Richard Allen Chen’s girlfriend concludes that he is the absolute worst cook in America, gagging and cringing when forced to consume his culinary creations.
And she might be right.
Chen, an attorney and resident of Rego Park, was selected to compete on Food Network’s “Worst Cooks in America,” a program that pits 16 of the country’s most hopeless chefs against each other, overcoming gastronomic obstacles and dishing out some (hopefully) decent grub. The contestant crowned the best of the worst chefs walks away with $25,000.
“I came up with my own kind of cooking,” said Chen, whose pre-show cuisine repertoire consisted mainly of hotdogs, spaghetti, ramen and canned corn. “Stuff you can cook in less than five minutes.”
Appalled at his foul fare, Chen’s girlfriend of six years gave him an ultimatum: sharpen your kitchen skills or see you later.
“My girlfriend is from China. Apparently a lot of people from China were raised with cooking,” said Chen. “I’m from New York City and my mother wasn’t much of a cook. Her best dishes came from cans. I really never learned how to cook.”
Chen said his girlfriend refused to marry him unless he learned to cook.
“She doesn’t think I’m marriage material,” said Chen. “She was married before and she always brags about how her ex-husband used to cook all the time.”
After receiving notice that the Food Network was searching for the country’s most atrocious culinarian, Chen decided to try out. His audition meal was a casserole containing ramen, hot dogs, canned corn, raisin bread and soy sauce.
“There’s no way someone made a worse dish than mine,” said Chen.
A casting director called Chen for a phone interview, for which, of course, his girlfriend was present.
Chen snagged a spot in the show’s third season line up.
The contestants were divided into two teams: one headed by celebrity chef Anne Burrell, and the other by Food Network personality Bobby Flay. As a member of Burrell’s Red Team, Chen competed against his adversaries in a series of timed cooking challenges.
“It’s like boot camp,” said Chen. “Everything moves fast. Since I don’t have a background in cooking, I needed to pay attention to the details. It was fun to be put under the gun knowing full well I’m not an expert”
Chen claimed he was intimidated by his opponents’ perceived level of aptitude in the kitchen.
“Most of the people had more ability to cook than I,” said Chen. “They were more in tune to listening to the chefs.”
The rapid pace of the challenges heightened the difficulty of the experience for Chen, who explained that he prefers to take his time while cooking.
“I don’t like to put myself under the gun,” said Chen. “In real life you don’t put yourself under pressure. You give yourself as much time as you need.”
While Chen is proud of himself for participating in the show, he still feels he has a lot to learn.
“I think I’m still one of the worst cooks,” joked Chen. “I’m not one of the worst cooks in America, I’m one of the worst cooks in the world!”
Chen said that his knowledge of spices has elevated beyond his former standbys of salt and pepper, and he now enjoys cooking pork, spareribs and chicken. He recently prepared a baked chicken dish for his girlfriend, an endeavor that took over two hours. She was pleasantly surprised by her beau’s newfound abilities.
Chen does admit, however, that when time is scarce, he reverts back to his old, hot dog frying ways. For others struggling in the kitchen, Chen recommends that people not rush and pay close attention to spices, utensils and measurements.
“Take your time and try to understand the recipes,” said Chen. “Read it over. Make sure you have all the proper ingredients and use a timer.”
“Worst Cooks in America” premiers on Sunday, February 12 at 9p.m. on Food Network.