DEVILS LAKE, N.D. — Walking into a messy kitchen may be a cook’s biggest pet peeve. For Thomas McCurdy, it was a first step toward possibly cleaning up with a $100,000 prize.
The North Dakota State University graduate is a contestant on Fox’s new game show, “Crime Scene Kitchen.” The series premieres Wednesday night, May 26, at 8 p.m. Central time and sets teams of two bakers on a path of clues in a recently used studio kitchen. The culinary detectives must take in all that’s left on the counters — from traces of ingredients to used equipment and dirty dishes — to deduce what was recently made and re-create the dish for judges.
The show is hosted by actor/comedian Joel McHale.
“I don’t watch baking shows, but I do love shows and movies about crime, detectives and espionage. This seemed like a great mashup of mystery and baking,” the Devils Lake native says.
The thrill of the savory sleuthing was only amplified by McCurdy’s partner in cooking crime, his mother, Cathy Jacobson.
“It was so much fun. It really was an adventure to have this time together to create this memory,” McCurdy says from his home in Irasburg, Vt., where he lives with his husband, Bailey, on their farm. There, McCurdy runs a baking business and hosts dinner parties and events in their barn.
He isn’t new to televised baking challenges. Last year, he competed on Food Network’s "Chopped Sweets” and won his episode.
“After ‘Chopped Sweets,’ I thought, ‘OK, that was fun, maybe I’ll do more TV,’ but I wasn’t necessarily looking for anything,” he says.
That’s until he was approached by a casting agency. He wasn’t told too much about the project, but instead asked if he liked puzzles and games and if he was a baker.
“I’m a great guesser and I’ve been baking for years,” McCurdy says.
While she refers to herself as a “meat-and-potatoes mom,” Jacobson is no novice in the kitchen either.
“My mom is an incredible cook and baker,” he says. “Any friend or co-worker’s birthday, she takes it on herself to make them their favorite cake.”
Most importantly, Jacobson was up for the challenge — so much so that she moved up her retirement from Lake Region State College in Devils Lake by a month to start production on the show in early April.
Working together brought them that much closer.
“We’re such a solid team. Her perceived weaknesses are my strengths,” McCurdy says.
Still, the stress of solving a savory thriller in a limited amount of time did make things a little too hot in the kitchen.
“Under pressure, when I’m second-guessing myself, I can get a little snippy,” he says. “I warned her, ‘I may not have the opportunity to say 'please' and 'thank you,' so I’m doing that now, preemptively.”
The result was a great bonding experience by the teammates.
“It was more fun and exciting than anxiety-inducing,” he says. “Normally I don’t like surprises, but I was committed to let loose on this adventure.”
Now he’s looking forward to watching the show play out on the TV screen.
“It was so much fun and a positive experience. It will be so much fun to see it all come together,” he says. “It’s so easy to just focus on the task at hand, so I’m looking forward to watching it with friends.”
With two televised cooking challenges under his apron, he’s not sure if he’d sign up for another.
“I don’t imagine myself taking part in more competitions. This is on network TV and I can’t imagine things getting bigger than this,” he says. “But I love to cook and I love to share what I love with people, and maybe there’s something like that in the future.”