Q&A with Competitor Barry Williams — Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition
Season 7 of Worst Cooks in America is a little bit more star-studded, as seven recruits from Tinseltown are joining the ranks of the culinarily challenged. Like in previous seasons, the recruits will be split into teams, but this time their coaches will be Anne Burrell and Rachael Ray. For one of these stars, getting through all six weeks of trying challenges will mean $50,000 for his or her charity and bragging rights for the star's mentor.
As one-ninth of the iconic television series The Brady Bunch, Barry Williams inhabited the role of the older brother. Although he'll forever be known as Greg, which is suggested by the subtitle of his autobiography, Growing Up Brady: the Story of a Teenage Greg, Barry has gone on to become a commensurate performer. He's appeared on Broadway in Romance/Romance and toured with the cast of Pippin, The Sound of Music and West Side Story, among others. Currently he can be found performing in the 70s Music Celebration in Branson, Mo., where he resides.
Get to know Barry better and discover what made him decide to sign up for Boot Camp. Hint: He neglected to learn anything from Alice. Tune in for the premiere of Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition on Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 9|8c.
How would you describe your cooking style presently?
Barry Williams: I would say my cooking style is inexperienced. One of the reasons I'm so grateful to be here is I have aspired to, and I even have it on my bucket list, but I have never learned my way around the kitchen. I've been touring my entire life, and so that's meant lots of room service, takeout, restaurants. And so my go-to in the kitchen is cereal. ... I can make toast without burning it. Oh, and I can make sandwiches.
Have there been any really good or really bad cooks in your life? Do you think that had an effect on you?
BW: Well, my mother was a very ... traditional kind of cook for that time period. [Her meals included] some kind of protein, and some kind of starch, and some kind of vegetable. And so that's basically what our dinner menu revolved around. [I] never complained, but she didn't really teach me how to do that — or my brothers. And we never asked at the time, and so that's been an influence on me. ... Unfortunately for me, Alice, who ... played the cook on The Brady Bunch, in real life, she didn't know anything about cooking. So we always had prop men making the meals. Most of the really good cooks that have been in my life have been chefs in restaurants.
Is there something that has kept you from learning to cook all this time?
BW: Well, I had more time to think about this since I joined the rare privilege of being referred to as a Worst Cook in America, but I mean, the deal is that working professionally from as young as I was — and I started when I was 11 — some things fell through the cracks. And I went to high school on the lot at Paramount Studios. There were two people in my high school: Marcia Brady and me. And we had no home economics class. I mean, it just wasn't a part of the curriculum. So it was something that never really kind of came up. And then I became very busy subsequently after the show, mostly traveling, and ... I never dated anyone that was really, like, killer in the kitchen. So ... there was no real access for me, and so I stuck with sports and tennis, and boating and things like that.
Besides the show's mentors, is there a chef or food personality whom you admire?
BW: Well, when I was kind of coming up and living in Los Angeles, in, in my early, early 20s, Wolfgang Puck had arrived on the scene, bigtime, in California. And he was, I thought, pretty creative with his Italian dishes, and pizza in particular. And he was kind of a rock star there for a while. So I admired him and have followed him over the years as he's opened up different restaurants.
BW: There are two things: I would like to be able to transfer creativity in other areas, like let's say, in the arts, or in music, or even in the acting field, and transfer that to food. So I'm looking for combinations, and I'm looking for diversity, and I'm looking to think a little bit outside the box, and I would like, ultimately, to be able to have dinner parties that I design a menu for and prepare, and people actually enjoy.
Does anything scare or intimidate you about being in the kitchen?
BW: What is frightening to me about being in the kitchen is being overwhelmed, just not knowing what to do next. Or if something went wrong, I may not know how to correct it without just starting over. I think it's very tricky to time everything to come out, especially if you're working on multiple dishes, for them all to, kind of, arrive at completion at the same time, which I know is very important. But I'm only intimated because I'm ignorant of how to be proficient, and that's what I'm hoping to move past. I mean, the show's called Worst Cooks in America, so they have to know they're not starting with pros from the get-go. And hopefully the mentors will be invested in making us proficient.
When you do go into the kitchen, what are some of the things that you try to cook for yourself or others?
BW: No, there isn't. There are times I will try and assist, you know, if someone else is kind of in charge, and stuff, and I can say: "OK, how about I turn the stove off? Do you want me to take anything out of the oven? I could wash the carrots." But, no ... I don't have a go-to that way.
BW: Well, I had to make one, but I kind of fudged. They asked me to do a signature dish, and the only thing I could come up with was pork chops and applesauce, and I've never prepared it before, but I watched Alice make it. But as I said, she didn't know what she was doing either. [laughs]
What's the worst kitchen disaster you've had or the worst dish you've made?
BW: The worst kitchen disaster was [when] I was 19 years old, and I loved this concept of fondue. So this was a date dinner, and ... my 19-year-old girlfriend and I [were] going to make fondue. So I got the fondue pot, and then I found the liquid that you actually cook the meat in ... then I got [a] Sterno to heat it all up. What I did not know was the fondue liquid was actually fondue fuel. It was supposed to be used to heat the pan. So now I'm heating the fuel, which I got to be nice and hot, and put these little chunks of beef in, and they turned blue. And ... some of the fuel would drip onto the Sterno, and at one point the entire pan caught on fire ... and I didn't know why. [laughs]
If you had a choice, who would do the cooking for you?
BW: I have a friend ... I grew up with, kind of my alter ego. He was good at all the things I wasn't and vice versa. And one of the things he could do was make a meal. And he gave me some — it was not advice — it was actually just a really good thought that stayed with me. He said, "Really, a cook can go into the cupboard and take whatever's there and make something good out of it." They can, and that was a way of thinking; that has never left me, but I've never really employed. [laughs] And I'm sure he's a wonderful cook now.
Is there something we would never catch you eating?
BW: Probably won't catch me eating sushi ... or steak tartare. I had a very bad experience with steak tartare, and ... I'm not willing to try and repeat that. Anytime. Ever. Again.
BW: So I would have to say, hands down with complete indulgence, the best meal I have ever had was all the way in the South of France in Monaco [at the] Hotel de Paris [Le] Louis XV. It was, like, a nine-course meal, and everything exploded with flavor and taste, and there were small portions, and it went on and on. At least, three-and-a-half hours we were eating, at the end of which they brought out a humidor of cigars. And then to cap it off with our coffee drinks and after-dinner drinks, we all sat around and smoked these beautiful Cuban cigars, and it was completely decadent, and thoroughly enjoyable and memorable. And expensive. It was, like, an $8,000, $9,000 dinner. There were only four of us.
What's a favorite dish you remember from your childhood?
BW: French toast on Saturday mornings. I used to love those. And pancakes. ... One of my favorites was ... a good steak with some beans and a baked potato. I love that.
BW: I have two older brothers, and we assigned ourselves the challenge of learning one breakfast meal each. And so one brother had waffles and one had pancakes, and I attempted to learn French toast. And so we ate a lot of waffles and pancakes [and French toast].
BW: Yes. Potato chips. I love potato chips. I just love them. And I don't like them baked, and I don't like them minus salt. I like them just the way they're supposed to come ... from the kettle with sea salt and pure oil. That's it.
What's the weirdest thing that we'd find in your fridge?
BW: I have, on the second shelf, in the back of my refrigerator, a can of touchup paint for my house. [It's] eight years old. And it's never been used. It just sits there, right next to the baking soda.
Which of the other celebrities do you want to take down?
BW: Oh, there are a couple here. ... Jaleel White is laying low, but I can see he's formidable. I think that Jenni has done a lot more cooking than most of us, but she just hasn't been doing it for a long time. So I get a feeling some of this stuff might be like riding a bicycle. ... Those are the two players here that need to be watched.
BW: Oh, I would call the Boys & Girls Club of the Ozarks and tell them that help is on the way. It's a wonderful, wonderful charity. That's a $50,000 contribution to infuse into a very, very worthwhile foundation, the Ozarks. It takes care of kids between 6 and 18, and so that's how I would celebrate. ... If I get to the finals I'm going to make a three-course meal for a bunch of culinary experts, and if they like it well enough to name me the winner of this competition, I'm going to make a couple of extra portions of this thing, sit down and have it myself.