ASHLAND It was the best of food and the worst of food.
First came Jason Smith, the Grayson man who won the 13th season of the Food Network’s series “Food Network Star,” as well as the third season of “Holiday Baking Championship.”
Now, there’s Cameron Pennington, the 20-year-old East Carter High School graduate who appears on the network’s show titled “Worst Cooks in America.”
Pennington, who works on a farm, is very open about his culinary challenges, which are, in part, motivated by fear.
“I’ve always been afraid of cooking — hot grease, knives,” he said. “What really drove me to notice I was a horrible cook was when I got a date with a girl I’d liked for a long time. She was going to culinary school and her friends said if I could cook, she’d like it.
“I made her a ribeye and put cheese on top and forgot to take off the plastic, and I burned the plastic onto the steak and served it to her anyway,” he said. “The next week at school, she said her mom didn’t want us to see each other anymore.”
Pennington said after several interviews and a video submission of him cooking, he learned he was chosen for the show, which was filmed over several weeks in New York.
“It surprised me that I got picked,” he said, noting he was 19 at the time of filming, the youngest to be on the show. “I thought I had no chance.”
He said he believes his personality sold him.
“They loved my video,” he said. “They really liked my Southern personality — a Southern boy with a heart of gold. ... they liked the way I said ‘y’all.’ They thought that was the funniest thing ever.”
Southern culture helped make Jason Smith a standout, too. Pennington said he hadn’t met Smith until after the filming of “Worst Cooks.”
“Since the show, we’ve talked off and on about our experiences,” Pennington said, adding Smith is very nice. “It’s pretty odd two people from Grayson being on Food Network.”
Once cast, Pennington said he made no effort to improve his cooking skills; he was told not to.
“They said arrive at your worst,” he said, noting the goal is to “really whip you into culinary shape.”
On the first episode, which aired last week, contestants showed chefs Tyler Florence and Anne Burrell what they could do. The chefs chose teams (Pennington was on Florence’s team) and set out to improve their protégés.
“(Florence) is the most down-to-earth celebrity you’ll ever meet,” Pennington said. “He cares about his contestants and really wants us to succeed. He feels like a friend.”
While filming has been completed, Pennington can’t reveal any details about what transpired. He said if he wins the $25,000 grand prize, he plans to throw a huge “barn party” and invite the other contestants and everyone who worked on the show.
“We’re like a big family,” he said. “We jelled really well together.”
As for cooking skills, Pennington said he learned a great deal.
“I learned not to freak out about little things that happen in the kitchen,” he said. “And don’t run with knives.”
.While still no chef, he said now he can cook a decent meal. He said he genuinely wants to be a better cook.
“I would love to cook a nice meal for my mom and get revenge on my ex-girlfriend,” he said.
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