Food Network’s ‘Worst Cooks’ star Chef Beau MacMillan interview

Food Network rolls out a new program in 2010 unlike anything presented on the network. Twelve hopeless cooks will compete to see who can be the best chef in the new show, Worst Cooks in America, premiering January 3rd at 10pm/9c.

Chef’s Anne Burrell and Beau MacMillan lead two teams in a culinary boot camp with the hope of teaching each squad how to become a true chef.

Chef MacMillan resides in Scottsdale, Arizona and is the Executive Chef at elements, the signature restaurant at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain resort and spa. 

MacMillan is a native of Plymouth, Massachusetts and a graduate of Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. He held Sous Chef positions at Hotel Bel Air and Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica before later opening elements with former Executive Chef Charles Wiley in March 2001.

At elements, MacMillan was known for his innovation in the kitchen and was invited to Food Network’s kitchen stadium to compete against Chef Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America.

MacMillan won and caught the eye of Food Network brass who contacted him to host Worst Cooks in America.

Monsters and Critics’ contributor Kenneth Rosenstock took a little time with him recently to discuss the new show.

What is the worst thing you think a novice cook could try to make?

Beau MacMillan: Everyone seems to have trouble with sauces.  When you’re just starting out in this business, it’s more about grilling vegetables correctly or roasting a piece of meat.  When you get more complex is when you get into multi-level dishes that have sauces…and that is what I think people start to struggle with.  Generally, you have to walk before you run in this business and when people try to get too complex in the kitchen is when you see the biggest meltdowns.

Do you think you can turn everyone into a good cook or do you think there are people that are just beyond help when it comes to the kitchen?

Beau MacMillan: I’m a believer.  You know, the glass is half full.  I think you can turn people into good cooks.  The key ingredient for success is desire…My real goal was to make everyone who experienced me in that kitchen to love cooking. 

What is your specific style of cooking that you’re basically trying to impart on these cooks?

A: My style with my restaurant translates into farm fresh American flare with Asian accents. So you’ll see a lot of that with me but I cook popular dishes…I just want them to execute with great quality, flavor and presentation.

Is there any part of your training thus far in your career that maybe has helped you with this interesting type of tv show? 

Beau MacMillan: No, I think with the way I was trained, these guys would’ve been unfortunately under the firing range here by some of the French chefs I’ve worked with.  But I’ve learned a lot of patience, which is a key attribute.  These guys coming in I really think had no idea because their whole basis for being a cook comes down to flavor and there’s so much more involved.

Was it difficult to choose between people who were just terrible at this? How did you decide who would be on the show?

Beau MacMillan: First of all, they found who they believed were the 24 worst cooks in America.  So the day we were picking the teams, I had to taste all 24 dishes that these people made, which was supposed to be a representation of themselves.  Might’ve been the worst day of my life. 

Something had to get better at some point but it just kept getting worse and worse and worse.  So Anne and I were talking about this.  We were going to take the 12 worst of the worst. 

We based that solely on what they made and how despicable it was.  I picked Anne’s team and she picked my team.

After watching the first episode it seemed like a lot of people came in with a lot of recipes that they made up themselves.  Is there one in particular that you would cite as being the most outrageous?

Beau MacMillan:  I’m going to be honest with you.  I still have nightmares about Jenny Cross’ peanut butter crusted codfish with cayenne pepper. 

For us to eat that dish…I still wake up some times.  There was nothing about it that was appealing and then on top of it, it was just so over-spiced.  I know what she was going for; like a replication of a Thai dish but it was brutal. 

Ten years ago, would you have thought you would be doing what you’re doing right now?

Beau MacMillan:  No. One thing I was lucky enough to learn early on in this business is never to stop believing.  You’ve got to believe. 

Desire is a very important ingredient here.  The day I got asked to cook on Iron Chef America was like a dream come true.  It was one of the pinnacles of my culinary career.  I was almost beside myself. 

People have said to me throughout my career…that I have a great personality and you should have your own show.  It stuck in the back of my mind and thought it would be fun.  What if that opportunity comes along, and it did one day. 

You’ve got to swing for the fences and fortunately I got an opportunity and I hope it works out.

Who did most of the cooking for you growing up?

Beau MacMillan:  My mom raised my sister and I and was not the best cook in the world to tell you the truth but she fed us and we were always very happy.  What kind of led me in the direction was my grandma who lived about 300 miles away in Montreal, Canada. 

When I would go to visit, that was my first real experience to food and family.  Everything I love about cooking involves passing and sharing and community and family and life.  I got a taste of that being with my grandmother who was a phenomenal home cook. 

Over the years, what happened was in school, I got the opportunity to work at a very young age at 14 years old at a restaurant.  From that point on, the spark had been lit and I knew I wanted to be a chef at 15 years old.

What was your favorite dish as a little kid?

Beau MacMillan:  My mom would make us a macaroni casserole dish that had hamburger in it and cheese and she must’ve made it 4 or 5 times a month.  To this day, if she makes it. She laughs and jokes but I’ll still come home and eat it.

Check out the premiere of Worst Cooks in America, Sunday, January 3 at 10pm/9c on Food Network.

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