BISMARCK — It’s been smooth sailing so far for the North Dakota man competing to walk away with $25,000 on The Food Network's “Worst Cooks in America” — except for one small thing: cutting an onion.
Bismarck resident Evan Baker isn’t shedding any tears over his onion cuts. But his celebrity coach on the show, Chef Anne Burrell, is certainly giving him the business.
“Please, please hear me. My patience, after three weeks of saying how to cut an onion, is wearing thin,” Burrell told Baker on a new episode that aired Sunday, July 5.
It’s not like he’s not trying. After making it through two episodes, he was trying to replicate Burrell's Veal Parmesan and Spaghetti dish in the third episode. He says he started to cut the onion the way she repeatedly taught him.
“But then I got the yips and just like, I don't know what happened. I just got distracted or confused or both. And I switched it around, and then I started doing it the wrong way," he said in an interview. "Yeah. And then, boom, within moments, Chef Anne was at my station, making sure I started again."
If you’re not sure how to cut an onion yourself, here’s a tutorial from the woman herself.
Baker must have done something right because he made it through that episode and will continue on this season, which has just a handful of episodes left.
Baker got on the show after his wife, Cassandra, nominated him after he made a particularly heinous dish involving spaghetti, eggs and guacamole. A couple of months after sending in the application, he went through a lengthy screening process that included phone interviews, Skype interviews, background checks and cooking demos.
When he found out he had been cast on the show, he had to plan on about three weeks of shooting in New York City, which meant asking for time off from his job as a mission advancement officer at the University of Mary in Bismarck. He says he’s grateful to the school and his boss, Jeff Beauchamp, for giving him the chance — especially because he had to be so secretive about exactly why he’d be gone.
“We had to be very vague about it. I think I could tell them it was New York City, but I couldn’t tell him what show I was going to be on,” Baker said.
But you know darn well Bismarck and most of North Dakota, for that matter, know exactly what show he’s on now.
“I've gotten a lot of great reactions. And I think that it's something in these uncertain times, it's kind of something fun to be a part of,” Baker said. “It’s sort of a happy and uplifting thing to share with people. So I'm grateful for that.”
After shooting began, he was surprised by just how large a production it was, with cameras and crew members seemingly everywhere.
“There's a photographer, there's the culinary team, there's the producers, there's the assistant director, there's the medical team, there's the chefs’ attendants,” he said. “It's just unbelievable the amount of people that are involved in this. I didn't realize how many layers went into it.”
But is he really learning how to cook amid the chaos? While he says his dishes might still need work, he’s “leaps and bounds” beyond where he was before.
"Looking back to Episode 1 with the Jamaican Jerk Chicken and the Coconut Rice Pilaf, I was enthused, I was kind of inspired. I was affirmed that, you know, 'Hey, I can make this chicken rice dish here for dinner and it’s actually edible,'” he said.
He says he’s enjoyed watching the episodes since he got home from shooting in January. He says he’s even stayed in touch with the other "Worst Cooks" recruits.
“We have a text thread where we’ll talk about and try to remember what we did on a particular show,” he said. “I’ve also gone back and looked at The Food Network website to get some of the recipes for the things we made."
After getting home, he says he realized his experience on "Worst Cooks" didn’t just change him in the kitchen — it changed him at the grocery store.
“In Episode 3, we did Prosciutto-Wrapped Shrimp with Grapefruit and Radicchio Salad. I remember seeing radicchio (in the grocery store). I would have had no idea what that even was before the show or things like how to chiffonade basil. I just feel way more confident even going through the vegetable section," he said.
Baker says his wife probably would be appreciative if he’d cook a little bit more, even if she might not completely trust his abilities yet. He wasn't allowed to reveal how he does on the rest of the season, including on the fourth episode that will premiere Sunday, July 12, at 8 p.m. Central.
But he says he plans to be more of a presence in the kitchen and help out more at home. He says getting chosen to basically get private cooking lessons from Burrell and the coach of the other competing team, Chef Alex Guarnaschelli, has been “a gift,” no matter what happens.
“I’ve learned a ton and just having that experience was definitely something I'll cherish and remember for a long time,” he said.