I hope you guys have been enjoying all of the new voices and content here at The Blacker The Berry Food be sure to keep reading because it will only get better! Today I bring to you my recent interview with Kelli Kirkland winner of season 3 of the popular Food Network show “Worst Cooks in America”. I remember watching season one of the show mainly to cheer on my former culinary school instructor Chef Anne Burrell who serves as one of the show’s cooking coaches. I was mildly amused at it’s original premise which was to take some of the worst cooks in America many who had practically never stepped foot in a kitchen and teach them how to cook. It reminded me of the reoccurring theme from the Disney movie Ratatouille “Anyone Can Cook”. But after my interview with the show’s current champion I discovered that this year’s show and contestants were a little different. They weren’t great cooks, but they weren’t completely unfamiliar with what goes on in the kitchen either making them more like the “Most Improved Cooks in America” rather then the worst. This year’s winner who also had the great fortune of training under Chef Anne Burrell is a UCLA grad, mother of one, actress and television production manger who comes from a long line of incredible cooks but growing up was more interested in hitting the books than learning how to recreate her grandmother’s memorable peach cobbler. Keep reading to find out how Kelli learned that she can indeed take the heat in the kitchen. ~ Heather Watkins Jones
Kelli: I would have to say it felt like other people decided for me. I saw the casting call on a Mommy Blog and mentioned it to a couple of family members who very enthuastically encouraged me to apply. I also thought “Why not” , I certainly wasn’t expecting to win but I figured whatever experience or cooking skills I gained from being on the show would make it a win-win situation.
TBTB: You credit your Nana (grandmother) for seeing your cooking potential early on, do you have a favorite memory of the two of you in the kitchen?
Kelli: My grandmother baked everything from scratch, my favorite was her peach cobbler. Whenever she called to me “Doll, bring me my rolling glass” I knew it was going to be a peach cobbler kind of day. She didn’t own a rolling pin but instead had this unusually long and slender drinking glass that she would use to roll out dough. I often tell people my grandmother was Paula Deen before there was Paula Deen. There was a time when I really wanted to learn to cook and I remember spending some time in the kitchen with my grandmother and her teaching me some things but for the most part I spent the majority of time with my nose in the books. I ended up being the first in my family to graduate college and by the time I thought about getting back in the kitchen my grandmother has since passed away and I become paralyzed with fear, I was afraid to cook. I didn’t think I could do it without her.
TBTB: What was the first thing you cooked for your family after winning the show?
Kelli: There is a simple shrimp dish that I learned how to cook on the show, it takes maybe 5-10 minutes to prepare. Before I was on the show I really didn’t eat seafood but now I’m having a real love affair with it.
TBTB: Favorite Ingredient and/or Kitchen Tool?
Kelli: I’ve been using a lot of coriander since finishing the show, I’m amazed at its versatility and I just adore my spice grinder. The technique of toasting spices whole (cumin seeds) and then grinding them is one that has influenced my cooking the most. Before the show the only seasoning I used was “SeasonAll”.
TBTB: What was the hardest part of the culinary bootcamp for you, or hardest skill to acquire?
Kelli: Cooking chicken, no matter how hard I try it always comes out dry. It has become my nemsis in the kitchen.
TBTB: I’m currently working on a book about Sunday Dinner in the African-American home and spend hours pouring through menus and memories about Sunday Dinners past. Tell us about Sunday Dinner for you growing up?
Kelli: First of all we still do Sunday Dinner in our family and it hasn’t changed too much since my grandmother died. There are about 7 of us that live within a reasonable driving distance of one another so every Sunday dinner is held at a different house. Growing up my grandmother would start on Saturday afternoon or evening with the baking and finish up the other stuff in the morning. Baked ham, mac and cheese, peach cobbler all the good stuff. I agree it’s a wonderful way to keep the family connected and I hope to be hosting some pretty stellar Sunday Dinners myself in the near future.
TBTB: You are no stranger to the TV biz so what’s next for you, more culinary training, television appearances, etc.?
Kelli: I am currently working on a cookbook for beginning cooks which should be out in the next six months and I’ve also been in talks with my fellow worst cooks contestant Vinnie Caligiuri about doing a cooking show together, it would be sort of like a layman’s version of Worst Cooks.
Kelli thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us today and folks be sure to keep an eye on Ms. Kirkland this won’t be the last time you see her I guarantee it. Below is a recipe recommendations from Kelli for your next Sunday Dinner this summer.
Dry Rubbed Porterhouse Steak With Bagna Cauda SauceTotal Time: 1 hr 30 min
Prep: 20 min
Inactive: 30 min
Cook: 40 min
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons porcini mushroom powder
- 3 tablespoons pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika)
- 3 tablespoons garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- Oil, for brushing grill
- Four 24 to 28-ounce bone-in porterhouse steaks
- Extra-virgin olive oil
Bagna Cauda Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 5 anchovy fillets
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pats
For the steak: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Combine the salt, sugar, porcini powder, pimenton, garlic powder and cayenne pepper in a bowl, using your fingers to make sure all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Rub the outsides of each steak generously with the rub, and then let sit 20 minutes. Preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat. When the grill pan is very hot, cook the steaks until well charred on both sides. Transfer to a sheet tray in the oven, 5 minutes, and then remove and let rest in a warm spot, 10 minutes. Cut the steaks off the bones, and slice on the bias across the grain. For the bagna cauda sauce: Heat the olive oil, red pepper flakes, anchovies and garlic in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook, 10 minutes. At the last minute before serving, whisk in the butter, 2 pats at a time, waiting for the butter to almost melt before incorporating more. Spoon the sauce into ramekins. Drizzle the steak immediately with the Bagna Cauda, garnished with parsley.
Chef Heather Watkins Jones is the creator and founder of The Blacker The Berry Food. She is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, an award-winning multi-published food writer, cooking instructor, and recipe developer. She has worked for Gourmet Magazine, television personality Katie Brown and a host of well-known cookbook authors and food brands. Heather currently resides at the real “Jersey Shore” with her husband and two daughters.