NEW YORK (Associated Press) — America has perfected a grueling TV cooking competition, pitting amateur or professional chefs against each other in such high-pressure, screaming shows as “Minced,” “Cutting Kitchen” or “Top Chef.”
PBS hopes to change that by featuring an original food contest, “The Great American Recipe.” Which dispenses with anxious and frightening knife graphics. It’s more “The Great British Baking Show” than “Hell’s Kitchen”.
The friendly and supportive presentation 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, chef and writer contributing to “Today.”
Among the contestants is a receptionist at the Winston-Salem, North Carolina, hotel who makes soul-pleasing linguine; A Providence, Rhode Island, firefighter makes meaty Sicilian chicken; and a small business owner from New York, 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 beautiful 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 theme – things like a meal in a pinch, 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.
The dishes served offer an impressive array of flavours, from chicken tostada and zuppa Tuscany to quiche crusted with potatoes, fried rice, pineapple, 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.’ While everything else has its separate identity,” Ramos says.
But the truth is that 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. This is really about celebrating that diversity.”
There is a friend among the runners, who will offer to 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 to make lemon-shrimp tacos.
“Am I nervous because I play Mexico 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: The only aisle is delicious food.
“I think that’s the beauty of the show — it’s not just about putting people in 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. One of the winner’s dishes will decorate 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 in-house chefs are in their late twenties and sixties, and also include an esports specialist from Minneapolis; Small business owner from Boise Idaho with two sons; and a digital content creator from San Luis Obispo, California, who makes 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 was more sad about the exclusion than the actual person who was going home,” Ramos says.
Mark Kennedy in http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits