Originally published in the Peninsula Clarion

Ninilchik’s Charles Oakley is one of the Worst Cooks in America. Oakley is the first Alaskan to compete on the Food Network reality TV show, which takes a number of contestants with little skill in the kitchen through a culinary boot camp where they compete to win a cash prize of $25,000 and a Food Network cooking set by presenting the best three-course meal to several food critics.

Oakley’s wife, Melissa, has always had a rule in the house when Charles was cooking: the fire extinguisher must be close by.

“I am the only person in history that has started a gas fire on an electric stove,” Oakley said.

Since competing in season 15 of the Food Network show, Oakley said his wife has loosened the fire extinguisher rule.

While Oakley said he cannot disclose if he won the competition, he said his time on the show exceeded his expectations.

“It was one of the most positive experiences of my life,” Oakley said. “I made friends for life that I talk to on a regular basis. The way I was treated on the show was like family. It was so warm and welcoming.”

Both Oakley and his wife, Melissa, are major fans of Food Network, and it was Melissa who originally suggested that Oakley apply to be on “Worst Cooks in America.”

“She recommended I apply for the safety of our home,” Oakley joked.

Raised on his family’s homestead near Ninilchik, Oakley said his experience with food and cooking was very localized. He said the family rarely traveled to the grocery store, as it was an 80-mile round-trip journey to Soldotna.

“Growing up, we either grew it, hunted it, fished it or raised it,” Oakley said.

Oakley and his family live in Anchorage now, but his dad still maintains the family homestead.

Alaskans may recognize Oakley’s name. He’s a professional artist, with pieces in more than 180 galleries around the state. For those who visit the Alaska State Fair, Oakley is known for his spray-paint art. He said growing up on the Kenai Peninsula has inspired him artistically.

Until competing on the show, Oakley said he never related art and cooking. Now, cooking and art are synonymous.

“Cooking is just like doing artwork — you’ve got processes and materials,” Oakley said. “Once I started thinking of it as art, I (cook) for entertainment now.”

Changing his outlook on the process of cooking was Oakley’s biggest hurdle on the show, he said.

“My biggest challenge was finding the willingness to learn and overcome fears,” Oakley said.

His biggest joy was meeting and working with hosts and chefs, Anne Burrell and Tyler Florence.

“They are two of the finest chefs in America,” Oakley said. “They are artists in their own right.”

Oakley said he’s excited to cook more at home and provide for his family.

“If I have a recipe, I can make anything,” Oakley said. “Sky’s the limit.”

Catch Oakley on Season 15 of “Worst Cooks in America,” which premieres 9 p.m. Eastern time, on Jan. 6 on Food Network.

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