On the Line: Marque Hernandez of "The Worst Cooks In America"

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Courtesy of Food Network
Normally our On the Line feature runs on Tuesdays and features a professional chef whose cooking has captivated the hearts of Orange Countians. We ask a series of not-very-serious questions and publish the results.

Well, for this extra edition of On the Line, which we're publishing on Thursday to avoid confusion with our usual rotation of pro kitchen captains, Stick a Fork In It is featuring Orange County's representative to the kitchen dunce stool, Marque Hernandez of Brea.

Originally we'd asked for an interview with Aliso Viejo's Wilhemina Josephine as well, but due to an unfortunate incident with a stringy shrimp and an overapplication of soy sauce, she's no longer in the running to compete for Jeffrey Steingarten's undying love.

Hold onto your toques, Pascal Olhats and Michael Mina, because Marque's a quick study. Let's hope we see a lot more of Marque as the season unfolds.

SAFII: Admitting failure in public is never easy. What made you decide to do this?
 
MH: I don't think there is any shame in admitting that I need help with something or don't do something well. I believe you have to ask for help if you want to grow. That is exactly what I was doing; I was online looking for cooking classes so I could cook for my partner. It had always been my dream to have one of those homes where everyone gathers to eat and have fun. Not being able to cook certainly put a wrench in that dream. Anyway, I saw that Food Network was looking to train people who couldn't cook and it sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime.

SAFII: Obviously, you couldn't cook at the start of this venture. What's your go-to place for takeout?
 
MH: That's a great question... One of my favorite places to eat is called Cha Cha's Tacos and Tequila in Downtown Brea. They focus on a few things and consistently do them well, which makes going there such a pleasure. That sounds real high-brow, doesn't it... On the flip side, when I'm looking for fast food, my favorite is Taco Bell. You could say that I've been on the Taco Bell Drive-Thru Diet for years.

SAFII: What's the worst cooking disaster you've ever had?
 
MH: As if one could be singled out so easily! LOL! A really memorable one happened just before I left for the show. I had bought a slow-cooker and found a recipe for slow-cooker meatloaf in a slow-cooker cookbook (how's that for alliteration?). I decided, in my culinary wisdom, to substitute half of the ground beef for ground turkey. Well, I didn't know it at the time, but there just isn't enough moisture or fat in turkey to survive the slow-cooking process. The meatloaf ended up being super dense and came out in chunks AND it was so burnt that the bottom of the meatloaf actually fused to the ceramic inset. I was so mad I just threw the slow-cooker away.
 
SAFII: What's the one single dish you want to learn how to cook?
 
MH: I'm not sure that there is a specific dish that I want to learn how to cook as much as I am interested in learning different techniques. I have found that once you understand the technique for cooking something the recipe becomes less relevant; it's just a jumping-off point. For instance, a few months ago I made a cranberry pork loin using a recipe. Then a month later I made an orange-lime marmalade turkey breast using the same technique. Both were delicious, but the point is once I learned the technique, I no longer needed the recipe.

SAFII: Any advice for people who are afraid of the stove?
 
MH: Yes! How much time do we have...? LOL! Seriously, though, when I got home from the show, I would cry when a dish didn't turn out the way that I wanted it to. I thought I had learned so much but it seemed at home things didn't always work out. It was very frustrating! Eventually, I realized that even though I HAD learned a lot, I didn't have any experience. Knowledge and experience go together to make a cook good. My recommendation is to buy a cookbook that teaches technique and has recipes such as How To Boil Water from the Food Network Kitchens or Martha Stewart's Cooking School. Start out with simple recipes using simple techniques and cook in small batches. Know that the first time you make something, it's not going to turn out perfectly, but you will have gained experience. The second time will be much, much better, trust me. Happy cooking!

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