Clueless culinarian: Naples woman to compete with 'Worst Cooks in America'

Clueless culinarian: Naples woman to compete with 'Worst Cooks in America'

Photo by TRISTAN SPINSKI, NAPES DAILY NEWS // Buy this photo

If someone is a terrible cook, you might joke they can't even boil water for pasta.

With Melissa Rhodes, you wouldn't be joking.

That's until recently, when the Naples resident was tapped to join the third season of the Food Network's "Worst Cooks in America" television competition series. The show aims to turn clueless cooks into confident culinarians within the short span of eight weeks.

The 16 "recruits" are aided by celebrity chefs Bobby Flay and Anne Burrell, who each lead a team of contestants.

To sweeten the pot, a $25,000 grand prize is awarded to the contestant who ultimately shows the most progress in their cooking skills. "Worst Cooks in America" premieres at 9 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12.

Rhodes decided to try out for the show at the urging of her fiancé, David Workinger, who had watched her struggle in the kitchen throughout their four-year courtship. Far from being offended, the 29-year-old Rhodes didn't hesitate.

Rhodes and Workinger were fans of the show, and she was a particular fan of Flay."I was just ready to do it," said Rhodes, who is an assistant softball coach at The Community School of Naples and also works at lululemon athletica. "David and I watched the first two seasons of the show and I have a huge crush on Bobby Flay."

Ultimately, bad cooking wasn't her biggest issue. She needed to overcome a complete lack of basic cooking knowledge, Rhodes said.

For seven years, Rhodes struggled with anorexia. After meeting Workinger, she made a decision to get well and checked into an Arizona rehabilitation facility. But after she successfully completed the program, it became apparent that part of the legacy of her illness was a lingering bewilderment about proper food preparation.

"It's a recovery process," she said. "I moved back to Florida with David and he helped me to get better, day by day. But every time I tried to cook something, it was awful."

And yes, as the old saying goes, Rhodes didn't even know how to boil water for pasta.

Once when she tried, she turned the water on low heat, letting it sit on the stove top and wondering why it never grew hot. Workinger remembers walking into the kitchen and finding her dumping the pasta into a pot of tepid water.

That wasn't the worst of it, he said.

"I think she used spaghetti sauce out of a jar," he said.

Then there was the disaster with the shrimp.

Deciding to make a grilled shrimp entrée for her fiancé, Rhodes bought frozen shrimp. At home, she skewered the shrimp and put them on the grill, just as the recipe instructed.

But Rhodes didn't realize the shrimp was already cooked, and the end result was something that resembled applesauce, she said.

"That's the dish that got me onto the show," she said. "I had to remake that dish three years after the fact and bring it to the interview in Miami."

Still, Rhodes didn't give up on trying to become a better cook. She often offered to try and cook Workinger something he would enjoy, he said.

"I'd always change the subject," he admitted.

When she was chosen for "Worst Cooks in America," Workinger was thrilled, Rhodes said.

"He was pumped," she said. "He was really excited for me."

Workinger said that's partially because he knew that Rhodes would have a chance to learn from such as top-level chefs as Flay and Burrell. He also thought the show would give Rhodes a chance to explore new flavors. Even though she had conquered her eating disorder, Rhodes sometimes hesitated to use such savory ingredients as olive oil, Workinger explained.

"Every time she would cook, she wouldn't use salt or would try to put something different into the dish and it never tasted right," he said.

Once she reached the "Worst Cook in America" set, Rhodes remembers thinking that she might have a slight advantage over her other recruits. By default, Workinger does all the cooking in their house and she has tried to be an apt pupil, watching him as he works.

Also, the Food Network is on the couple's television "probably 80 percent of the time," she said. That had to count for something, she hoped.

But as the taping progressed, she realized that vying for the top spot would be more difficult than she imagined. Between the television cameras, having to share a stove top with another contestant and the stress of having a celebrity chef yell at you, even the most talented cook could find themselves in hot water, she said.

"There are so many factors you don't realize," Rhodes said.

On each episode, the contestant from each team with the least successful dish must depart from the show. Upcoming culinary challenges for this season of "Worst Cooks in America" include international cuisine, seafood preparation and cooking for a class of third graders.

The season finale is Sunday, April 8.

Since returning from shooting, Rhodes has successfully recreated one of the dishes she made on the show – orange pumpkin pancakes with vanilla whipped cream and cinnamon maple syrup. That's a far cry from her now-notorious accidentally applesauce shrimp dish, leading Rhodes to call her time on the program "life-changing."

"I definitely do feel like I'm a better cook," she said. "I appreciate food now in a different way than I did before."

But she's still not allowed near the grill, her fiancé said.

"I have to maintain my manliness somehow," Workinger said.

© 2012 gonaples.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Sessions