Wolfgang Puck and Cindy Margolis, <EM>Celebrity Cooking Showdown</EM> Wolfgang Puck and Cindy Margolis, Celebrity Cooking Showdown

Each night this week at 8 pm/ET, NBC is offering viewers a taste  an amuse-bouche, if you will  of a brand-new reality competition. Celebrity Cooking Showdown finds all-star chefs Wolfgang Puck, Cat Cora and Govind Armstrong tutoring such famous faces as Patti LaBelle, Alison Sweeney (Days of our Lives) and Tom Arnold in the culinary arts, ultimately guiding each in the preparation of a meal. If you caught Showdown's Monday-night debut and have questions  and/or have wondered how a certain supermodel's recent run-in with the law resulted in her last-minute exit from the contest  here are the answers to some "burning" (oops, set the flame too high... ) queries of our own, as fielded by series exec producer Ben Silverman and foodmaster Puck.

TVGuide.com: How did Celebrity Cooking Showdown incorporate the last-minute swapping of model Naomi Campbell, as well as rapper Ja Rule, with online pinup Cindy Margolis and Ms. LaBelle?
Ben Silverman:
We finished taping [April 6] at 10:30 pm, so it was at the last minute, as I'm sure you're familiar with what's going on with people's lives. [Campbell was arrested less than a week earlier for allegedly assaulting her housekeeper.] But we are thrilled about Patti and Cindy  they ended up delivering unbelievably on air and gave it their all. Patti was just extraordinary and is a total foodie. Despite being "diva-licious," she can get down with the cooking.

TVGuide.com: Whose decision was it for Naomi Campbell not to participate?
It was definitely Naomi's decision. Hopefully she'll be on the next round of our series, because she likes to cook.

TVGuide.com: Mr. Silverman, were you her first call from hoosegow?
Hey, now! [Chuckles]

TVGuide.com: How much do the chefs really help the celebrities?
Wolfgang Puck:
The celebrities are the chefs. They came to "boot camp" at Spago and they went to work with me. Cindy, she barely knew how to boil water. The fun thing is that we taught them the recipes and then they actually had to do them. It wasn't like we were cooking and telling them to chop the parsley or whatever; they actually had to marinate the meat, make the pies, everything. [The professional chefs] are only allowed a short time in  two times for two minutes, and five minutes at the end. We're really the "closers," if you would call it that, who come in to plate it and do some finishing touches.

TVGuide.com: If the ratings do well enough, could Celebrity Cooking Showdown become a regular series?
Absolutely. NBC did so well in launching Deal or No Deal as a strip, and when I was an agent I brought Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to America as a strip, so we are so excited that NBC is committing an entire week of prime time to this show. After that, we're off to the races. We're hoping to be on the air again right away.

TVGuide.com: If that happens, might you expand the judging panel to more than two people [Everyday Elegance's Colin Cowie and New York magazine's Gael Greene]?
Colin and Gail are like eight people. They're amazing.
Puck: What we tried to do was to bring in experienced food people, not "celebrities." On Iron Chef, for example, you have an actor who doesn't eat Japanese food and you have a girl who just giggles. Colin Cowie is probably one of the biggest party planners in America, and Gael Greene is one of the most famous food critics in America. Both bring a unique experience and are able to judge the food on presentation and taste.

TVGuide.com: Lastly, without naming names, what's the worst culinary atrocity we can expect to witness? I mean, were fire extinguishers broken out at any point?
We had a lot of fire, we had blood, we had everything! I actually thought we could have had a show called "Finger Food." Even I cut myself! When we taped the first show, there was such an electricity and so much excitement going on, it made Iron Chef and any other cooking show look like a funeral parlor. [Laughs]