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Hines Ward catches the cooking bug on new show

| Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 8:58 p.m.
Former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward  discusses his preparations with team leader Rachael Ray for the 'Dinner Theater Challenge,' on the second season of Food Network’s 'Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off.'
Food Network
Former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward discusses his preparations with team leader Rachael Ray for the 'Dinner Theater Challenge,' on the second season of Food Network’s 'Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off.' Food Network

All things considered, Hines Ward quips, maybe he should have kept that Easy Bake oven.

“I don't really know what happened to that, I probably wore it out and it had to be thrown away,” the former Pittsburgh Steeler explains as he talks about his earliest memory surrounding food.

That toy cooking set sparked his creative imagination when he was 6, and now, as an adult he has to tap into his inner Easy Bake for more inspiration as a contestant on the second season of the Food Network's “Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off.”

It kicked off Jan. 6, and the second episode airs at 9 p.m. Sunday.

The Food Network's Rachael Ray and best-selling cookbook author and restaurateur Guy Fieri have returned to coach and mentor the eight new celebrity contestants. The celebs are divided into Team Guy and Team Rachael, vying during six weekly episodes in challenges, both humorous and culinary.

The losing team sends its two bottom-rated members to face off against each other, with one member sent home each week in a blind tasting elimination. The last celebrity standing joins the ranks of Season 1 winner Lou Diamond Phillips, and wins $50,000 for his or her favorite charity. Ward is playing for his Helping Hands Foundation.

In the first episode, teams had to prepare a prix fixe (fixed price) tasting menu at a Los Angeles dinner theater, as well as perform a three-minute skit (Ward wore a woman's wig) for 100 theatergoers, including Ray and Fieri and special guest judges from the editorial staff at Entertainment Weekly.

Ray chose actor-comedian Gilbert Gottfried (eliminated last week), actress Kathy Najimy of “Sister Act,” singer Carnie Wilson of Wilson Phillips and Ward for her team.

Chilli (a member of the pop-R&B group TLC), Cornelia Guest (designer, author, philanthropist), Dean McDermott (actor, reality-television star) and Johnny Weir (two-time Olympic figure skater and three-time U.S. national champion) are on Team Guy.

Ward, two-time Super Bowl champion, MVP of Super Bowl XL and four-time Pro Bowler, who now is an NBC Sports commentator, says signing on for the show was an easy decision.

“I have been a fan of the Food Network and Rachael and Guy, and I always like a challenge,” he says. “I want my fans to know I can do more than just play football. Even though I don't really know how to cook a lot of different things, I like to cook.”

Last week, he won new fans with his mother's “Asian Persuasion” wings recipe, which he considers his signature party dish.

“I can't even begin to describe the taste. It's something you have to experience,” he says. “It makes you not want to brush your teeth so you can just save the flavor in your mouth all night long.”

(Ward also thanks his mom for not making him eat liver while he was growing up. “I can't even really talk about it without gagging,” he admits.)

The “Dancing with the Stars” champion says that, now that he no longer is playing football, he is always looking for new challenges to push himself and grow as a person.

He saw “Rachael vs. Guy” as just such an opportunity. “I have never really cooked for a large number of people before and thought I could have some fun with it, and learn to fine-tune my cooking skills at the same time,” he says.

Ward had fun on the show. All the episodes were previously recorded, but viewers won't find out the winner until Feb. 10.

“It's a great show. The other celebs are a lot of fun to be around, and the cooking is a blast,” he says.

The athlete says, before he went on the program, he would have given himself “zero chances” of winning.

“Most of the other celebs on the show have some type of cooking experience. They have definitely cooked way more than I have. But you never know. I have a few tricks up my sleeve. I guess you will have to wait and see,” he says. “I like the approach of making things up as I go. It's more challenging and fun that way.”

Ward says people might be surprised to learn that chocolate milk can always be found in his refrigerator.

“Because of me being an athlete, most people would think my fridge would be stocked with the traditional performance drinks or sodas. A lot of people don't know, or understand, the benefits of chocolate milk when it comes to training recovery,” he says. “I am going to show the world at the 2013 World Ironman Championship in Kona this year.”

He has no other new projects to announce at the moment, Ward says.

“But rest assured that I will not stop at this cooking challenge. I may even do more shows like this, especially if they involve competition,” he says. “Life for me would be boring if I couldn't compete in something on a regular basis.”

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or

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