Meet Worst Cooks Celebrity Recruit John Henson, Comedian and TV Producer
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 funnyman John Henson.
As an actor, writer, host and producer of over 1,400 hours of television, John Henson has worked in front of and behind the camera. He began his career as a stand-up comedian before becoming the host, writer and co-executive producer of the Emmy Award-winning series Talk Soup. John's other credits include the series The John Henson Project, Watch This and Wipeout. He's had parts in Anger Management, Austin & Ally and My Name Is Earl. As a comedian, John is a regular at The Laugh Factory and The Improv in Los Angeles. As a writer, he has contributed to Us Weekly, TV Guide and George Magazine. He's currently set to co-produce the true-crime TV drama Making Jack Falcone, based on the New York Times best-selling book. Now with a young family, John has decided he wants to become a better cook for them, and he wants to be the one that everyone looks to for a good meal. He's signed up for Boot Camp, and he's going to get a lesson from either Anne Burrell or Rachael Ray. Learn more about John.
How would you describe your cooking style presently?
John Henson: Rudimentary. I have two small kids. I have a little girl who's going to be 3 next month and a 5-year-old, that's probably the level of palate that I’m used to catering to. If there was a peanut butter and jelly challenge, I would destroy you guys, but I could stand to use more if I’m going to be cooking for someone who’s outside of the preschool range.
What made you sign up for Worst Cooks? What do you plan to gain from this competition?
JH: Well, I think there is something to be said for the fact that cooking for somebody is a very nurturing and loving thing to do. When I was a single guy, food was more like an obligation, you know — fuel that I needed to consume to keep my day going — but now that I have a family, I have children and every night I’m home for dinner with my wife and my kids, the mealtime has taken on a whole different meaning for me, and I view it as a lot more nurturing and loving. I’ve said to friends of mine, "If I were to tell you that if you worked out four times a week for six months you’d be in shape for the rest of your life, you’d be into it." Well, that’s the way I feel about cooking. If you take the time to put in some effort and learn and do it repeatedly for a period of time where you really burn it into your head, you’ll eat well for the rest of your life. It’s something that pays enormous dividends.
Is there anything that makes you nervous about competing?
JH: Well, let’s just say I have a healthy distrust of reality shows. You know, normally I’m not the guy on the reality show; I’m the guy making fun of the guy on the reality show. So, I feel like I’m through the looking glass a little bit. I’ve stumbled into enemy territory, but everyone’s been really good to me, and the opportunity to raise money and raise awareness for the charity we work with is very important to me. My wife and I have worked with, an orphanage in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for four or five years now, and we’ve helped them raise over $2 million … and we’re pretty passionate about working with these kids. And a chance to raise some money for them, [and] just as importantly to get the name Casa Hogar out there to promote this amazing facility/charity on a national level, was very appealing.
Besides Anne or Rachael, is there a chef or a food personality you admire?
JH: I don’t get a whole lot of TV time, with two small kids. I get about 40 minutes of adult viewing time a month. Normally when my TV’s on, unless there’s an animated chef that I’m not aware of, I probably don’t watch, but I’ve been on Rachael Ray’s show before. I was on her show about six years ago, right after I got married … .
After this competition, what cooking skill level would you like to reach?
JH: Well, you know, I’ve always said my wife is a phenomenal cook, and I’ve always said that the thing that separates me from my wife is that if everything lines up I can follow a recipe, but my wife knows how to cook well enough that she can improvise and play and get creative with the meals she creates and the flavors she combines. And that’s, to me, the difference between a utilitarian facility with a kitchen and the place where you can express yourself creatively and bring a little more individuality and personality to the process.
Have there been any really good or really bad cooks in your life? Do you think that had an effect on you?
JH: My mom was a good cook. I’m the youngest of five boys, and my mom never made anything that wasn’t like she was feeding an army. She had five sons and a husband to feed, so anything she made, she made a lot of, but both my parents are from Arkansas. Lot of Southern cooking, lot of barbecue and meat and cheese. The funny thing is my brothers and I, the five of us, take my father away every year for three days. We have a little tradition, a little stag weekend, and it’s become clear that I am the Rachael Ray of my family when we go away, because I have a feeling if I wasn’t cooking these men would starve to death. They are literally helpless. So, everything’s relative. To them I’m a gourmet chef.
Is there something that’s prevented you from getting into the kitchen more or doing more cooking?
JH: If there’s something that prevented me to cook, it certainly isn’t interest or enthusiasm for it. I love the idea of learning how to cook. It would probably be time — I just haven’t had the time.
What's your most-loved or most-hated kitchen tool or appliance?
JH: I have some ones that I really enjoy. I love a mortar and pestle. It’s not often that you get to use it, but you feel like a turn-of-the-century alchemist when you get to bust out a mortar and pestle. There’s certain things that you use or you do and it makes it seem like you’re a lot farther up the food chain than you are. You bust out a mortar and pestle and it seems like it’s going to be elaborate.
What are some of the foods you like to eat? Do you have a guilty-pleasure food?
JH: Like I said, I grew up with Southern cooking, so I’m like a goldfish: I would probably eat barbecued pork until I die. I have my series of a handful of meals that I’m comfortable making, and then I kind of just put it on repeat. I’d like to break out of that comfort zone and really get to the point where I feel I can be more adventurous.
Is there something that we’d never catch you eating?
JH: Don’t bring me a fish with a head on it. That’s a little too primal for me. I start to feel like I’m on an episode of Game of Thrones if I have to see the face of the thing I’m eating.
What’s a favorite dish you remember from your childhood?
JH: I grew up on, like, literally, peanut butter sandwiches and, like, cans of Chef Boyardee. Kids will find one thing they like to eat, then they’ll eat it uninterrupted for, like, three years. So, that’s another reason why I want to learn how to cook. … I’d like to be able to break my kids out of that habit of having a very narrow palate. I want them to try a lot of things.
What’s the first dish you learned to make? How did it turn out?
JH: I do remember trying to make a dinner for my girlfriend when I was in my 20s, and it was supposed to include chorizo, and I didn’t realize, but I basically bought something that was on fire and made a horrendous amount of inedible pasta, because it was far too spicy.
What is the weirdest thing that we'd find in your fridge if we were to open it today?
JH: There's probably a lot of half-finished sippy cups of milk, and string cheese. It’s sort of like a preschool cafeteria in my fridge.
When you get into the kitchen, what are some of the things you cook? Do you have a signature dish?
JH: I make chicken enchiladas … and that’s probably a meal that I’ve made enough that I’m kind of comfortable making it, but I think it might fall short of a signature dish. It’s more like cafeteria food.
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.
JH: Well, I love Italian food. My wife and I got engaged in Italy, and we got engaged in a restaurant called Da Paolino, which is in a lemon grove in Capri in Italy, on the Amalfi coast. It’s an extraordinarily beautiful setting. So, I have some pretty fond memories of that evening and that dinner, because I associate it with getting engaged.
Thinking of your competitors here, which of the other celebrities do you want to take down?
JH: Well, Nicki Sullivan and I are close friends back in LA. She’s one of my wife’s best friends. I see her all the time socially. Our kids play together. So I would certainly welcome bragging rights when I go back home, but she’s probably got more experience in the kitchen than I do.
JH: You know, I would probably celebrate by taking the evening off. I assume if I won that means I just cooked for a long time. I’d probably want an evening out, and I would definitely welcome the opportunity to bring a $50,000 check to Casa Hogar. That would be exciting.
Watch John Henson on Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition. Tune in to the premiere on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 9|8c.