NC woman from ‘food fam­ily’ has spot on ‘Worst Cooks in Amer­ica’

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY BROOKE CAIN [email protected]­sob­server.com

Her grand­mother cooked for the Rock­e­feller fam­ily in Fayet­teville and her fa­ther owns a restau­rant in Spring Lake, but some­how Janese Henry never learned to cook. Her culi­nary rep­u­ta­tion among fam­ily and friends be­came so bad that many of them — more than one — nom­i­nated her to com­pete on Food Net­work’s “Worst Cooks in Amer­ica.”

Henry, a grad­u­ate of N.C. Cen­tral Univer­sity in Durham, will ap­pear on the show start­ing with this Sun­day’s 9 p.m. sea­son pre­miere.

Henry said her bad rep be­gan a few years ago when she made a green bean casse­role for a fam­ily din­ner.

“I’ve been the laugh­ing stock since then,” Henry said in a phone in­ter­view this week.

When asked what was wrong with the casse­role, Henry didn’t hes­i­tate.

“I didn’t think any­thing was wrong with it!” she said. “They said it looked nasty. They take pic­tures. Around the hol­i­days they’ll say on Face­book, ‘My hol­i­day is al­most com­plete, now I just need to see a pic­ture of Janese’s green bean casse­role’ — and peo­ple have it on de­mand, saved on their phones!”

Even though Henry will oc­ca­sion­ally add “I just don’t ap­pre­ci­ate it!” when re­count­ing her fam­ily’s re­jec­tion, she says it with a laugh. She has a great sense of hu­mor about all the grief she gets.

Her fail­ings are not for her lack of try­ing, she in­sisted. With three young daugh­ters — ages 2, 5 and 10 — she tried to cook more, but it didn’t get any bet­ter. She ended up cook­ing a lot of what she calls “heat and eat” meals, like spaghetti and frozen pan­cakes on a stick.

“The fan­ci­est meal is prob­a­bly spaghetti, when I put the Parme­san cheese on it,” she said. “The kind in the jar, not like the real Parme­san cheese. I didn’t even know Parme­san cheese came other than the grated kind that you put on spaghetti un­til re­cently.”

And her sauce? It’s from a jar. “I did not know that peo­ple ac­tu­ally made their own sauces,” she said. “I used Ragu. OK, let me not lie. I use the store brand of Ragu.”

But when­ever Henry de­vi­ated from spaghetti and pan­cakes on a stick, her fam­ily re­volted.

“When I try to make what I call square meals — a meat, a veg­etable and a starch — they will not eat it. My mid­dle child has lit­er­ally gone to bed if I tell her, ‘If you don’t eat your food you’re go­ing to bed.’ She’ll go bed.”

Her hus­band isn’t much braver.

“I’ll make him some­thing that I think turned out re­ally good,” she said. “I’ve found my food in the garbage can on many oc­ca­sions. I’ve found my food hid­den to throw away later be­cause he knows I’m in the kitchen by the garbage can, so he’ll try to tuck it away some­where and then for­get about it.”

FROM A FOOD FAM­ILY

Henry said she never learned to cook from her mother or grand­mother be­cause her mother was sick a lot when she and her sib­lings were lit­tle, and she just didn’t cook much. Her grand­mother cooked all her life, but it didn’t rub off on Henry.

“I didn’t get any skills from her,” she said. “I was not al­lowed in the kitchen with her. My grand­mother was a very ‘no kids in the kitchen’ type, very old fash­ioned.”

But food was al­ways im­por­tant in her fam­ily, she said, and there are a lot of fam­ily gath­er­ings planned around food. “Food was al­ways around, I just never got that part of it.”

Sev­eral years ago her fa­ther — “he’s re­ally the

‘‘ MY MID­DLE CHILD HAS LIT­ER­ALLY GONE TO BED IF I TELL HER, ‘IF YOU DON’T EAT YOUR FOOD YOU’RE GO­ING TO BED.’ Janese Henry

cook in the fam­ily,” she told us — opened Saucy Wings, a restau­rant in Spring Lake, and all her broth­ers have worked there. Henry worked there for a while, manag­ing the front and the cashiers, but they would never al­low her to cook any­thing.

Her two old­est daugh­ters show some in­ter­est in cook­ing now, par­tic­u­larly the 5 year old. “My mid­dle baby is the one who, we watch the cook­ing shows to­gether,” Henry said. “She loves all that.”

And now that she’s back from “Worst Cooks,” she’s try­ing to in­volve the kids more in meal prepa­ra­tions.

“We love to make home­made piz­zas to­gether,” Henry said. She goes for the store-bought crust, but now her sauce is home­made.

SO, IS IT RE­ALLY THAT BAD?

Henry is adamant that she doesn’t think her food is that bad. She eats it, and she thinks it’s fine.

“Some­times I re­ally do feel like the food is good, so I don’t know what their prob­lem is,” Henry said. “But I’m just like, look, ei­ther you eat it or you don’t. I don’t be­lieve in wast­ing food.”

When friends and fam­ily mem­bers rec­om­mended she go on “Worst Cooks in Amer­ica,” she looked up the show and fig­ured they would never take her be­cause her food was not that bad.

“I said, ‘No, that’s not me.’ Ap­par­ently it was me, though. So here I am.”

She said at least three dif­fer­ent peo­ple nomi- nated her. She isn’t mad, though, be­cause she loved the time she spent on the show.

“The show was the best time of my life,” she said. “I value my ex­pe­ri­ence with the chefs so much and I will hold on to it for­ever. … I got a world class ex­pe­ri­ence with world renowned chefs.”

The premise of “Worst Cooks in Amer­ica” is that a group of strug­gling cooks are se­lected to go through a sort of chef’s boot camp. They are taught ba­sic cook­ing tech­niques and then the new skills are tested. At least one con­tes­tant is elim­i­nated in each episode and the win­ner at the end of the sea­son gets a cash prize. The hosts this sea­son are ac­claimed chefs Robert Irvine and Anne Bur­rell.

So did the chefs at “Worst Cooks in Amer­ica” con­firm her fam­ily’s as­ser­tions? Was she re­ally that bad?

“I think peo­ple are gonna be sur­prised at some of the com­ments made by the judges,” she said. “And then I also think they’re gonna be like ‘I told you so.’”

The bot­tom line is that Henry thinks her cook­ing since learn­ing from the chefs on the show is def­i­nitely bet­ter, but it’s “baby steps,” she said. “My fam­ily doesn’t com­pletely trust me all the way, and I’ve still yet to cook for my par­ents.”

One of her goals is to get the same ju­bi­lant re­ac­tion from her Ja­maican hus­band that his mother’s jerk chicken in­spires.

“I’m still work­ing on it,” she said.

JA­SON DECROW FOOD NET­WORK

Men­tor Anne Bur­rell, cen­ter, checks in on re­cruits Janese Henry, from North Carolina, and Bradley Gar­cia as they cook dur­ing the base­line chal­lenge on Food Net­work’s “Worst Cooks in Amer­ica” Sea­son 14.

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