Tituss Burgess Dishes on His Quibi Food-Competition Show, 'Dishmantled'
Tituss Burgess -- the actor who inspired a generation to belt out "PEENO NOIR" when opening bottles of wine due to a song made famous by his Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt character, Titus Andromedon -- has taken his talents to the mobile-only streaming service Quibi as the host of the wild new cooking-competition show Dishmantled.
How does the program compare to others in the genre? For starters, the ingredients don't arrive tucked neatly into baskets or sit provocatively atop billowing dry ice. Instead, competing chefs don hazmat-style suits and get blasted in the face by smoothie versions of a particular dish -- culinary mayhem gleefully instigated by Burgess with the push of a button. Once bespattered by the liquefied ingredients, the chefs must taste the remnants, identify the ingredients and quickly recreate the dish they believe they tasted. We spoke with Burgess about the best thing he ate on set, the way his southern upbringing informed his own palate, and how he thinks he'd fare in the Dishmantled kitchen.
Thrillist: Dishmantled takes the typical cooking competition formula and flips it around. What's been the most fun part about hosting the show?
Tituss Burgess: The cooking competitions that I've seen are pretty highbrow and full of celebrity chefs known for being really successful restaurateurs and entrepreneurs and have an academic knowledge and sophisticated palate surrounding food. And even the way it's shot and the way that it is presented, the stakes are more than about winning. It's quite literally about what type of food you are going to unleash into the world. It's about having the best dish. Our show couldn't be further from the opposite. It's not about who has the best dish, it's about who came closer to recreating the dish -- a dish that only I know the ingredients to. It sort of pokes fun at cooking competitions and traditional ways to present food and how food can be prepared and, more importantly, can be destroyed -- dishmantled, if you will. I obviously am associated with wacky, zany comedies and such, so when they asked me to do it I came on board with the hopes that we could find a new audience in the food [TV space]. Anybody can watch it; you don't have to be a foodie or a budding chef. It's kind of like Nickelodeon -- remember that show with all the goo? It's kind of like that show meets a lowbrow cooking show, but it's highbrow entertainment.
Were you surprised by how developed some of the chefs' palates are? Because when the food comes out, it's totally not discernible what it is visually. I was pretty amazed that people were able to taste the ingredients.
Burgess: Oh, absolutely. Especially when it's turned to mush! It's not even just the taste, but the texture. After spaghetti and meatballs is blown up onto you, they can almost feel the same given how mushy the noodles have gotten and how dismantled -- or dishmantled [laughs] -- the meatballs have gotten. So the fact that they were able to put these things back together just shows how knowledgeable they were but also just how important $5000 was to them.
How did you guys decide what dishes to blast? Were the ingredients intentionally challenging?
Burgess: It's not that they were intentionally challenging. Rather, it's a 10-minute episode, but shooting it, they have 30 minutes to recreate the dish. So we couldn't choose anything that would take a great deal of time. That limited what we presented. You want something that they'll both have fun recreating, but can also maybe be misleading -- the mischief and the mystery of it all.
The shakshuka one was good. I would not have been able to get that one.
Burgess: I wouldn't have been able to get any of them! I don't know how these people do that.
The judges always remark on the smell when the cannon blasts. I wish there was smell-o-vision so I too could smell what they were smelling.
Burgess: Oh, I'm so glad smell-o-vision doesn't exist or I would gain so much weight. [Laughs.]
It would be nice for cooking shows, though! What was the best dish that was recreated that you got to eat?
Burgess: You know, I have to say, there was only one meal that I didn't eat because I got sick that day. But every meal I tasted was truthfully delicious. I forget who it was -- one contestant made pesto with zoodles. I gotta tell you, oh my god, it was unbelievable! It was so good. I could have had the rest of that -- it was delicious.
I also wanted to know about your own cooking background. I know you grew up in the south. I'm wondering how being from the south informed your taste?
Burgess: Well, my palate is tuned to mostly lard and butter and salt. [Laughs.] I grew up around my grandmother, my mom, and my stepfather -- who is an excellent cook. He is so creative. If I know my way around the kitchen at all, it's because of my mom, Sandra; my stepdad, Douglas; and my grandmother, Rosena. And all of my aunts are excellent cooks as well. I remember when I would go to Sunday school, on my way back, my aunt Loretta would always have breakfast for me. Her breakfast was just extraordinary; she would come up with the most delicious creations and always save me a little bit when I stopped by. I became a big porker over the years. [Laughs.] I wouldn't trade it for the world, though. It was more than about food, it was about intention.
Based on your own palate, how do you think you would fare as a competitor on Dishmantled?
Burgess: Well, first of all. I don't have the temperament to be on any reality TV show, let alone a cooking competition. [Laughs] I know where my talents lie and I also… I don't have an artistic culinary mind that way. I do make up a lot of dishes, and they say I'm good, but I'm not like these guys. These guys really know what they're doing. So, I would lose -- or I wouldn't enter the competition at all.
Since we've all kind of been stuck at home for the past few weeks, what has been your go-to comfort food? What have you been cooking up in the kitchen?
Burgess: Well, the truth is, I've been doing a very low-carb diet so I haven't had any comfort food. I've been eating really lean meats and lots of vegetables. I love making soups because they last a long time, they're easy to make, and you can make great use of all the things in your refrigerator and your cabinets that perhaps otherwise would go to waste were we not under this quarantine. So I would say that that's been my go-to.
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