TV One's Latest: My Momma Throws Down

Maryland-based network, TV One, airs a variety of original lifestyle and entertainment shows with plans to introduce new programming in 2012.  The newest addition to their Friday night lineup is a reality cooking competition called “My Momma Throws Down” scheduled to air on May 4 at 8 pm EST. Triage Entertainment, producers of the award-winning show “Iron Chef America,” joined forces with TV One to create a cooking show that combines elements of culture, comedy and competition.

We’re told that the name of the show was well thought out but on the other hand may cause a few eyebrows to rise.  It may give the connotation of a run-of-the-mill reality show but be assured, there is nothing else like it on TV. Whether you are among the judges, audience or contestants, you will have fun.

During a series of tapings, celebrity judges who stopped by included African-American foodies, actors, authors and chefs. The judges were picked based on their culinary expertise and approachability. Educator, culinary historian and author Dr. Jessica B. Harris says she was delighted to be a judge on the competition. “I most enjoyed watching the enthusiasm of the contestants and having the discussions about food with the other judges.”

The idea of the mother being the pivotal point of the family resonated with her as her own mother was an extremely good cook and a dietician. Harris says, “The show exemplifies the strong family ties in our culture and showcases the abilities of African-American mothers and their culinary abilities.” Harris’ latest book, “High on the Hog,” documents African-American culinary traditions.

Other judges include James Beard award-winning chef, Marcus Samuelsson, “Top Chef” contestant Brian Hill, actresses Malinda Williams, Vanessa Williams and Nicole Ari Parker from the series “Soul Food,” and more. Tia Smith, executive in charge of production for TV One, says, “These are people who have an opinion on food and have been part of the culture, so they know what a sweet potato pie is supposed to taste like and will passionately voice their opinion about it.”

Atlanta-based author and chef Marvin Woods claims he laughed to the point that he had tears in his eyes while he was judging the contestants on the show. “Once you watch for five minutes, you are hooked and won’t be able to take your eyes off it.”  He enjoyed how the show would start out clean and fun and then the gloves would come off making it unexpectedly hilarious. “Another thing I like is how the show can flip. You may have a stunning looking dish but not the right flavors,” says Woods. When judging, he looks for mommas that have a strong foundation in the kitchen and are confident enough to formulate their own recipes.

Also joining the judges was author and chef Tanya Holland from Oakland, Calif.  She shares the same sentiments as Harris and Woods and says, “It is really genuine. These mothers have their hearts and souls in their cooking and they are very proud.  It is a very positive and fun competition.”

Triage Entertainment employed a casting company to select the mommas from hundreds of audition tapes. Smith says they received casting reels from all ages of sexy, sassy mothers who were full of personality and passionate about cooking. One of the contestants sent in a picture of her great-great-grandmother in her packet and said, “This is why I cook and I want to make her proud.” A full spectrum of kitchen matriarchs specialized in Southern cuisines as well as modernized flavors with fresh ingredients and healthier options.

There is a total of 16 episodes that will air through summer with each showcasing two everyday mothers who cook with love for their families and go toe to toe over who can win the hearts of the judges with their soulful dishes and bring home $2,500 in cash and a lifetime of bragging rights.

The show has a unique blend of serious cooking elements from “Iron Chef America,” a humorous real-life comedy, as well as the excitement of gaming.  In the first round, the mommas bring their signature dishes prepared and ready for the panel of esteemed culinary experts and celebrity judges to taste. The best tasting dish instantly wins $500. Next, one member from each team goes on to a “Smack Down” challenge. This is where they playfully exchange witty attacks such as “My momma’s food is so good, Jesus asked for seconds at The Last Supper.” While the verbal war is hilarious to the viewers, the winner earns two extra minutes of prep time for his/her mother. In a challenge this close, that can make all the difference.

Comedian and actor, Ralph Harris (as seen on “Last Comic Standing”) is the referee and host of the show. Everyone on stage calls him the sweet guy next door while he claims to “be himself.” Harris says since he joined the show, he has had to run for 4-5 miles every day just to keep up with all the good food he eats when taping. While he has enjoyed the light-hearted comedy of the competition, he hates watching the passionate and sincere mommas lose. But there is only one winner on every episode.

Each mom also selects a family member to serve as a “blind” taste tester, who is sequestered and blindfolded and whose vote for the most delicious dish counts as part of the final judging process. It is funny to see how many of the family members are unable to recognize their mom’s cooking and have to hitch a ride back home.

In the second challenge, the two mommas have to cook an entire meal on a moment’s notice while racing against the clock. They are given 35-40 minutes to prepare three dishes. This is the time for a “throw down.” In the end, while technique and presentation are important, it all comes down to flavor. The final decision rests in the hands (or taste buds) of the judges and the winning momma takes home $2,500 in cash.

We’ll be watching to see which mommas can really throw down and would love to hear your thoughts on the show in the comment section below.

Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

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Sucheta is an award-winning food and travel writer who has traveled to 70+ countries and is on a mission to see the entire world. She is also the founder of the nonprofit organization, Go Eat Give and the author of a series of children's books on travel, "Beato Goes To" that teach kids about different countries and cultures. To learn more, visit suchetarawal.com.