‘Great American Recipe’ series debuts with N.J. ‘Top Chef’ alum. Here’s her go-to recipe.


A bunch of home cooks head to a professional kitchen planted in the middle of a bucolic landscape.

Hearts — and spoons — in hand, they try their best to impress the judges.

Sound familiar?

It’s not “The Great British Bake Off” (or “The Great British Baking Show,” as it’s known in the United States).

But yes, that’s kind of the idea — still “great,” just “American,” and not confined to confections, bread and pastry.

“The Great American Recipe,” a new food competition series, premieres Friday, June 24 on PBS, and New Jersey-based chef Leah Cohen is on the panel of judges.

In asking contestants to cook not just what they know but also what makes them who they are, the show aims to put culture and identity front and center. Those food stories yield Vietnamese, Korean, Mexican, Italian, Filipino, Syrian and Puerto Rican dishes, to name just a few.

Since 2012, Cohen, who lives in Union City, has owned “Pig & Khao,” a Filipino and Thai-flavored, Southeast Asian street food-inspired restaurant on the Lower East Side of New York. In 2020, she opened Piggyback, its sister restaurant in Midtown.

In the show, Cohen, 40, brings her expertise to the table — culinary knowhow pulled from her time working in kitchens throughout Asia and her own restaurants.

The foodie flame was lit in Cohen’s childhood. Her parents, both dentists, memorably influenced her palate. From her paternal grandmother and her Romanian Jewish dad, who died of COVID-19 in 2020, there was matzo ball soup and brisket. From her Filipina mom, rice and chicken adobo (see recipe below) — which is now her 2-year-old son Carter’s favorite meal.

Cohen, who grew up in Scarsdale, New York, lives in Union City with her husband and business partner Ben Byruch, toddler Carter and baby son Baker, born in February. She’s one of three judges on the show. The others are chefs Tiffany Derry (another “Top Chef” alum) and Graham Elliot.

Even before filming “The Great American Recipe,” Cohen knew a little something about food competitions. You may recognize her from when she was a contestant in the fifth season of Bravo’s “Top Chef” in 2008 and 2009 (that season, Hosea Rosenberg won and Carla Hall was a runner-up).

“The Great American Recipe,” filmed in a large barn-like structure in Ruther Glen, Virginia, extends an invite to 10 home chefs from across the country to put their treasured signature recipes to the test.

Technique is still important, but much of the focus rests on the connection between each home chef and their chosen foods. One of the first challenges is billed “if I were a recipe,” where they get 60 minutes to make a dish that defines them.

Leah Cohen's chicken adobo.

Chicken adobo was the first Filipino dish Leah Cohen’s mother taught her to cook. It’s always been her go-to recipe to make for staff meals when working in various restaurants. Paul Zimmerman | Getty Images; Courtesy of Leah Cohen

Another prompt asks the home cooks to prepare food that represents their region of the country. The ensuing smorgasbord includes tri-tip beef tacos, meatballs and pasta with Sunday gravy, beef and stout oyster pie, biscuits, Korean-style meatloaf, pork adobo sandwiches, cioppino, Vietnamese beef stew and Puerto Rican pastelón.

The Great American Recipe,” hosted by Alejandra Ramos, premieres 9 p.m. ET Friday, June 24 on PBS and airs for eight weeks with new episodes each Friday. You can watch the show and find recipes at pbs.org/food/shows/the-great-american-recipe.

Here’s a recipe from Leah Cohen’s cookbook “Lemongrass & Lime.”

This was the first Filipino dish Cohen’s mother taught her how to cook — “a simple one-pot dish with five staples that all Filipinos have on hand — soy sauce, vinegar, black pepper, garlic, and bay leaves,” she says in the book. Now it’s her son Carter’s favorite.

“I add in a few more ingredients to really amplify the flavor,” Cohen writes. “While working in other kitchens over the years, this has always been my go-to staff meal. It is easy to make, and while it braises away in the oven, I can get my prep done. Most important, the staff always loves it.”


1/4 cup canola oil

6 chicken thighs

6 chicken drumsticks

1 large Spanish onion, halved and thinly sliced

6 garlic cloves, smashed

1 cup Kikkoman light soy sauce

1/2 cup Chaokoh coconut milk

1/2 cup coconut vinegar (can substitute apple cider vinegar)

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground bay leaf powder

Steamed jasmine rice

2 tablespoons crispy garlic

2 scallions (green and pale green part), thinly sliced

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Add the chicken thighs and cook for about 3 minutes per side, until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a large plate.

2. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan and heat until the oil shimmers. Add the chicken legs and cook for about 3 minutes per side, until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to the plate with the thighs.

3. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan; add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until soft.

4. Add the garlic, soy sauce, coconut milk, vinegar, 1 cup of water, the sugar, pepper, and bay leaf powder and stir until combined. Return the chicken to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for about 1 hour, until the chicken is tender. If the liquid reduces too quickly or becomes too salty, add a bit of water. Serve with steamed jasmine rice and garnished with crispy garlic and the scallions.

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Amy Kuperinsky may be reached at [email protected] and followed at @AmyKup on Twitter.


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