Open the doors to tasty stories

When PBS launched its culinary competition, the world of culinary television took notice. Instead of throwing dishes and cutting comments, this cooking show proves that the competition doesn’t have to be combative to be great. In Episode 1 of The Great American Recipe, tasty stories filled the plate and left everyone wanting more.

Like any first episode of a culinary competition, it is difficult to highlight all the competitors. While there is a wide range of regions and backgrounds, it will take time for all home cooks to have their moment to shine.

Even the judges, who are familiar faces in the culinary world, have only just begun to show their approach. Far from the flaming beards of other TV cooking shows, judges Leah Cohen, Tiffany Derry and Graham Elliot along with host Alejandra Ramos have a supportive medium to guide home cooks to more successful picks. Even criticism is served with a touch of kindness.

What was the first challenge in Episode 1 of The Great American Recipe?

As an introduction to each of the home cooks, the first challenge asked them to tackle “if I were a recipe”. Although a plate is a small glimpse into their food traditions, it had to be a memorable first impression. The pressure was on and everyone seemed to keep their promises.

While most dishes offered some aspect of food and culture, it was more than just a cacophony of flavors on a plate. Presenting a dish that not only made a tasty first impression, but left the judges wanting more was the key to success.

Top picks were Dan’s calamari and Tony’s chicken gochujang tacos. Looking at these two dishes, there was something unexpected.

Dan’s calamari was not the typical appetizer on many restaurant menus. The buttermilk soaked calamari served with roasted pepper was tender and flavorful. As a great appetizer, it was a tasty start to competition.

Tony’s chicken gochujang tacos were just as good. Layers of flavor were key to this dish. It made the judges want to see more. This earned him the victory.

Top dishes aside, it’s clear these are home cooks in a culinary competition. While there aren’t any red-marked fingers from training camp, the judges try to offer some helpful tips to transform home cook techniques. From nudges on regular cuts to monitoring salt levels, these little items can make a dish stand out.

For the elimination challenge, home cooks were tasked with showing off the culture and traditions of their area. While food is often said to be the language that brings people together, it tells a story on a plate. Beyond the family history of the recipes handed down, the kitchen represents a community. Whether it’s a particular style of barbecue or a seasonal ingredient, certain foods are closely tied to a location.

Since Episode 1 of The Great American Recipe is just the start of the competition, not all dishes have been highlighted. But, the main course was clearly a winner.

Brian’s cookies three ways were a huge hit. Being able to nail cookies in a competition is worthy of Top Chef. While the “duo” is often criticized in culinary competitions, this plate worked and won over the judges. It was definitely a crowning achievement.

Unfortunately the bottom dishes were flawed due to workmanship issues. Tony, who was praised in the first round, misstepped his meatloaf. While it’s unclear why the texture of the meatloaf was off, it may have been overworked. Even though its flavor was good, a crumbly meatloaf is not a pleasant bite.

Christina had a problem with her pork. While a sous vide pork may be tasty, his didn’t cook properly. Finishing the undercooked pork in a cast iron skillet made the pork dry. There was no amount of sauce that could save dry pork.

Eventually, Christina was sent home. But, parting words from one of the other cooks were more indicative of the purpose of this PBS cooking competition.

Episode 1 of Great American Recipe sparked a conversation about the common bond food offers. Flavors, ingredients and plates will be very diverse, but the stories have a common thread. Maybe the next time that cookbook is opened or Grandma’s recipe is added to the file, consider adding a sentence or two about a favorite dish, family tradition, or just a silly memory. Much like a finishing touch of salt on a steak, that little extra can make the flavor even better.

The Great American Recipe airs on PBS Friday nights at 9 p.m. It can be streamed online or via the PBS app.