In such high-pressure, scream-filled programs as “Chopped,” “Cutthroat Kitchen,” or “Top Chef,” amateur or professional chefs compete against one another in a stressful TV cooking competition.
With its original cooking competition program, “The Great American Recipe,” which dispenses with the drama and ominous knife images, PBS aims to change that. Compared to “Hell’s Kitchen,” it is more like “The Great British Baking Show.”
The show brings together ten home cooks from throughout the nation and gives them the chance to present their trademark recipes in a kind and encouraging manner. The eight-part television series makes its debut on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS Video app on Friday.
Yes, they were competing, but they really were just there to be their best selves and tell each other stories through their food, says the show’s host, Alejandra Ramos, a chef and writer who contributes to the “Today” show.
A firefighter from Providence, Rhode Island, who prepares a hearty Chicken Sicilian, a hotel receptionist from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who produces a soul-satisfying linguini, and a small company owner from New York who is an expert in cod fritters, or bacalaitos.
The show is fascinating, according to Sylvia Bugg, chief programming executive and general manager of general audience programming for PBS.
Hopefully people can see themselves reflected in the stories through ‘The Great American Recipe’ that they may not have otherwise seen, she says. It’s nice competition, it’s great characters, great story. You get that emotion, which I think is just the recipe for success, and we’re pretty excited about it.
The home cooks are entrusted with preparing two dishes for each of the two rounds of the show. These dishes are rated on their flavor, presentation, ease of preparation, and how well they highlight the show’s theme. Leah Cohen, Tiffany Derry, and Graham Elliot are the judges.
The dishes were delicious and incredible. We loved eating them. But listening to the stories was honestly the most satisfying part of being on the show, says Ramos.
From chicken tostadas and Zuppa Toscana to a potato-crusted quiche, pineapple fried rice, and shakshouka, a Mediterranean take on huevos rancheros, the meals offered here offer a delightful rainbow of flavors. The candidates received a lot of recipes from their families, but they also added to and played around with the melting pot of American cuisine.
American food is not just one thing. I think it can often be dismissed as like, ‘Oh, it’s burgers or it’s pizza.’ Whereas everything else gets its own separate identity, says Ramos. But the reality is that this country is an amalgamation of cultures and stories and regional differences and ingredients and climates and all of those things combined — that’s what American food is. It’s not just one thing. This is really about celebrating that diversity.
The competitors get along well with one another; they will offer to aid one another when they finish ahead of schedule or taste one another’s food for suggestions. In a charming scene, an Italian woman confesses she feels uncomfortable about switching to lime shrimp tacos.
Am I nervous that I’m doing Mexican in an elimination round when I am Italian? Yes, I am. But I don’t really have a lane to stay in, she says. And that’s sort of the show’s motto: The only lane is good-tasting food. I think that’s the beauty of the show — it’s not just about putting people into boxes, but it’s really empowering them to tell the breadth of their story and all the different stops and starts and turns that path takes, says Ramos.
When candidates were challenged to depict how they express love through food, it was one of the show’s cutest challenges. One man prepared a meal for his wife, another prepared a dish their mother made for them when they were ill, and a third gave a dish they had prepared for a friend who was grieving.
The series, which is recorded in a barn in southern Virginia, comes to a close with a finale in which the remaining home cooks serve the judges a full supper. The Great American Recipe Cookbook, a companion publication, will feature recipes from all of the entrants as well as the host and judges of the show and will feature one of the winning dishes on its cover.
A sport operations specialist from Minneapolis, a small business owner from Boise, Idaho, who has two sons, and a digital content developer from San Luis Obispo, California, who makes a mean choriqueso are among the home cooks, who are all between the ages of late 20s and 60. They are without a doubt the gastronomic rock stars in their social circles.
And as their relationships deepen, survivor’s guilt begins to set in.
Anytime there was an elimination, it was like almost everyone else was more sad about the elimination than the actual person that was going home, says Ramos.