Meet Worst Cooks Celebrity Recruit Barbara Eden, Actress and TV Legend

Get to know Barbara Eden, legendary TV actress and contestant on the new season of Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition.
Barbara Eden

Contestant Barbara Eden as seen on Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition, Season 9.

Photo by: Scott Gries ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Scott Gries, 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

For Season 9, Worst Cooks in America has invited nine celebrities who can't cook to take on the challenges of Boot Camp. Mentors Rachael Ray and Anne Burrell have lots in store for these unsuspecting individuals. In their daily lives, these celebrities are comics, TV actors and reality stars, but when it comes to the kitchen, they're disasters waiting to happen. Tune in to the premiere on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 9|8c to see the hilarious bumbling unfold. Every day leading up to the premiere, we'll be revealing a star contestant on FN Dish. Today it's television icon Barbara Eden.

Think of the classic TV show I Dream of Jeannie and Barbara Eden immediately comes to mind. During her illustrious career, Barbara has starred in 25 feature films, five network TV series and 19 TV movies. She's also made many stage appearances, most recently in her one-woman show On the Magic Carpet with Barbara Eden. Her recent TV credits include Always and Forever, and Army Wives. Barbara was honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, was named one of TV Guide's Most Popular Comedy Stars and has received the Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Broadcasters Hall of Fame and TV Land. In her personal time, Barbara works actively on behalf of numerous charities. Her memoir Jeannie Out of the Bottle debuted on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Even with all these accomplishments, there's one thing Barbara hasn't achieved, and that's being able to cook a meal. That's why she's signed up to get coached by Anne Burrell or Rachael Ray. Read on to find out more about Barbara.

How would you describe your current cooking style?

Barbara Eden: I have no style; I am learning. I am on a learning curve, and I'm not really at the curve part yet.

What made you sign up for Worst Cooks? What do you plan to gain from this competition?

BE: I hope to learn how to cook, and I have even though I am inept, I have learned a great deal from Rachael Ray and Anne Burrell.

Is there anything that makes you nervous about competing?

BE: Well, I don't really think of it as competing. I think of it as accomplishing what I have to do in a set amount of time, and that does make you nervous, because you want to do it and do it well. I don't care if I win; I just want to make the dish so that it's palatable and find all the equipment in the kitchen. That's a big problem.

Besides Anne or Rachael, is there a chef or a food personality you admire?

BE: Yes, a woman who's wonderful. I have cooks that I know. I have a dear friend, Shakee, and she has studied cooking in Italy and, you know, gone to those classes in France, and in Los Angeles she studied with several of the wonderful chefs in LA. So, she's really good. She's really good. I wouldn't say she's a chef, but boy, her food is tasty.

After this competition, what cooking skill level would you like to reach?

BE: I have no idea. I am hoping to achieve the best I can do. I'm starting with baby steps, and I hope I climb the ladder fast, but I don't guarantee anything.

Have there been any really good or really bad cooks in your life? Do you think that had an effect on you?

BE: No, my grandmother and my mother and my father were all pretty good cooks. I mean, they were not chefs, but it was good family cooking. We didn't have a lot of money, so my mother knew, like, a hundred ways to prepare hamburger, ground round. I remember going to the store and she'd say, "Get me a pound of ground round." I never knew how it was going to end up — usually in a casserole, which she knew a lot of.

Is there something that's prevented you from getting into the kitchen more or doing more cooking?

BE: Well, yes, of course my work. I started working very early, even in San Francisco when I was a little girl I was studying and working at the same time — going to school and going to theater school and going to Conservatory of Music in San Francisco. And I would come home, and God bless my mother; she was not a stage mother, she was never there when I was performing or doing my things in San Francisco, but I always had a meal, always had a bed, you know, [from] high school on up until I came down to Los Angeles. And then in Los Angeles, I lived in a place called the Hollywood Studio Club, and it was a place for professional women in the screen industry — writers, actresses — and they gave us two meals a day, so I had breakfast and dinner, and I could go out and look for work. And then when I started working, it just — there's no time to cook. You work eight, 10 hours, 16 hours. Even a film — I was under contract with Fox studios, and they would loan me out to MGM, Universal, Columbia, whatever. I'd come home at 8 o'clock at night; there was no way I was going to cook anything. I probably, looking back now, I probably had a very hefty lunch, and I didn't eat dinner.

What's your most-loved or most-hated kitchen tool or appliance?

BE: You know, ignorance is bliss. I don't think I have a tool that I'm afraid of, because I don't know anything about it. I love my mixer, because I can make the boxed cakes in the mixer. Love that.

What are some of the foods you like to eat? Do you have a guilty-pleasure food?

BE: I do like desserts. I like sweets. I like Key lime pie, for instance. Love Key lime pie, and I used to make a pretty good Key lime pie, but of course that's so easy. It's so easy to do. When we go out to restaurants, I like the veal piccata. I generally order veal piccata with a side, a little side of spaghetti, and a salad.

Is there something that we'd never catch you eating?

BE: Oh, escargot is one of them. I was raised in San Francisco, a lot of snails in San Francisco. I saw a lot of them, so I wouldn't eat them. But I don't … care for liver, and my husband adores it, and he can cook it well, I'm sure, I've been told by people, but … no. Uh-uh. They used to make me eat it when I was a child. Hate it.

If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

BE: I don't know that anyone would want to live on one food. … I like Mexican food, but I like the Tex-Mex, the food you find in New Mexico, Texas, Arizona. The handmade tamales and the flavors, and it's so good. I can't find it anywhere else like that.

What's a favorite dish you remember from your childhood?

BE: Well, my mother's tacos. I loved them, just loved them. … My grandparents lived in El Paso, and I lived with them when I was about 3 years old, and my grandmother had a friend, Mrs. Gonzales, and she taught my grandmother how to do this particular taco, which is different from anything most people have, because … you're making the sauce. It's ground beef and cumin and tomato paste and tomato sauce and just so many things, and you simmer it for a long time, and then you serve it with soft tortillas, the corn tortillas with shredded lettuce, green onion [and] a white hard cheese that you grate. I like to put avocado on the dish for people if they want it. You don't need it. It's very, very flavorful and sloppy. Really sloppy.

What's the first dish you learned to make? How did it turn out?

BE: I'm thinking back to San Francisco and living with my mom and dad. … I remember having dinner at the Fairmont Hotel when I was about 18. A date took me there, and they had a restaurant that was so good, The Tonga Room. I'm not sure if it's still there or not, but they would serve banana fritters with whipped cream, and I loved them. So I tried it one night after a date; my date and I came home and we had bananas and we were pretty good at it. My sister reminded me of that. She was just a tiny thing at the time. She was peeking out the door. We were in the kitchen. She's looking at us. It was pretty good. Banana fritters.

If we were to look in your fridge right now, what would be the weirdest thing that we would find?

BE: Well, probably my boxed food. From Monday through Friday I have food delivered to me, fresh food from a service, and they have three meals and two snacks in the bag every night, and I don't think most people have that. But I do because my husband cooks, and everything he cooks is delicious and fattening. So, poor thing — he cooks for himself, and I eat out of the box.

When you get into the kitchen, what are some of the things you cook? Do you have a signature dish?

BE: I don't think anyone recognizes me for anything in the kitchen, unfortunately. I really don't think anyone recognizes me as a cook at all. All my friends cook. I don't. There's nothing I've done, except maybe the Key lime pie for my friends.

What's the worst kitchen disaster you've had or the worst dish you've made?

BE: Well, a disaster was one Christmas, because a friend of mine made toffee for all of her friends, and it was so good, and I said, "I can do that. I'll make toffee," never realizing that you do bubble it a long time and stir it and stir it and stir it, and the toffee turned out all right, but the pot we had to throw out. We could not get the toffee out of the pot; it was terrible. It was a disaster.

What's the most-memorable meal that you've ever eaten? Tell us about the place, the people you were with and the meal you ate.

BE: I have to go back to my teenage years in San Francisco, and Trader Vic’s was a very, very big restaurant there. Wonderful. And that was the first time I had had … Asian sort of food, and I loved it. It was so good. And the rum drinks. MMMM! Yeah, that was a wonderful meal, and I was so sorry when they closed. We don't have any of those restaurants anymore.

Thinking of your competitors here, which of the other celebrities do you want to take down?

BE: No, I don't want to take down anybody. I really don't. I just want to plod along. I told someone, I said, "You know, in this, it isn't a competition for me, it's a learning experience." It truly is, and my nerves come because I don't want to be incompetent. I want to learn and do it correctly. I'm not a racehorse, I'm a workhorse, and I'm very happy to be a workhorse.

Which charity are you competing for? What would it mean for you to hand them a check for $50,000 if you win?

BE: It's called PATH: People Assisting the Homeless, and it's a wonderful small charity in Los Angeles/Santa Monica, and they assist the homeless by giving them a leg up, assisting them to get a job, assisting them to re-enter life, and right now they're concentrating on the veterans who really need help. They need integration and health, somebody that cares, and [to know] that they're still men or women of value. … PATH is wonderful, because I go to their meetings and they bring people in that they have assisted, and they speak to you, those that have been helped. It's not a giveaway. Everyone who gets something from PATH works for it and deserves it, and gets back into life. They're given another chance. It's also a small charity, so they don't have [large overhead]; all the money goes to what they're doing. It doesn't go to offices and a lot of people answering phones. They just need the money for their work.

If you won Worst Cooks, how would you celebrate?

BE: There is not a chance in China that I would win, so don't even ask me that. I win by learning. I think I see several people on the panel who could win, but not Barbara.

How about wherever you land in the competition? How would you want to celebrate just having been on the show? What would you do?

BE: I'd go home and hug my husband and my dog, probably cook them a meal.

Do you think you'll leave with some techniques you can try at home?

BE: Oh, I already have. I have a recipe I told my husband I want to try this when I get home, because when I get home, I'll know where everything is in my kitchen. In this one I'm a little scattered. I'm not sure, you know, I don't know where to find the can openers. You really waste a lot of time trying to find things.

How are you enjoying yourself so far?

BE: I'm enjoying myself very much. It's hard. It's very difficult, for me at least. It's a lot of work. This is — how can I say what it's like? It's like every day is a rehearsal for a show, and you're going to go onstage that night. It's that hard. You're on your feet, you're thinking, you're thinking, you're moving, the stoves are hot, is the water boiling? No, it's not boiling. Is the oven hot? No. Oh, somebody took my oven. It's that kind of thing. So, you're jumping around. At least I am.

Is this your first foray into reality TV? How are you enjoying that aspect of it?

BE: Yes. Well, I don't think of it as reality TV. I guess it is. This is very real, of course. I don't think most reality TV is real. This is. This is the real thing. These are real people trying to do good and learn. … Nothing's planned. Nobody's getting more help than anybody else. God knows I know that.

If you could, would you use your genie powers to whip up a meal?

BE: You bet I would. When I do, I would use all my genie powers to find all the spices so I'd know where they were and I'd have them right at my station so I could go right to cooking.

Your character used to pull off some pretty interesting meals when you were on I Dream of Jeannie.

BE: Oh, of course. She was, you know, she was talented.

Is there something of that character you would want to try, maybe a meal you would want to cook or any inspiration you would take from her?

BE: No, it's so different. Her cooking, she would do Mediterranean food, Arabic food, grape leaves and tabbouleh. I don't think that would be on this agenda. Who knows?

Watch Barbara Eden on Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition. Tune in to the premiere on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 9|8c.

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