If Crystal Lonneberg wasn’t a self-described “known klutz,” she might be competing in tonight’s finale competition of the Food Network’s reality television show, “Worst Cooks in America.” But alas, in addition to not being a whiz around the kitchen, Lonneberg isn’t exactly what you’d call sure footed. Lonneberg ran the gauntlet for more than half the show’s seven-week season, but in the fourth episode, she tripped, literally, spilling the four-layer cake she’d just completed across the studio floor and spelling her own demise.
“I felt like I won though, definitely, in my own little way,” she said in a phone interview this week. “I’m definitely no great chef now, but I’m not terrible.”
Lonneberg, a freelance artist and Weehawken resident for the past two years, originally tried out for the show after her friend Mika Kenyah suffered a long sickness as a result of eating something Lonneberg made. As to what the “something” was exactly, we may never know.
“It was supposed to be some type of Swedish meatball-type thing,” said Lonneberg. “After Mika got sick, she saw the auditions for the show said ‘You gotta do this; I can’t let you live like this anymore.’”
“I’m not a vegetarian by any means but I promised myself I wouldn’t cook anything with a face.” - Crystal Lonneberg
Lonneberg was picked for Burrell’s team, and said that working with her was “lovely” because she was able to put things in perspective.
“I’m really a kid at heart,” said Lonneberg. “Working with Anne was great because she’d use little anagrams or rhymes to help me remember stuff. She’s a real hoot to work with.”
Flay, whose hard-nosed reputation is opposite that of Burrell’s, coached the other team, and Lonneberg was glad she wasn’t on it.
“I don’t think I’d have done as well working with Bobby,” she said.
Road to the show
Lonneberg originally hails from Las Vegas, a city certainly not known for its home cooking, where she was raised by her artist mother, her architect father, and her long haul trucker step-father. To say the least, cooking was not one of the family’s priorities.
“Cooking sort of fell to the wayside,” she said. After moving to the New York metropolitan area two years ago, Lonneberg saw no need to learn kitchen skills, as it was cheaper and quicker to order takeout.
“My art has always been my main priority,” she said. “I’m always very busy, so between that and living in big cities with vast cultures all around, I just found it more cumbersome to cook, especially for myself.”
“Chinese or burritos were always just quicker,” she said. “And I didn’t have to do the dishes.”
But after poisoning her best friend with the Swedish mystery meatballs, Lonneberg admitted it was time for a change. Still, her time on the show was no walk in the park.
“I told myself beforehand that there would be some limitations to what I’d do on the show,” she said. “For instance, I’m not a vegetarian by any means but I promised myself I wouldn’t cook anything with a face.”
But lo and behold, only a few tapings into the show Lonneberg was faced with a chicken and fish challenge, and was not excited about it.
“Both those things have faces!” she exclaimed.
Still, she persevered with the support of Burrell, her teammates, and the thought of her friends and family watching from home.
“I’m not a competitive person, but once you’re in that situation, you don’t really want to let anybody down,” she said. “When you’re faced with a situation like that you’ve just got to do it and go.”
She ended up cooking a well-received dish of sauteed fish skin.
“I didn’t even know you could eat fish skin,” she said. “But Anne and I threw it in a pan with some oil and salt and it came out great.”
The fruits of her labor
Lonneberg said that her time on television didn’t make her a great cook, but it did teach her some valuable lessons.
“At least now I know that before I start cooking something, I make sure I have all the ingredients beforehand,” she said.
She’s started experimenting with new types of food, including tofu, and using a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. Her execution in the kitchen is improving too.
“I can cook an entire meal without setting off the smoke alarm,” she said.
And, thankfully, her friend Mika no longer has to live in fear of illness if she eats something that Lonneberg’s prepared.
“I’ve had some friends over since being back, and no one’s gotten sick yet,” she said.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org