Kelli Kirkland entered with a Cajun curry catfish nightmare. Today she dishes about how to be a good cook and not get fat, her life as a stay-at-home mom and the unorthodox way she spent the $25,000 prize money…
Kat: When you heard about Worst Cooks in America, what made you think you’d be a good candidate? Just how bad was your cooking?
Kelli: Well, I just sort of told my family about this and was laughing about it. And everyone in my family was like, “Oh, that’s not funny. You should sign up.”
Kat: How lovely that your family thought you were in desperate need of being on that show!
Kelli: I know, but my feelings weren’t even hurt. Cooking was something I definitely wanted to learn how to do after becoming a mother. So my family was right. When was I ever going to get free cooking lessons from Bobby Flay and Anne Burrell?
Kat: Don’t you have to do some entry dish to get selected for the show?
Kelli: Yes, I did the dish that my family hated the most, which is a Cajun curry catfish.
Kat: That does sound kind of terrible actually.
Kelli: I thought sometimes things that sound weird taste good. I even remember on the show Anne Burrell making a pizza with an egg on top of it, which sounds disgusting, but it was delicious. I was enamored with the idea of putting things that don’t seem like they go together and it being something good. Cajun and curry are not good together.
Kelli: I feel like I’m ushering in a new era of domestic divas.
Kat: How do you define that?
Kelli: I’m making a soufflé in stilettos. The Manhattan girl in me wants to be fancy and fabulous, but I can do that while baking a cake from scratch. I think we’re pigeonholed into you’re either the PTA mom, or the sexy cool mom, and I think we can do it all.
Kat: What are your top three tips for women who view themselves as the worst cooks in America?
Kelli: Number one tip, in life and in cooking, is to be fearless. Who cares if you make a mistake on a food dish? Just order a pizza, have a glass of wine and laugh about it. The number two tip would be listen to your meat. If it’s sticking, it’s not ready. Just wait another minute, or two, or five. You will ruin it if you jerk your meat before it’s ready to be turned…
Kat: Um, I’m so glad we’re writing this mostly for women and not men. We can’t be telling guys to listen to their meat, or it’s all over.
Kelli: (laughing) Oh, maybe I should say, “Listen to your poultry, fish and beef.”
Kat: How about tip number three?
Kelli: Commit to trying one new thing a week. Whether it’s as simple as an herb or spice, or just pick up something at the store that you have no idea what it is, like a starfish, and go home and Google recipes for that item.
Kat: Your grandma recognized cooking talent in you at a young age, so why do you think you were such a late bloomer?
Kelli: My grandmother was like Paula Deen before Paula Deen existed. She could cook with no measurements whatsoever and make perfect pastries. She really wanted to take me under her wing, but in the 8th grade, I became obsessed with academics. I was the first person in my family to go to college, I graduated with honors, and before I moved back home, she passed away. So when this opportunity came up, I thought, “Well, if I can’t learn from Nana, Anne Burrell and Bobby Flay are a good second choice.”
Kat: Grandma would be so proud, don’t you think?
Kelli: She would be so proud, but she’d probably be like, “That’s no surprise. I knew you had it in you.”
Kat: What do you say to women who are afraid to take cooking too seriously because of weight gain? Just doing research for this interview, seeing all that amazing food made me get up and zap leftover quesadillas at 10:00 a.m.
Kelli: It can be that way. And so much of the great food is bad for you, but I really feel like everything in moderation. I would say Monday through Friday, only visit healthy websites. But Saturday and Sunday look up the most decadent, yummy things you can find. I love pie. I will bake a pie and put it in my lap and eat it myself, but I know I can’t do that all the time.
Kat: What would you say to women who view cooking as a necessary evil and are in a rut? How do they recharge their cooking batteries?
Kelli: I think you have to make it fun, like anything else — like dating, or looking for a new job or buying a new pair of shoes, whatever that means to you. I like to cook with my girlfriends. It gives me an excuse to hang out with my girlfriends and for us to learn new recipes together. You can do it with your kids or your husband.
Kat: You grew up back and forth between the East Coast and the West Coast. Want to settle that age-old debate about which one is better? Are you East Coast or West Coast?
Kelli: If I could afford it, I would live in Manhattan. I love the pace and the liveliness. We live in the suburbs of L.A., which is good now that I have a son. It’s nice to have a yard and be able to walk down the street for ice cream.
Kat: You’re a full-time stay-at-home mom. What would you say to the moms who are battling the decision to continue working full time outside of the home or being a full-time stay-at-home mom?
Kelli: I’d say either choice is the right choice. I struggled with infertility, was pregnant with triplets and lost all the babies except my son who is healthy and I just decided he’ll be in preschool soon enough. My mom worked full time and I was in daycare all the time and I think I turned out just fine and I’m super close to my mom. I knew being with my son was the right choice for me, not because of anything that I thought my mom did wrong, but just because it was the right choice for me.
Kat: What’s an average day like for you as a stay-at-home mom?
Kelli: (laughing) I’m never home!
Kat: You’re taking the home out of stay-at-home?
Kelli: I just feel like there are so many adventures to be had. We’re a team. We go to the park and talk about flowers, the colors, different leaves and rocks. I try to make everything a learning experience and adventure.
Kat: Did you do anything exciting with the $25,000 prize money?
Kelli: (laughing) I paid for a divorce.
Kat: You paid for a divorce? Was that money well spent?
Kelli: Yep, it sure was. I should probably say something more PC shouldn’t I?
Kat: No, that is hilarious.
Kelli: It’s true. My soon-to-be ex-husband and I knew before the show that we were getting a divorce. We probably should have been friends, but if we hadn’t been married, we wouldn’t have had our son. It was the right decision for us. I’m not telling everyone to run out and get a divorce. We used the prize money, combined with some savings, to be debt-free with two households. I wish I could say I did something exotic with it.
Kat: Do you think your ex is bitter now that you’re split up and you’re an amazing cook and he had to suffer through years of Cajun curry catfish?
Kelli: I don’t think he’s bitter. He’s a very sweet and gentle man and not confrontational at all. He’d always celebrate my success.
Kat: Anything cool on the Kelli Kirkland horizon that we should know about? Any cookbooks or anything like that?
Kelli: Yes, I am writing sort of a self-help, kind of girlfriend/chatty cookbook called The Delicious Divorce. You don’t have to be getting a divorce or going through one, it’s just about the trials that you are facing in life, and how food can help you get through it in a healthy way. I’m about halfway through it and each chapter is about a particular trial that I went through and the food that I made during those times.