Proving that America still loves watching people screw up more than it loves watching them succeed, the Food Network’s new competition Worst Cooks in America has been a ratings winner; the premiere of the six-episode series was the highest-rated in the network’s history. The premise involves two teams of atrocious home cooks, each shepherded through culinary boot camp by a professional chef (Anne Burrell and Beau MacMillan), who then try not to be eliminated. The last two standing have the chance to secretly cook for a “panel of esteemed culinary critics” and to win $25,000. One of these atrocious cooks is Philly resident Jenny Cross, a 23-year-old waitress who lives in the Italian Market and enjoys putting peanut butter on fish. We talked with Jenny about her rockabilly sensibility, her kitchen inability and the perils of cooking in high heels. Click through to read the interview and watch a clip of her preparing peanut butter fish.
What did you have to do in your audition? Did you have to attempt to cook anything or send in a recipe?
They actually did ask us to cook something, but I didn’t know that before I went to audition for the show, so I show up in line and I didn’t have anything with me, but they asked for me a recipe and I gave them one. It was my recipe for peanut butter encrusted codfish. I think of things just generally, like “I like Thai [style] fish, I’ve seen encrusted fish, hey! Chunky peanut butter works.” I wrote that down and sure enough, I didn’t realize how bad it actually was.
Are you originally from Philly? Do you live here now?
I’m from New Jersey, but I’ve lived in Philly for three years, in every part there is to be lived in. I do live in Philadelphia currently - I live right next to the Italian Market.
Where did you wait tables in Philly?
That’s still in business? I worked at Gigi at 4th and Market for a few months. I seem to have a curse at any place I worked at - it’ll be the place that ends up getting new management or folding up. I’m trying to get into a culinary program, though - I’ve been working as a waitress to get a kitchen job. The Restaurant School or the Art Insitute - it will be in Philadelphia. Going to culinary school was the whole reason I moved to Philly - it’s a great restaurant town - and to establish residency and go to one of these culinary schools.
What’s the most useful skill you’ve learned so far on the show?
Knife cuts. And the terms for knife cuts - I didn’t know that there were actually words for them and you could do that with a pepper or an onion or even make a cucumber into these beautiful little cubes. I had no idea you could do it or how. I would see at a restaurant and think it was cool - that was definitely very helpful.
Is Anne Burrell scary?
No. Scary’s not the word. Anne is serious, she’s very serious and very passionate about cooking, you can see it and her love comes out. She invested so much in all of us. She’s serious about it and it comes off as intimidating and you don’t want to mess up. That’s why there’s a lot of stress - these are two chefs that know what they want to do and you don’t want to mess up what they’re doing. It’s not scary, it’s intimidating. It did help though, she did teach me a lot.
Is it hard to cook in a halter top and high heels like you did in the first episode?
Yeah it definitely was - I wasn’t expecting us to actually have to make the food that day and do it well. I was like, I’m going to try my best, but the shoes I was wearing were a size too big - I borrowed them from my roommate. I was also afraid I might have a boob slipout or a wardrobe malfunction. But I pulled it off and I looked good doing it! It was funny - after that, Anne asked me “are you going to keep wearing heels in the kitchen?” And I was like, “No! I’m never wearing heels again!” In the second episode, I have boots on and Converse and that’s it!
Let’s talk about your Rockabilly style.
I’ve always loves the ‘50s growing up. Ask any kid what their favorite show was and they’d saw Power Rangers or Saved by the Bell, but the first words out of my mouth were Bewitched, The Munsters, Leave It to Beaver. I d watch and wish I could live in a time like that and be like June Cleaver. So I started dressing like that and I found a bunch of friends who dressed like that who all lived in Philly and I was like, “these are the people I’ve been looking for!” Philly’s kind of where I got the whole image from - I never knew there were people like that. Places like Tattooed Moms, Sugar Moms, Tritone - they have rockabilly bands come through there.
Did you ever give Anne any tips on her hair or offer to fix it up for her?
No! I’ve had long hair my whole life, I know how to do long hair - -I don’t mess with short hair. It’s obvious that Anne loves her style and her look. I didn’t ask her - I should have but I didn’t.