Coming into Food Network’s “Worst Cooks in America” last summer, Atlanta’s Carlos Manuel lived off his panini grill. Kat Rose of Newnan was skilled at peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – and not much else.
But six months later, Carlos can cook a mean chicken cacciatore. And Kat Rose hosted a 12-person dinner party with a roast.
In other words, the show did its job. Chef Anne Burrell, who oversaw both of them (though spent more time with Carlos), is proud of both of them.
But the big question for Carlos fans: why didn’t she pick him for the finals? He had been the most successful cook on the show up to that point, not ever on the bottom.
Instead, Burrell chose the more excitable, less consistent contestant in Joshie Berger. “I really liked Carlos,” she said in a phone interview earlier this week. “Josh was the most annoying student I’ve ever had.But Carlos was too tame with his food. On the last challenge, I gave him Thai food. I threw him a bone. The recipe is pretty easy. It was under-seasoned. I begged him to let it rip. He was too guarded.”
Joshie, in comparison, “let it rip,” Burrell said.
“Maybe I played it just a little too safe,” Carlos admitted during the show.
He told me, “I was just not quick enough. She wanted to see me show excitement and move with purpose. I have no idea what working with purpose was!”
Ultimately, though, he said, “I thought I had it in the bag. It was a complete and utter shock.”
Although Carlos just missed the finals (and the $25,000 prize), Carlos had nothing but praise for Burrell. “She really cared about what we were getting from the overall experience. She was a great teacher.”
Kat was also surprised Carlos was let go last in last Sunday’s episode. “Joshie had a lot of issues,” she said.
Carlos and Kat became very close. “I called him my brother and he called me his sister,” Kat said. They plan to meet up and have a dinner party together.
Burrell wished she had had Kat longer on her team. (Kat was on the other chef Robert Irvine’s team for part of the show.) “She reacted a lot to me as a teacher than Robert,” Burrell said. “I felt bad I didn’t get enough time with her.”
Kat herself agreed. She said she still hears Burrell’s voice in her head when she’s cooking.
I told Burrell about Kat’s successful dinner party for 12. “I’m so happy to hear that!” Burrell said, genuinely pleased.
Bits from Kat’s interview:
Why she was a bad cook: “I have no good excuse. My mother was an awesome cook. She made gourmet meals. I just lacked the skill to read recipes and have it work out in front of me. I never did give up. I tried every year.”
It was a secret: “My husband can cook. He’d cook stuff and I’d take it to wherever I went. My friends had no idea it was not mine! I’m just glad now I’m out of the closet about it. It was weighing me down!”
Best lessons she learned from Anne Burrell: “Presentation matters. Cleanliness of the kitchen. And overall cutting techniques. I can cut like the bomb! My girlfriends could speak the language of recipes and what kind of stuff you needed to cook them. It never made sense to me. Chef Anne slowed things down, showing me one step at a time.”
Her 14-year-old son’s reaction to her being on the show: “He thought I’d be a superstar. That I’d be so famous, everyone would be his friend. It backfired. They gave him a hard time about it. ‘Your mom can’t cook. You must starve!’ ”
Kat’s hatred of eggs: “I remember as a kid, my father tried to force me to eat eggs. I sat there until lunchtime. After he got me to eat it, I threw it all up. I haven’t touched it since. It’s just slimy.” Even after she cooked eggs on the show, “they may taste good but they’re still slimy.”
Kat’s new dishes: “I’m cooking up chili cheesesteaks instead of PB and J’s 24/7. I can cook chicken. I made cookies for work Valentine’s Day. And they actually ate them. Not only ate them but liked them.”
Bits from Carlos’ interview:
How his calm impacted Joshie: “I didn’t realize I was psyching him out. I was relatively quiet and focused. That freaked him out. That tickled me.”
Why he’s calm: “I have 14 nieces and nephews. I know how to handle pressure!”
His sister’s gift: “I got picked up from the airport, she had a Kitchen Aid mixer in the backseat for me. It was so cool. My kitchen was pretty bare!”
Said sister Rana’s motivation for pushing him to go onthe show: “One time, my little niece wanted to bake cookies. We baked them with marshmallows. It hardened into taffy. She took a bite on one and almost chocked. Rana wouldn’t allow her kids to eat anything I made after that!”
Eating in more often: “I am cooking a lot more. But it’s not saving me any money! The meals they showed us were expensive because they involved meat and fish.”
Tears of joy? After he was eliminated, “I was still crying on the way to the airport. It was more tears of happiness and joy for what a great experience I had. I really appreciated all the things they did for us.”
“Worst Cooks In America,” Food Network, season finale at 9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog