America has perfected the grueling TV cooking competition, pitting amateur or professional chefs against each other in such high-pressure, screaming shows as “Chopped,” “Cutthroat Kitchen,” or “Top Chef.”
PBS hopes to change that by featuring an original food contest, “The Great American Recipe,” which dispenses with creepy and creepy knife graphics. It’s more “The Great British Baking Show” than “Hell’s Kitchen”.
The friendly and supportive show introduces 10 home chefs from across the country and gives them the opportunity to showcase their signature dishes. The eight-episode series premieres Friday on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS Video app.
“Yes, they were competing, but they were just there to be their best self and tell each other through their food,” said presenter Alejandra Ramos, a chef and writer contributing to “Today.”
Among the contestants is a hotel receptionist from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who makes soul-pleasing linguine; A firefighter from Providence, Rhode Island, makes Sicilian meat chicken; And a small business owner from New York, he’s an expert in cod fritters, or bacalaitos.
It’s the stories behind the food that make the show compelling, says Sylvia Pogue, chief programming officer and general director of general audience programming at PBS.
“We hope that people will see themselves reflected in the stories through the ‘Great American Recipe’ that they might not have seen otherwise,” she says. “It’s a great competition, it’s great characters, a great story. You get those feelings, which I think is just a recipe for success, and we’re really excited about that.”
Home cooks are tasked with preparing two dishes for every two rounds of each show, which are judged on taste, presentation, execution and how it highlights the topic – things like the meal in question, crowd pleaser or a special occasion meal. The judges are Lea Cohen, Tiffany Derry and Graham Elliott.
“The dishes were delicious and great. We loved eating them. “But listening to the stories was honestly the most satisfying part of being on the show,” Ramos says.
Dishes served offer an impressive array of flavours, from chicken tostada and zuppa Tuscany to potato-crusted quiche and pineapple fried rice and shakshouka, a Mediterranean version of huevos rancheros. Many of the recipes were handed out to the family’s contestants but added to the Crucible of America and tinkered with it.
“American food isn’t just one thing. I think it can often be dismissed as like, ‘Oh, it’s a burger or pizza.’ Whereas everything else has its own independent identity,” says Ramos.
“But the fact is, this country is a mixture of cultures, stories, regional differences, ingredients, climates, all of these things combined — this is American food. It’s not just one thing. It’s really about celebrating that diversity.”
There is a friend among the runners, they will help others when they finish early or taste another dish for advice. In one sweet scene, a woman of Italian descent admits she’s worried about pivoting making lemon-shrimp tacos.
“Am I nervous because I’m playing a Mexican in the elimination round when I’m Italian? Yes, I am. But I don’t really have a lane to stay in,” she says. And that’s kind of the show’s motto: Only the lane is good-tasting food.
“I think that’s the beauty of the show — it’s not just about putting people into boxes, but really enabling them to tell the breadth of their story and all the different stops and starts and turns that that path takes,” Ramos says.
One of the show’s sweetest challenges was when contestants are asked to demonstrate how to show love through food. One made a dish he made for his wife, another cooked something their mother made for them when they were sick, and a third offered something they whipped to a heartbroken friend.
The series — which was filmed in a barn in southern Virginia — culminates in a finale in which the remaining home cooks prepare a full meal for the judges. The winning dish will adorn the cover of the accompanying book, “The Great American Recipe Cookbook,” which will also feature recipes from all of the contestants, show host and judges.
The home cooks range in age from the late twenties to the sixties, and among them is also a sports operations specialist from Minneapolis; Small business owner from Boise Idaho with two sons; And a digital content creator from San Luis Obispo, California, does a mean choriqueso. They are clearly the rock stars of the food world in their circles.
The bonds between them grow to the point where the survivor begins to feel guilt. “Anytime there was an exclusion, it was as if almost everyone else would be sadder to be eliminated from the actual person who was going home,” Ramos says.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits