will take time for all the home cooks to have their moment to shine.

Even the judges, who are familiar faces within the culinary world, have only started to show their approach. Far from the fiery barbs of other food television shows, judges Leah Cohen, Tiffany Derry and Graham Elliot as well as host Alejandra Ramos have a supportive way of leading the home cooks to more successful choices. Even the criticism is served with a side of niceness.

What was the first challenge on The Great American Recipe episode 1?

As an introduction to each of the home cooks, the first challenge had them tackling “if I were a recipe.” While one plate is a small glimpse into their food traditions, it needed to be a memorable first impression. The pressure was on, and everyone seemed to deliver.

While most dishes offered an aspect of food and culture, it was more than just a cacophony of flavors on a plate. Presenting a dish that not only made a tasty first impression but left the judges wanting more was key to success.

The top choices were Dan’s calamari and Tony’s gochujang chicken tacos. Looking at these two dishes, there was an element of the unexpected.

Dan’s calamari was not the typical appetizer on many a restaurant menu. The buttermilk-soaked calamari served with roasted pepper was tender and flavorful. Like a great appetizer, it was a tasty start to his competition.

Tony’s gochujang chicken tacos were equally success. The layers of flavors were key to this dish. It made the judges want to see more. It earned him the win.

Putting aside the top dishes, it is clear that these are home cooks in a culinary competition. While there are no red marked fingers from boot camp, the judges are trying to offer some helpful advice to transform the home cooks techniques. From nudges about consistent cuts to watching the salt levels, those little items can make a dish stand out.

For the elimination challenge, the home cooks were charged with showing their region’s culture and traditions. While it is often said that food is the language that brings people together, it tells a story on a plate. Beyond the family history of passed down recipes, food represents a community. Whether it is a particular barbecue style or seasonal ingredient, certain foods are closely connected to a locale.

Since The Great American Recipe episode 1 is just the start of the competition, not every dish was highlighted. But, the top dish was clearly a winner.

Brian’s biscuits three ways was a huge success. Being able to nail biscuits in a competition is Top Chef worthy. While there is often a criticism of a “duo” in culinary competitions, this plate worked, and it wowed the judges. It was definitely a crowning achievement.

Unfortunately, the bottom dishes were faulty due to execution issues. Tony, who was praised in the first round, had a misstep with his meatloaf. Although it is unclear why the meatloaf texture was off, it might have been overworked. Even though his flavor was good, a crumbly meatloaf is not an enjoyable bite.

Christina had an issue with her pork. While a sous vide pork can be tasty, hers did not cook correctly. Finishing the under-cooked pork in a cast iron pan caused the pork to be dry. There was no amount of sauce that can save dry pork.

In the end, Christina was sent home. But, the parting words of one of the other cooks was more telling of the goal of this PBS culinary competition.

The Great American Recipe episode 1 sparked a conversation about the common bond that food offers. The flavors, ingredients and plates will be very diverse, but the stories have a common thread. Maybe next time that cookbook is opened or grandma’s recipe is added to the file, consider adding a sentence or two about a favorite meal, a family tradition or just a silly memory. Just like a touch of finishing salt on a steak, that little extra can make the flavor even better.

The Great American Recipe airs on PBS Friday nights at 9 p.m. It can be streamed online or via the PBS app.