Bruce R Miller Sioux City Journal
Is there one food that resonates across the United States? Maybe tacos.
According to Alejandra Ramos, presenter of The Great American Recipe, judges have often heard of someone serving tacos, “But it was always with this completely different game. We had Korean tacos. We had Mexican tacos. We had all-American tacos. Beef-style. All these different interpretations of that one dish.”
And no matter where the recipes appeared, there were surprises.
Although the contestants may have represented a specific region, their dishes were not location specific. One of them was from New England, but he didn’t do the usual chowder. One was from New York, but her food was from Puerto Rico. Officials say, most likely, the recipes were family-inspired.
Executive Produce Jilly Pearce says that the PBS series is about “love, family, and connection. Recipes that tell the story of who we are.”
The Secret Ingredient: The Stories.
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In the casting process, producers looked at the recipes, contestants’ heritage, and their personalities. The goal was to find the best home cooks living in the United States.
Because it was produced during the pandemic, contestants, show staff, and judges were separated from their families. Food has become a means of communication between everyone.
Jonathan Barzilai, COO of PBS, called it a “recipe for optimism.”
“The show has really evolved as a concept during the pandemic,” Pierce says. “We hope the public will reach out to that.”
Since the contestants are amateurs, they had to adapt to changes in the TV’s culinary setting. “When someone gets used to being able to cook something for five hours and has to adapt to one of our competition times, it’s quite a challenge,” says Pierce.
Tiffany Derry, one of the show judges, says the contestants weren’t prepared for the intensity of the stoves they were using. They’ll go, ‘It’s too hot. How do you cook so fast? It was definitely a challenge for them.”
These contestants also had to adapt their recipes to work in place. If they need special tools, they can bring it from home.
“It really told a story about their heritage,” Pierce says. “Some of these things have been in their family for years.”
Since the contestants didn’t try anything too complicated, home cooks can easily recreate the dishes.
“We hope every viewer will see that with so many different cultures represented, the ingredients they use that are in their pantry are likely to be different than what everyone has at home,” Judge Graham Elliott says. “Hopefully this will encourage them to go out and try some new things and try those ingredients.”
To make it a bit easier, there will be a cookbook accompanying the series.
If there’s a challenge, says Judge Leah Cohen, it’s in sourcing the ingredients. Find the right ones—in a Mexican or Asian grocery store, for example—and a new world can open up. “I don’t think we always appreciate how delicious and simple food is.”
The Great American Recipe is broadcast on PBS.