Natasha Leggero On Rat In The Kitchen, Cooking, And Great Food Television - Exclusive Interview

Cooks of all shapes and sizes have found ways to purposely screw up meals over the years. According to Delish, some folks have taken aim at food thieves by lining cakes with peppercorns, replacing the creme in Oreos with toothpaste, and even finding ways to spike some particular dish with extra hot ghost peppers. While these incidents seem like they could get anyone to stop stealing your meals, any contestant on a cooking show might not dare to mess with their meal, especially when it has to get tasted by a top judge.

"Rat in the Kitchen" on TBS takes the very idea of a cooking competition and flips it on its head. During the show, a team of chefs must create a variety of dishes for hosts Natasha Leggero and Ludo Lefebvre, but one member of the team isn't what they appear to be. This "rat" has to sabotage the dishes over the course of the episode. At the end of the set of challenges, the team needs to figure out which member is the rat, and if they guess correctly, the group walks away with a bunch of cash. If they guess wrong, the rat gets to claim the whole cash prize.

The series, which premieres on March 31, features Leggero as a host ready to roast the shifting cast of contestants per episode. Mashed caught up with the comedian in an exclusive interview and learned exactly how "Rat in the Kitchen" went down.

Leggero's relationship with the kitchen

Before we even get to "Rat in the Kitchen," I was wondering if you could talk to me about what your relationship is with food. Do you like cooking? Where did that connection to the show come from?

To be honest, I don't like cooking and I am not good at cooking. Cooking doesn't like me. I don't know how I would say it. I make toast. However, I don't let that get in the way of being a complete food snob. I love eating. I love strong flavors. I love spice. I love amazing chefs cooking for me. Living in LA, you do have access to so many amazing restaurants.

My relationship to food is that I love to eat it like most people, but also, my husband will make fun of me because if he makes something or there's something that's just "fine," I won't eat it. I won't eat to fill myself up. If it's not amazing, I'll usually skip that meal.

The one ingredient Leggero can't live without

Do you have an all time favorite meal or one thing you can't live without the kitchen or to eat?

What's really amazing that I've discovered recently, as I've gotten into Sichuan — basically, in the San Gabriel Valley, there's all these amazing Chinese restaurants, and Sichuan is a type of Chinese food if you don't know. It's got that kind of numbing spice, which, where I grew up in Illinois, they didn't have ... Chinese food was almost Americanized, not spicy at all. We would get shrimp with lobster sauce. That's pretty much all I knew about Chinese food. Going to the San Gabriel Valley and the Sichuan, it's so delicious. There's a place called Sichuan Impression that we go to a lot, and there's something you can find in the market called chili crisp. I don't know if you ever had this, but you can basically put it on anything, and it will turn your meal into this delicious, salty, spicy flavor bomb.

Actually, it's funny, Ludo is saying — because he makes French food, which is not spicy at all — but sometimes people will come into the restaurant and he'll see people [put it on their food]. People will put chili crisp on anything to give it that crazy spice.

What Ludo Lefebvre is like in real life

What was it like working alongside Ludo? What was he like?

Ludo was great. He's extremely serious about food and about cooking. One thing I really thought was funny about him too is, we would hang out, and we would always go to the same Thai restaurant. He's a world-renowned chef who's not necessarily a foodie. He wanted to know that he was going to have something good to eat and it's not like he was needing to explore all of the city. From talking to him, he has a huge cookbook collection, and he studies cooking and studies all these old recipes.

That's another thing. He said he didn't to go to a bunch of different restaurants because he doesn't want to get accidentally too influenced by someone else's food. I was like, "Well, where do you get your inspiration?" He said he would get them from old cookbooks. Additionally, he said sometimes he would have dreams, and he would wake up. In the dream, it would tell him what to pair something with. It's like an artist, but for food.

Leggero's culinary bucket list

Is there one chef that you would love to have cook for you, if you had a dream bucket list chef kind of experience?

To be honest, I'm not just saying this, but it would be chef Ludo. I went to his restaurant, Petit Trois, in the Valley, and truly, the things that he serves, they're mind-blowing, memorable. You'll have the best baguette you've ever had in your life, the best beet salad you've ever had in your life, the best crab cake. I had a piece of fish in Beurre Rouge, which I had never had. Beurre Blanc, I had heard of. It's a white sauce, but then there's a Beurre Rouge, which is basically a red wine sauce, which I've never had in fish. I think it was a special, I don't know if it's always on the menu. His food is so creative and it's so delicious. I feel like he would be the number one chef I would want to cook for me.

Leggero's favorite fast food craving

On the flip side of that, do you ever have a moment where you're craving fast food, or at this point, are you 100% straight into fine dining?

No, of course not. The only fast food I crave, and I do eat it once or twice a week, is In-N-Out. That's a west coast chain. I've been known to eat a sofrito burrito from Chipotle, but I don't know if I want that in print. In terms of fast food ... I will eat a McDonald's breakfast sandwich.

I mean, you can't beat the classics. Also, what's your go-to In-N-Out order?

My husband ... I've started trying what he orders, but it's completely absurd. It is a grilled cheese with extra, extra, extra, extra onions, animal style. I told him, "You can't say extra four times when you're ordering that," but that's his order. I have tried that and it is pretty delicious because we are trying to stop eating so much meat, but the classic is usually what I get, no onions. As opposed to the four extras.

That's a lot of extras. I commend your husband.

That's an obnoxious amount of extras.

I can only hope to aspire to that one day. It's a life goal at this point.

Because it's embarrassing to order it.

How Leggero got approached for Rat in the Kitchen

How did you get tapped to work on the show? How did this all end up transpiring?

I think they wanted a comedian to pair with Ludo. [He] and I met and we really hit it off. I like to make fun and make it lighthearted, and he is so serious about food, and he is also an excellent teacher, but I think we really connected. It seemed like the right fit. There's a whodunnit aspect to the show. Ludo and I, each episode, along with people at home and the chefs, get to try to figure out who the rat is. That's the person who's trying to sabotage everybody's dishes.

Did you ever have a one particular sabotage moment that stood out to you?

A few times — we could not believe who the saboteur was because we have our eyes on everybody the whole time. You start to see how they're interacting with each other. I can't give anything away, but I will say that some of the rats came as a complete shock.

The best part of Rat in the Kitchen

In the big picture, what do you think your favorite part of working on the show was?

Getting to taste the food, because Ludo was really adamant that I got to taste the food as well. Tasting people's food ... Some are home chefs and some of them are professionals who own their own restaurants, but they were all pretty great cooks. Being able to test all this food and develop my palate more was really fun. That was probably my favorite part.

That does sound very, very cool, especially when you don't know if you're about to eat something that's going to be completely disgusting. I know you can't talk about it too much, but could you share some of your favorite ways that things were sabotaged?

I had never had raw shrimp before.

Was it intentionally raw shrimp, or unintentionally raw shrimp?

That's what happens — the rat will tell someone it's cooked and then it, somehow in the competition, in all of the competition madness, it'll end up on the plate. As soon as they take off the cloche, that's what we eat. Someone intended for it to be raw.

The tensest moments on camera

That's somewhere between horrifying and good television. Were there any really tense moments on the show based on the principle of what the show entailed?

Yeah. There were a few times where people maybe were having a little too much fun. I feel like Ludo, he comes from a very old school [way of cooking]. In terms of how he is in the kitchen, it's not a joke. It's very serious. He demands that level of seriousness about what you're doing from the chefs, and they learned that from him and it was interesting and fun to watch. Anyone who made light of that, they definitely regretted it.

I could imagine. At this point, let's say you are in a scenario where you need to go and sabotage someone's meal in the future. After watching all these masters at work, how would you go and do that?

Some of the people, they had this very clever way of doing some bad acting, like accidentally dropping things and that kind of thing ... I don't want to give anything away, but you can very clandestinely have some seasonings in your apron and sabotage some dishes that way.

The cleverest food sabotages

Were there any moments when you were watching all that play out and you were like, "Oh, I could have done that differently, and I bet that would've worked?"

Sometimes, I would see people doing [things], and then I would be like, "Oh." Other people would see them, maybe, changing the knobs ... I'm not supposed to say anything specifically. Sorry, but yes, there were times where ... I probably would've relied on my acting skills and done it that way, but there were a lot of creative ways people chose to sabotage the dishes.

After the end of the episodes happened, was [there] it a lot of anger between the rat and everybody else? How did that dynamic play out after the camera stopped rolling?

There wasn't. I don't remember a lot of anger. No, it was more like fun. The really fun ones were the people where everyone guessed one person, and then that person was not the rat. Then, the person who was the rat was everybody's best friend. When those situations happened, it was more like a "no-one-could-believe-it" type of vibe.

Are there any future plans then looking forward?

Hopefully they'll have us do more. I don't know. I guess we have to wait for it to air and for TBS to realize what a massive hit it is.

Natasha Leggero hosts "Rat in the Kitchen," which premieres on TBS Thursday, March 31, at 9:00 p.m. ET.