When Priscilla Nguyen offers to cook dinner for her three kids and her boyfriend, this is what she hears:
“No! Let’s order takeout. I don’t feel like getting sick tonight. I want to live to see tomorrow.”
The Hattiesburg resident isn’t the best cook. In fact, you could truthfully say she’s the “worst cook.”
Nguyen, 27, will be one of 16 culinary misfits appearing on Season 12 of Food Network’s “Worst Cooks in America,” premiering Sunday.
Nguyen’s signature dish is sausage tacos, made with sausage meat and Italian seasoning. She whipped them up one night for friend Sujeila Rios.
“I was so hungry,” Rios said. “She said, ‘I’m going to make tacos.’ I love tacos.
“She said, ‘I don’t have ground beef, but I have sausage.’ She always likes to use Italian seasoning. That’s the only thing she knows how to use.”
The sausage tacos had disastrous consequences.
“They made my stomach upset,” Rios said. “(I said), ‘You can’t keep experimenting like this. You’re going to kill me.’ She needs some help.”
Nguyen, co-owner of a clothing store in Ocean Springs, may find her niche on “Worst Cooks.” The contestants’ first task is to make their signature dishes and among the offerings are mole and marinara sauce spaghetti; matzo ball, gummy bear gazpacho; and three-cheese macaroni with Gouda, cheddar and cottage cheese.
Things can only go up from there. Each week, professional chefs Anne Burrell and Tyler Florence take the cooks through a series of intense culinary challenges designed to improve their cooking skills. Recruits with the least successful dishes are sent home. After 10 weeks, the most improved cook walks away with bragging rights and $25,000.
But Nguyen said the competition is about much more than the money.
“I saw my mom and my grandma cook, and I never had the patience to cook,” she said. “Now, I want my kids to see me cook and not just serve takeout food.”
A typical dinner for Nguyen and her boys — ages 5, 3 and 2 — usually involves Lunchables or a run through the McDonald’s drive-through. When Nguyen does cook, the results are often unfortunate.
“(I was) supposed to make easy quesadillas with hot dogs,” she said of one attempt. “But when they hit my stomach, it was a no go taste-wise. It was not good.
“Hot dog quesadillas — negative.”
Nguyen tries to cook for the sake of her children, but is puzzled by recipes and heating instructions.
“I can’t tell when things are cooked all the way or if they’re overcooked,” she said. “I just leave it on the stove until it’s overdone.
“I’ve tried chicken on the stove, but it’s always burnt. I’m so scared of making my kids sick.”
One day, Nguyen was watching TV and ran across “Worst Cooks.” She saw a chance to upgrade her skills and wrote to the show. After going through a detailed application process and an interview, she was chosen to go to New York City for taping.
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She’s not allowed to say much about what went on during the recording of the show, but safe to assume, her technique has become less harmful and the results more palatable.
“My 5-year-old is honest,” she said. “He’ll say, ‘Momma, it’s disgusting. It’s too spicy. I don’t want to eat it.’
“My 2-year-old will eat whatever I put in front of him. I will eat anything. If it falls on the floor, I will pick it right back up.”
Nguyen wants to be able to carry on her family’s traditions and cook such delicacies as Cajun dishes, seafood gumbo and Vietnamese specialities.
She has a daunting task ahead of her.
“Everybody in my family knows how to cook on both sides,” she said. “I’ve never had the patience to learn.
“People say it’s easy, but when you don’t know how to cook, the recipe doesn’t come out the way it should.”
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Nguyen has three major inspirations to do better.
“What motivates me is my kids,” she said. “I want to learn the basics and that will set me up for bigger things — meals that are more in-depth. That will set me up for success in the kitchen.”
Her ultimate dream is to create powerful and happy recollections around food for her family.
“I wanted to make memories around the table,” she said. “I want my children to grow up and say, ‘I remember watching my mom cook.’
“I want them to learn from me.”
If you watch
“Worst Cooks in America”
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: Food Network (Comcast channel 34 in Hattiesburg