What does it take to be one of the Worst Cooks in America? Washington D.C.’s Leslie Rivera-Silva will find out. She is one of 16 of the country’s worst cooks (by their description) who will compete when the Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America returns for a new season on Sunday, January 5th at 9 p.m. Food Network Stars Chef Anne Burrell and Alton Brown will be in charge as these aspiring cooks enter boot camp with dreams of putting their kitchen nightmares behind them.
Leslie, who owns a salon in Annapolis, Maryland, who loves eating in fine restaurants with her husband, avoids preparing meals herself. But this perfectionist and hard-worker, threw herself into this competition, determined not to finish at the bottom of the mixing bowl. Here Leslie talks about the experience. (No spoilers! You’ll have to watch to see if she wins.)
People often throw around the phrase “worst cook” when describing themselves in the kitchen. Why do you feel that title fits you?
If I called myself a ‘worst cook’ you would assume I at least attempt to cook. I’m not even sure how I’ve made it to 35 and never turned on my oven. I am married now and my husband cooks and if I have to reheat in the microwave the food that he made and he’s not there to do it, I’d rather starve. It’s so stressful! His directions about the cling wrap and heating things at different times is exhausting to comprehend after a long work day. Anything I’ve ever tried to make goes straight in the trash and ends up costing me $185 from Whole Foods. Why would I cook when people do this for a living and do it well?
Is there anything you can cook or at least throw together in the kitchen?
(Pre show) Throwing together something in the kitchen is such a foreign task to me. I dream of the day I can open my refrigerator, assuming there’s something in it, and throw some things into a skillet. The only thing I can make is an apple pie…and I’m pretty sure everyone is sick of me bringing that to every function. It’s usually still sitting there at the end of every party – whole, cold and gelatinous – because of the amount of butter I use. I use pre made pie crust and I can peel apples like nobody else. I think it tastes pretty good, but no one trusts me enough to try it.
Growing up, did your parents cook? Siblings?
My mom cooked my entire childhood almost nightly. Coming from Texan parents, we had plenty of meat and potatoes. I remember calling my mom right away when I moved out at 16 and asked for her fried pork chop and mashed potato recipe. That was my first and last time trying that! It was gray and greasy and I decided that I was leaving home cooking to mom.
Why did you want to be on the show?
I have no problem making a fool of myself and I love a challenge. What better way to learn than from two amazing chefs, up close and personal. I had no idea I would be learning so much in such little time. Find someone who does it better than you, learn what they know and run with it! Unlike most of the recruits, cooking for my spouse was not my mail goal. Think bigger. I want to open a restaurant and take over!
What was the reaction among family and friends about you being on the show?
Not one person was surprised that I wanted to be on worst cooks. It’s pretty typical of me to jump right in and do things my own way. Why not put the pressure on, do something I’ve never done before and do it with cameras in my face. I’m a perfectionist and a hard worker. I knew going into worst cooks that the other recruits would know I mean business.
Did you ever think about pulling out?
I never considered pulling out. I took this competition seriously, sleeping well, eating right, working out, I treated this experience like I was training for the Olympics.
Had you watched the program in the past? If so, what were your reactions to what the contestants were put through?
I started watching this Worst Cooks at season 15. I was impressed with Allison who won. I rooted her on from the first episode. I loved watching the contestants who took learning the skills seriously and didn’t just want to be on TV. I was terrified at what they were asked to do. There wasn’t one challenge I thought I could do better than they could, but I knew I was going to apply after watching Allison win. I was building a business and couldn’t step away from work but when life slowed down a bit, I was ready to apply and start packing.
Were you familiar with Anne Burrell and Alton Brown? What were your first impressions upon meeting them?
I was familiar with Anne Burrell only from watching Worst Cooks. I had never once watched her cook anything herself and was not familiar with her teaching style. I had no idea who Alton Brown was and I had to Google him to see who he is. My first impression of Anne Burrell is that she is a boss in the kitchen. Chef Anne does not play around in the kitchen or on the filming of the show. I was fascinated with her passion for wanting us recruits to learn her techniques the proper way. She is there to win and only wants recruits there who want to learn. I loved her from the minute I met her!
Any advice for future contestants?
Contestants need to be ready to learn to cook. If you applied for any other reason but to learn, the judges will know it and you WILL be called out on it.
After being on the show, how would you rate your cooking skills now? A favorite dish that will now be on your list?
Like I have said before, I joined the show to learn how to cook like a pro. I take pride in the prep process, using my new found knife skills and enjoy walking around Whole Foods for hours. I went from never entering my kitchen to spending the majority of my free time in front of the stovetop. I must say, I am fantastic! I cook for my husband and friends constantly. The first thing I said when I got home from boot camp is ‘we must move immediately, I need a bigger kitchen!’
I have made every single dish that we made on the show multiple times. The Big Fat Chicken Soup we made on episode one is now a weekly Sunday staple. I now know how to alter the dishes to my liking and this is coming from someone who didn’t even own salt for 35 years!
Top photo: Hosts Anne Burrell and Alton Brown with contestants Alexandra Tiso, Curtis Long, Dakota Klaes, Jolynn Singh, Jefferson Goldie, Joe Deese, Kelly Ngoc Mac, Leo Lech, Kevin So, Leslie Rivera-Silva, Lulu Boykin, Michael Jones-Better, Monica Colwell, Ryan Grovey, Shannon Akins, and Bridget Praytor, as seen on Worst Cooks In America, Season 18.
Photos courtesy of Food Network