CANNONSBURG The culinary students hunched over hot stovetops Thursday never knew making a stack of pancakes could be so stressful.
They probably got a clue when guest chef Cameron Pennington introduced himself and said, “welcome to cooking boot camp.”
Pennington spent the next half hour tramping around the culinary lab kitchen at Boyd County High School barking orders, grimacing at lumpy batter and rolling his eyes at overcooked pancakes.
The students were jittery by the time Pennington ordered them to place their completed plates of pancakes topped with strawberry compote on the display table, and completely frazzled when he circled the room, taking a bite or two from each stack and passing judgment.
As harsh as it sounded, the high-pressure atmosphere resulted in at least a few tasty stacks, and the students left for their next classes in generally high spirits.
Pennington, 20, is spending three days at Boyd County High bringing to the culinary students there the same experience he remembers from his five weeks as a contestant on the Food Network show “Worst Cooks in America.”
The Grayson native and East Carter High School graduate, who says he previously was helpless in a kitchen, made it through five weeks of the show and now loves to cook.
Being a reality show, “Worst Cooks” thrives on conflict. Host chefs prod contestants, all of whom are inept cooks, to produce elaborate dishes under strict time constraints.
“This is exactly like the show. I’m stressing them out. I’m putting them under pressure and that makes them go faster. It provides the authentic experience,” Pennington said.
The students weren’t warned ahead of time that Pennington would employ his drill-sergeant approach and in fact didn’t know he would be in attendance until Wednesday, said family and consumer science teacher Becky Lynch.
The three-day residency started with a demonstration by Pennington and students were expected to take notes so when their turn came they could duplicate his work exactly.
The visit by a local semi-celebrity made an exciting start to the year and served a practical purpose, Lynch said.
With Pennington taking the lead, she was able to observe and note how students work under pressure and how they work together in their three-person teams.
The hard-nosed approach was transformative for Pennington, who lost a girlfriend when he neglected to remove a plastic wrapper before cooking her a steak and served it to her, melted plastic and all.
The show transformed Pennington into a skillful and enthusiastic cook, whose signature dish is a mixed berry souffle.
The students on Thursday handled the pressure well, he said. If they fell short, “it was overthinking things and trying to do too much. That’s a common issue on the show too,” he said.
Pennington works for his family’s vending business in Carter County but is exploring culinary options, including a cookbook he plans to publish in November.
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