By Tammy Scileppi
“Anyone who’s a chef, who loves food, ultimately knows that all that matters is: ‘Is it good? Does it give pleasure?’” — Anthony Bourdain
Sadly, that notion doesn’t apply if you happen to be a contestant on the Food Network’s funniest culinary boot camp competition, “Worst Cooks in America.”
Whether you’re a great chef or culinarily challenged, you should watch Rosedale resident and comedian Marcus Ellis do his thing on the upcoming season, set to premiere Sunday, Aug. 12, at 9 p.m. when Chef Robert Irvine returns to battle Chef Anne Burrell in a much-anticipated “Worst Cooks in America” rematch, where the renowned chefs whip a roster of disastrous cooks into tip-top shape.
The chefs each lead a team of kitchen-challenged competitors though a grueling seven-episode competition designed to improve their culinary skills. In the Sept. 23 finale, the contestant who demonstrates the most impressive culinary transformation is awarded $25,000 and bragging rights for their mentor.
“Anne and Robert are fiercely competitive and our viewers are sure to enjoy their boot camp reunion,” said Courtney White, general manager and executive vice president of programming at Food Network and HGTV. “These ‘Worst Cooks’ competitors are hilariously inept when they arrive, and their journey toward kitchen excellence is a fun ride.”
In the season premiere, 14 of the country’s worst cooks enter boot camp with dreams of putting their kitchen nightmares behind them. Chefs Anne and Robert want to see what they’re dealing with, so they ask the recruits to make their signature dishes and the results are truly disastrous. After being sorted into teams, the recruits dive right into the deep end of the kitchen by learning to make a surf and turf dish. Then, the recruits on each team with the worst dishes are sent home.
Ellis knows how to win audiences over with his sense of humor, but will he take over the kitchen and impress his TV audience with some mean culinary skills? That remains to be seen.
In a recent interview, the cookin’ comic discussed his newfound stardom, his kitchen mishaps, his family and the connection between cooking and comedy.
“My waistline is one connection that I’ve found. Doing comedy involves a lot of late nights, so you eat late at night. Being a comedian, you could do comedy almost 24/7 in New York, so my waistline has fluctuated back and forth learning how to cook, or not learning how to cook,” Ellis explained.
“You have to be persistent, you have to be focused and you have to make sacrifices if you want to be a great comedian. I’m finding out that the same holds true about cooking. You have to be compassionate and that’s what I like about cooking. I’m becoming more passionate about what I cook and what I eat. I want to be a healthier eater – I don’t know about being a vegan but I’m on that path. I’m thinking about becoming veganized.”
The comic has performed for family, friends and fans all over New York at places like the West Side Comedy Club, Caroline’s on Broadway, Broadway Comedy Club, Eastville Comedy Club and New York Comedy Club. He’s taken his show on the road, too, and has an upcoming performance scheduled for early September in Arizona.
Like most New Yorkers, Ellis says he struggles with this important question every day: “To cook or not to cook – to eat out or to eat in?” and admits his daily mantra is to control his blood sugar levels.
So, what was it like being on the show?
“Filming was an awesome experience,” according to Ellis, who said he had the pleasure and honor of meeting both famous chefs. “They were great throughout the whole process and the staff was great; they let us know what was going to happen in each scene before it would happen. That way you could put your best foot forward and try to complete the dish that they had presented to us beforehand.”
“I wasn’t too nervous because I was so focused on getting the dish right and completing every step, so I couldn’t really focus on the cameras being there,” he added.
The show was filmed in early in 2018, in New York.
“When you’re on the set, you never know when you were going to be on camera, so you just had to go through your process,” Ellis recalled. “As you’re going through it, the production cast would ask you things like, ‘how do you feel about the dish? Do you realize you’re running out of time, you have five minutes left?”
While he was battling against other chefs, Ellis said there was good chemistry throughout the kitchen.
“My competitors were great. They were friendly, outspoken, opinionated, and very competitive,” he said. “We also cheered each other on and tried to inspire each other to help us get through the challenge that was placed before us.”
If you’re wondering how the comedian was chosen as a contestant, Ellis said it all started when he answered an ad on Facebook and thought: ‘What do I have to lose?’
“For the why, I believe it was because of my charming personality. That’s all I can attest to it. I did several phone interviews, then a couple of Skype interviews, and I had to submit a video of me in the kitchen trying to cook a dish,” Ellis said. “Through that, I formed a relationship with the casting agent and they liked what they saw. I cooked ramen noodles and Italian sausage.”
He said he was asked if he was a terrible cook and if he had any cooking skills. His answers made him a clear candidate for the show.
“I made several attempts to try to cook, to no avail. It never worked out,” Ellis said. “I tried to cook my ex-girlfriend a Valentine’s Day Dinner and I undercooked the fish. I tried to make her a seafood dinner and I undercooked the fish and we ended up in the ER for the whole night. Hence, my ex-girlfriend,” Ellis quipped.
Ellis said that experience has driven him to become better in the kitchen.
“Well, almost out of the demise of my ex-girlfriend, I was like, ‘I think I need to try to learn how to cook.’ Because I love to eat — I’m not the slimmest person on the planet — and I can’t just eat out for every meal of the day and can’t afford it. So, I had to step my game up and learn to cook,” he said.
Ellis grew up in South Jamaica before moving to Springfield Gardens. He went on to attend Bayside High School.
His family was very encouraging when he told them about his new “starring role.”
“Because there are about 20 of us in the house, they were like, ‘Now that you’re on TV, maybe you won’t come back,’” he said. “Maybe you’ll get your own TV show and move out so there will be more bed space for someone else.’ Because I take the bed space of two or three people, they’re hoping I continue on this path and become more successful, so they can get me out of the house.”