Lake Forest Park amateur chef Alice Currah goes up against food-show regular and Bainbridge Island native Marcel Vigneron.
If knowing your opponent is a key strategy in TV competition shows, Alice Currah, of Lake Forest Park, was at a disadvantage when she competed in the second-season finale of NBC’s “Food Fighters” (8 p.m. Thursday), a prime-time game show that pits home cooks against professional chefs.
“I don’t watch any food shows, I don’t subscribe to food magazines, I just share family recipes,” said Currah, a mother of three who blogs about food at savorysweetlife.com. “Between watching the Seahawks and my kids’ sports, after that I just want to go to bed. I was not familiar with any of the chefs.”
And she didn’t realize one of the pros is also from the Pacific Northwest: Bainbridge Island native Marcel Vigneron, a food-show staple who’s about to open two new Los Angeles restaurants, Beefsteak and The Wolf and the Winemaker.
Currah recognized Vigneron from season-one episodes of “Food Fighters” she watched as preparation, learning of his work in molecular gastronomy.
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“Oh, this is so bad,” Currah remembers thinking. “This guy is the mad scientist.”
In each episode of “Food Fighters,” host Adam Richman (“Man Finds Food”) welcomes a new amateur cook who puts his or her signature dishes up against five professional/celebrity chefs. Culinary judges sample the competing dishes in a blind taste, and home cooks have the chance to win up to $100,000.
“I think most people think the professional chefs have the upper hand,” Vigneron said in a telephone interview last week from Los Angeles. “The reality of the situation is the home cooks have the upper hand. They know what they’re making; we literally have no idea.”
He said the home cooks can arrange their signature dishes strategically, deploying a taco recipe against a Japanese cuisine chef or a sushi recipe against an Italian chef, “throwing the professional chef out of his comfort realm.” He called Currah “a formidable opponent. Alice seemed like a really solid cook.”
Currah, a 1993 graduate of Mountlake Terrace High School, grew up in North Seattle as one of six children of Korean immigrants who operated the now-closed C&C Travel Agency across from Northgate Mall. (Currah wants to use any money she wins on “Food Fighters” to take her 72-year-old mother back to Korea to visit relatives.)
“We grew up really poor and my parents both worked full-time,” Currah recalled. “Our family qualified for public assistance, but my dad being the staunch, prideful Asian guy that he was, he refused to take it.”
Her father, who died five years ago, grew vegetables. Currah learned to cook with those and the provisions her grandmother occasionally brought home from a food bank, becoming the de facto cook for her three younger siblings.
“I learned how to cook by instinct,” she said. “When you grow up with very little, you appreciate when you get to experience things. I felt a huge joy of experiencing food and the whole process of how it was created.”
Currah began her blog around the time her now-7-year-old son was born, writing while feeding him at night. William Morrow Cookbooks published a cookbook based on her blog in 2012. Currah also writes for PBSParents.org.
As an established food blogger, Currah gets approached by casting companies routinely, but she never had any interest until “Food Fighters” because it required just a few days’ commitment, as opposed to two months on a show like “MasterChef.”
The appeal of “Food Fighters” to home cooks is clear, but what’s in it for the professionals beyond the possibility of embarrassment in the face of defeat?
Vigneron acknowledged some pro chefs he knows won’t appear on “Food Fighters” lest they be shown up by a home cook. But Vigneron got over his own qualms and competed in two episodes in season one, winning in one and losing in the other.
“I like the challenge of it,” Vigneron said, praising the show’s two-level, stadium-style kitchen. “We see a lot of cooking competitions, but this is like a cooking game show. It’s like something I would watch.”
Watch it: “Food Fighters,” 8 p.m. Thursday, NBC