Posted by Lee Abbott on Feb 22, 2016 in Tips & Tricks


OK….so the “behind the scenes” scoop continues…

Cooks have big hearts. Period. And that REALLY came out for all of us in Episode #2. First Episode is a blur of unreal adrenaline that you are IN the Food Network Kitchen meeting the Mentors and then cooking with a random lunch box. 2nd Episode feels like….the competition has really begun. I was feeling Lucky as Hell to have Lisa Washington as my teammate and Alex Friggin’ Guarnashelli as my Mentor – WHAT?!?!?!

I’ve watched Alex so many times on Chopped and etc. that to have her look me right in the eyes and challenge me with, “Your Guest Judge is Aaron Sanchez – you feel confident enough to go right after some Ancho Chili Vinaigrette? Better be good or you’re goin’ home you know.” Man…things got real right then. And for those of you who know me… there was of course only one answer… Go for it.

Meanwhile in the Kitchen, things got real for Natasha Clementt and Jermaine MrSikcess Wright as well. They made this beautiful stuffed lamb – only to have equipment failure and a cold oven. Tears flowed. As I said…big hearts. And dammit if the Trolls haven’t already shown up. Natasha got a few haters get all Twittery on her because she’s passionate. Let me tell you – she’s got some HUGE stakes on the line and then there is her Cook’s Heart which is bigger ‘n’ her home state of Louisiana. We can all try to “say” to her, “Don’t listen darling” …but…it still burns someone who cares that much. Can I get an Amen by way of y’all writing “Don’t listen Darlin” in the replies!

Speaking of burns! 5….4…..3……2….. and Dain Lee couldn’t find tongs or anything to pull his deep frying Chicken. Crazy Competitive Mother F’er just grabbed with his bare hands and got it to the plate. Man you should’a seen the blisters on his finger tips and he just…got it done. Big Hearts will do that for you. And let me tell you…Lynn Polisi-Duffy was so gracious upon her being let go. I mean…she laughed it off. She told us how proud she was of us (what?) …but we could all see in her loving wet eyes how much it hurt. Big hearts don’t wanna go home. We love ya Lynn.

Anna Marie Cooper and Zoe Valladares across the kitchen were in sync like old friends and dancing with another big-hearted softy Andrew Zimmern. Y’all know him from eating eyeballs and such but…he’s a culinary treasure trove. And man was he generous with his girls…so with those two on his team…well look out world.

And then it happened for me…and I don’t think I even told my fellow competitors of this moment. Lots of you know I’ve been through the crushing force of divorce with children this past few years. Fewer still know that for a time… I stopped enjoying cooking. When nothing is ever “right” or goes unappreciated…for years…you stop wanting to even cook an egg. Well after this round of the competition when Lisa and I plated that gorgeous “Atlanta Barbara – Surf & Turf” ….5….4…3….2….1….Times up!… A gift happened.

Alex Guarnaschelli gave me one of the most incredible validations and hat tips I’ve ever received. She comes up to High Five me for gettin’ it done…and under her breath pulls me close… and the Iron Chef says to ME, “You’re fucking incredible.” Lets just say….a whole lot of healing happened to my big ol’ heart on that day. Thank you Alex. From my soul.

And THAT dish… and THAT Ancho Vinaigrette….WAS that fucking good.