In April of 2013, a casting director sent me a message on my FB page asking me if I would like to be on CHOPPED. My immediate reaction was a very emphatic NO! I mean, wouldn’t yours be too? Someone has to be absolutely nuts and a complete masochist to subject themselves to that particular brand of madness. What followed was a series of emails – me explaining why I wasn’t interested, and them countering every excuse with another good reason why it made complete sense for me to come be on their show. The one line in the casting director’s final email that sealed the deal for me was “Of course it’s great exposure for you and your business.” Boom, I’m in! And that’s the short story of how, unlike most chefs who apply to be on the show, I was recruited by their very persistent casting department.
The first thing I had to do as a contestant on the show was be interviewed on-camera. I headed to an office building somewhere in Lower Manhattan. Sat in a chair, in front of a camera and was asked a whole lot of questions about my life, my journey to where I was now and my cooking. If you’ve read my blog or my FB page, you’ll know that for me, cooking is very connected to my mother. I learned to cook from Mum, and to this day, I still call her to ask for recipes and talk about kitchen-related matters. So, of course, with me missing Mum and her being on the other side of the planet, and them asking me all about her, within minutes of my ass settling in the chair, it’s full-on waterworks for the cameras. There I was crying and talking, talking and crying. Stop. Blow the nose. Get another tissue. Compose the self. Ah heck, forget composing the self! Tell a little funny story about something back home. Laugh through the tears. More crying. More talking. Snot sliding down the front of my face. It was drama, it was comedy – I gave them everything. The producers LOVED me. I could just see the notes they might have been taking – “hot button topic – her Mom!” “I wish we could just sit and chat with you all day!” they said as I left the office thinking “I must be PMS-ing, what’s with all this crying? Oh well, no one will ever see this and I’ll be better on the actual show!”
A couple of months later, the production company calls to schedule a day to shoot my bio piece. It’s the 30-second intro at the beginning of the episode for each chef. They shoot me shopping in my favorite spots in Chinatown. They shoot me playing the piano. They shoot me cooking something exotic. They shoot me in a chair talking. The producer begins asking me about my mother, my memories of being in her kitchen and how I learned to cook from her. I bet you can imagine what happens next! Wonder of wonders, I’m at it again. Snort, sniffle, waaaaaaaahhhhh! Mummy! Well, not exactly like that, but you get the picture. This time around, I was a little perplexed, annoyed and surprised at myself. I had no idea I was such a softie, wanna-be mummy’s baby girl, full-grown woman acting the fool. You learn something new every day. About yourself. Hmmmmmph!
Leading up to the shoot date of the actual episode, I was watching one episode of CHOPPED a day. Making notes, getting a feel for how some of the weirder ingredients were used successfully, or seeing how an ingredient that didn’t really fit in (such as bacon in the dessert round or jelly beans in the entrée round) was used. I also made tactical notes, for example, don’t attempt to actually bake something in the dessert round – there just isn’t time! If you want to use the ice-cream machine, you HAVE to be the first one there or you’ll have to switch to plan B. If you have one, that is. It also became very clear to me that CHOPPED is not actually a cooking competition – it’s a game show. Yes, cooking happens on the show, but don’t get it twisted – it really is a mad race with the clock, with surprise ingredients and in an unknown space. At the end of the day, the biggest obstacle is not being in your own kitchen. Every action that should be automatic such as looking for a certain ingredient or tool, takes three times as much brain power and time as it would in your own kitchen. It was fun though, all this TV watching. For work. Research and prep, you know! 🙂
My lovely CHOPPED-obsessed friend Sara Tolbert talks me into letting her make up some practice “mystery baskets” for me. We get together a couple of times in the weeks before the shoot date. She put together some pretty nasty baskets of weird ingredients. Having watched every single episode of the show, she’s sussed out some sort of basic formula for the baskets – there’s always some sort of protein, some weird produce, something versatile that can be used a number of different ways, and one flat-out ridiculous, wtf-is-this-doing-here ingredient to throw a wrench in any contestant’s already over-taxed thought process! For example, the first appetizer basket that she made up consisted of chorizo, sardines, mint cookies & cream malt balls and yuca. The entrée basket had a filet of grunt, some kind of greens, raw honeycomb and a whole coconut. Here’s a quick look at the insanity that ensued in my kitchen after a basket was opened. What you don’t see is that just a few feet off camera was the lovely Sara, rubbing her hands together in evil glee. Evil! She enjoyed every minute of it.
The night before the shoot of the episode, my poor daughter gets this lovely frozen pizza for dinner.The Husband walks into the kitchen, looks at it and says “That looks like a CHOPPED chef-worthy dinner!” Because he says this, I decide to take a picture of it knowing that I will use it in this blog post months down the road. I’m sorry, my sweet little family – have you heard that old saying “the cobbler’s children have no shoes?” Our version of this is “the CHOPPED chef’s family eats frozen pizza the night before the competition”. This meal was brought to you by the chefs at the Di Giorno Frozen Pizza company.
On the day of the shoot, I am up at 2:45 in the morning. Why, you ask? WHO CAN SLEEP WHEN YOU KNOW YOU HAVE TO MORPH INTO A GLADIATOR IN A FEW HOURS? I’m so sorry for yelling….
To be continued….
Part 2 of this post will be up for your reading pleasure the day after the episode airs, Wednesday April 23rd.
(Please join me as I watch the episode which airs this coming Tuesday, April 22nd at 10pm. Come have a drink with me at the viewing party here or watch from the comfort of your own couch.)