Bella Vista's Jenny Cross subjects herself to national scrutiny starting 10 p.m. Sunday as a contestant on the Food Network series Worst Cooks in America.
Premise: Chefs Anne Burrell (Secrets of a Restaurant Chef) and Beau MacMillan (chef at Elements in Phoenix) each have a team of six hopeless home cooks and try to transform them from "kitchen zeros into kitchen heroes" in 10 days. The two who make it to the end (Feb. 1) will face the final challenge: prepare a three-course meal for a panel of food critics, including Jeffrey Steingarten, who think they are tasting dishes prepared by their chef-instructors.
So, Jenny, are you that bad?
"Yes, I am that bad," she told me, adding: "I think the reason I started ... being such a bad cook was that I never had the proper ingredients."
How so? "I used to pack my dad lunches while trying to use all the ingredients. I didn't have a lot of ingredients. Let's say I need a green pepper. Well, I have Italian peppers. Or [the recipe calls for] crushed peanuts. I have peanut butter. That's how I would make everything."
When her father suggested that she go out for the show, "I said to him, 'What are you saying? I pack lunch for you. I see the empty containers.' He said, 'That doesn't mean I eat it.'"
There's more to her shortcomings. "Every year for Christmas, I would get a cookbook by my grandmother. But I was never allowed to cook because I make a big mess. The mess will end up everywhere."
She said she has a passion for cooking (and '50s culture) and took waitressing jobs at GiGi in Old City as well as pizza shops in South Philly, hoping to pick up culinary skills.
The closest she got was washing dishes.
On the show, she said, "I learned for sure that I'm a terrible cook." (Witness Burrell's reaction to her preparation of peanut butter fish in this screener.)
Cross, who turns 23 in February, said she hopes to enroll at culinary school shortly.