“I used three tubs of Tums, Halls cough drops and a lot of water,” Irvine tells Zap2it about his strategy for eating the food on “Worst Cooks,” which kicks off its second season on Sunday, Jan. 2 at 9 p.m. ET on Food Network.
This time around, Irvine and Chef Anne Burrell take part in the casting process, which involves tasting — but not always stomaching — the concoctions brought in by the hopeful but often hopeless home cooks.
“One of these people who made the show, [Joshie Berger] made the most horrendous dish,” says Irvine, known for starring in the network’s “Dinner: Impossible.” “I was so amazed that this person and his girlfriend ate this every day, and he thought it was so good. Oh my word, it was awful.”
Besides Berger, we meet a lady who’s given her husband food poisoning a few times (they’re still married), a guy who uses his hands instead of a knife on meat and a lady who brings in a shepherd’s pie so unpalatable, Irvine declares that she’s “desecrated the national dish of England.”
Once the contestants’ culinary incompetence qualifies them for the show, they’re split into two teams of eight to learn how to cook restaurant-quality food from Burrell and Irvine. For their first challenge, they must butcher a whole chicken, and the entertainment lies in watching them hack away at the bird, sometimes upside down. It’s the most basic skills, however, that give the amateur cooks the most trouble.
“The first one is learning to control heat,” Irvine reveals. “I think what amateur cooks tend to do is think they can cook things as fast as possible and they’re going to be great. The reality is, yeah you can sear something at a high temperature, but then you have to reduce the heat. There are knobs on the front of your oven that are put there for a reason.
“The next thing is knife skills. It’s really repetition,” he adds. “I could show you, but unless you practice, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t know how to handle a knife, you’ll take your fingers off. A lot of people were fearful. There were a few snips.”
Each week brings a different elimination task, and once it comes down to the two finalists, they’ll have only three hours to cook a meal for New York City restaurant critics who think they’re eating food made by the mentor chefs. Irvine admits it was tough having enough faith in someone to represent him.
“I gotta be honest with you, four weeks prior to [the finale], I did not have the confidence in that person,” he says. “One week they’d be great, the next they’d be not so good. This person broke down in tears when we were in the middle of a practice. That scared me to death. But the crying, it was more frustration from this person’s perspective.”
In the end, Irvine claims he’d hire his team’s finalist in a heartbeat if he/she wanted to become a cook. It was this person’s determination to make the food and plate it correctly, even dumping sub-par food despite a limited amount of time, that impressed him the most.
“Even today I talk to that person. I was so proud. It was like having a child. It really was,” says Irvine, acknowledging that he became close to his team emotionally, although he did not cry like his opponent Burrell did in Season 1.
“You will not see tears on my part, no,” he says with a laugh. “That’s be good for television. I’m not saying I’m above crying though because I do, but not here.”
Irvine will also star in “Restaurant: Impossible,” which premieres on the Food Network on Jan. 19.