Q&A with Competitor Jaleel White — 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.
Hear the phrase "Did I do that?" and you immediately know who we're talking about. Although Jaleel White has gone on to write and direct for other TV shows and networks, he'll forever be known as the lovably geeky Steve Urkel on Family Matters. While attending UCLA, Jaleel starred in the TV series Grown-Ups, and he has since appeared in guest roles on Boston Legal, House and NCIS. He's written for Imagine Entertainment and Disney Channel, and he wrote, produced and starred in his own Web series, Fake It 'Til You Make It.
Learn more about what makes Jaleel tick in and out of the kitchen and why he's put himself up for Boot Camp. 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?
Jaleel White: My cooking style is, presently, scatterbrained.
Have there been any really good or really bad cooks in your life? Do you think that had an effect on you?
JW: A lot of good cooks. No really bad cooks. I have some moody cooks. You know, they may not feel like cooking at the time, and so you have to come up with alternative sources of nourishment. My lifestyle is what has directly affected my lack of cooking. It's always been go, go, go, go, go, need to grab some food, and actually, I kind of take pride when things are done well. [But] cooking done well is time-consuming. Since I was 12 years old, you know, I've always worked and gone to school. Now it's multiple jobs. I'm also a writer. Now I'm a dad. So, you know, sometimes it helps me to have somebody ... insert a meal here and there, and that just develops your habits.
JW: Oh, man, I want a lot of pizzazz. I want to really be able to really go in the kitchen and just impress the heck out of every woman that I know in my life with, you know, specific dishes. I'd like to know, pretty much, every tool there is in the kitchen. You know, just at a glance, I [would] know what that is, I [would] know how to use it. ... Now I can only really follow a recipe, but I'd like to be able to know, if I start with this, what number of things could I make? I would love for my cooking intuition to improve.
Besides the show's mentors, is there a chef or food personality whom you admire?
JW: Oh, yeah, definitely ... Bobby Flay. ... Gordon Ramsay's awesome. Michael Mina is somebody I just enjoy.
Does anything scare or intimidate you about being in the kitchen?
JW: The only thing that scares me about being in the kitchen is burning myself and burning food. It creates an odor immediately that lets everybody know somebody's [screwing] up over there. So there's no hiding you've made a mistake when you're burning food.
When you do go into the kitchen, what are some of the things you try to cook for yourself or others?
JW: You know, French toast ... I like to take some Hawaiian bread ... dip that into ... an egg batter and that's it. It's easy, it's fast and everybody's happy. [And] tacos ... I would have the easy recipe for that. You know, I'd get some ground sirloin and put Lawry's seasoning right out of the packet all over it.
Then I'd probably be happy and do that to taste. So, yeah, things that ... don't have a whole lot of steps and are savory.
What's the worst kitchen disaster you've had or the worst dish you've made?
JW: The worst kitchen disaster I had is [when] I tried to bake a cake [in] high altitude on a ski trip, and I got all that wrong. The number of eggs ... [and] the cake went pleh. ... I looked in the oven, it looked pleh. That's it.
If you had the choice, who would do the cooking for you?
JW: If I had a choice, I mean, any of the chefs from New Orleans. I mean, literally any — you know, Paul Prudhomme. ... It's my favorite food on the planet. You can go to New Orleans and come home 10 pounds heavier in two days.
Is there something that we'd never catch you eating?
JW: Some friends of mine went to Beijing for the Olympics, and they were sending back all these crazy, like, pictures of street meat, and it was like rat tails and, you know, scorpion, and it was crazy. ... Yeah, so when food starts getting a little, you know, Indiana Jones-ish, you know, exotic like that ... I'm not into that kind of stuff. I like calamari. That kind of stuff doesn't freak me out, but when we start to get closer to rodent and rabbit ... it gets a little gamey, and I don't need that in my life.
What's the most-memorable meal that you've ever eaten?
JW: Bottega in Napa. When [Michael Chiarello] was there, it was the most-incredible meal. ... I had to take a bathroom break in the middle of the meal to continue. This meal was so incredible, but it was so sad, because I went back, and he was not there, and you could tell the inmates were running the asylum. ... He does a thing with the crab, a garlic crab that was amazing. ... I'll never forget that dish.
What's a favorite dish you remember from your childhood?
JW: I have a sweet tooth, though, so I love, I love bananas Foster, and I know that's dessert. ... My mom made great enchiladas [when I was] a kid. ... I always beg my mom to make her enchiladas. She also ... made great fried chicken. I'd like to be able to out chicken-fry her.
JW: Oh, the first dish I learned to make, I think I was about 10 years old, I made my dad spaghetti and broccoli for dinner when he got home from work, and it was, like, a surprise. My mom had me put it on the table, and then after he ate it my mom was like, "Jaleel made that tonight." And he was like, "What?!" And my mom was like, "Yeah." So I was 11 and started working on the series when I was 12, so that's where you can see where it started to go away.
JW: Souffles in the middle of the night ... I will get in my car and get a chocolate souffle at midnight, and a glass of wine, and remind myself that most of my troubles are just in my mind.
Do you have a signature dish that you often make for yourself or for others?
JW: I do have a closer: eggplant Parmesan. ... It's a fail-safe dish for me. It's, like, I learned how to make it, and it's fancy-looking enough that a woman might be fooled into believing that I would do this every Friday, upon request.
What is the weirdest thing that we'd find in your fridge?
JW: You're definitely going to find Sriracha, you're going to find a variation of hot sauces, and you're going to find garbanzo beans. I like those in my salad. ... The weirdest thing, though? See, I have a 5-year-old daughter, so I try not to keep the worst of the worst in my house anymore. You know, because kids are going to find it and get ahold of it, so, junk food I particularly try to keep [away]. I have a special basket for the junk food that I don't want her to see.
Which of the other celebrities do you want to take down?
JW: I want to take down all six of them. I think that's the best way. If I had a T-shirt that said "I want to take down all six of you," I would wear that one. ... I think Ellen is somebody to watch out for, though. She just is. ... JWoww, though, is, I just think she's hiding some skills. ... She's Italian, you know; it's just in her DNA to figure this out. I love Italian food. She talks smack. I like women who talk smack. Then I can talk back. So I'd say Ellen and JWoww are people I have my eye on.
We posed that question to all of the other celebrities, and they all said you. What do you have to say to that?
JW: Ha! Oh, you've got to be kidding me! I like that, though. I like being the one who may have set a bar. I do. Now I have to, the problem is I'm such an A type, I have to live up to that. Because psychological advantage is something that can work for you.
JW: Oh, man. If I do win the competition ... you know what I would do? I would cook a great meal, for all the ladies in my life. My nanny is incredible. My mom. My daughter. That would be the biggest test ever, if you even got her to willingly taste anything that I made. That's what I would do. I would cook a really, really nice meal and invite a lot of people over who would not think that I would do that.