My Adventure at A Food Reality Show

After watching newscasts daily for half a decade as a journalist’s job requirement, I have found myself having more time to watch shows that I have always loved:  food shows. My favorites: Martha Stewart, Giada De Laurentiis, Tyler Florence, Nigella Lawson, Ina Garten, Rachael Ray, and Bobby Flay.  When I have extra time, there’s also Top Chef, and French Food at Home.  I also have Julia Child’s DVD collection too.

Aside finding out which recipes I could try at home, I have always been interested in how these shows are produced. I got quite a thrill in 2008 when I got to watch Martha Stewart live in NYC.  I got so thrilled and inspired that I produced my own small foodcast earlier this year — Comfort Zone.

Then, there are the food reality shows.  I’ve also wondered how they are produced.  I’ve also always wondered how contestants of Master Chef, or The Next Food Network Star feel when they audition or participate.  And how they feel when they get eliminated.

Now I know how they feel.  Just last month, I tried out/auditioned for a food-themed reality TV show.

Unfortunately, a four-month contract 0bliges me to not even divulge the name of the show.  It’s a show that will be aired across Southeast Asia towards the end of the year.  And the producers traveled to Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and other countries in the region to look for a chef-contestant to represent each country.  The sole winner of the show is given a one-year contract to host a show on that regional cable channel — by December, I should be able to reveal the identity of that channel, if anyone cares to know.

It was exciting.  But I wasn’t chosen.  By now, I am certain that our Boss upstairs has other plans.  I will also be the first to admit that I still have so much to learn in being a chef. Remember, that I am a foodie, and not a chef.

I still did join for the experience. I was hesitant at first, but hey, what do I have to lose?  It was a very good learning experience.  At the very lease, it was one experience worth blogging about!  I mean, it’s not everyday that a person manages to audition for a reality show/contest.  It provides a lot of insights that help me make a rich commentary.

The Day Itself

The dormant reporter in me came out the day of the audition, and I took note of my observations and even interviewed fellow contestants.

I arrived at the auditions at nine in the morning.  I was contestant 171 out of 200+ people, who registered online.  Only less than 100 showed up.  It was a mixed group.  Majority were bloggers like me, culinary students, and food enthusiasts/home cooks.  The first thing we were asked to do was to sign all these papers — waivers, confidentiality agreement, etc.  Surprisingly, there were only a handful of chefs.

A restaurant in one of the malls had been chosen as the place of the audition.  All the glass panels were covered, which heightened the suspense for everyone.  No one knew what to expect.  Everyone was nervous, even the experienced chefs.

One contestant was a dermatologist/plastic surgeon who had her clinic.  She even bragged about how a prominent TV personality came to her recently to get a recommendation on how to lose the fat from eating all that baked macaroni, donuts, and liempo she had feasted on for several years — only to find out that his/her (I’m not telling!) TV contract does not allow for such weight loss.  Weird, right?

There were also a number of local TV chefs who were there.  Another fellow was formerly an aspiring actor, a product of a TV star-search.  This guy was eliminated after making it to the top 4 (out of the final 16).  Not finding a sustainable job on TV, he took marketing and culinary for college.

Interviewing fellow hopefuls, it was funny how everyone had similar answers.  Everyone’s bosses didn’t know they were auditioning (I told my boss immediately after. Hi, Geline).  Because everyone had prior commitments and responsibilities, no one knew how things would fall into place should they get lucky.  I, for one, have an MBA thesis to finish plus several training sessions to run.  So the question was, how do we just drop everything for six weeks, and then fly to another country to compete?  I guess people relied on bahala na.  “If it’s meant, it’s meant,” as many people were thinking.  Including me.

We were divided into smaller batches of eight.  I was in batch  five, which was ushered into the restaurant after an hour and a half of waiting.  Just before we entered, make up was put on our faces, and we were given a brief orientation.

We were to make a three-fold omelet, using the available ingredients.  What? Omelet!  After cramming on all the complicated techniques, we were asked to make an omelet?  After reviewing Hollandaise sauce, panna cotta, and souffle’s?  An omelet?  Really?

It’s really more of a problem rather than a complain.  The actual is, I don’t make omelets.  I’m a scrambled-eggs-type of guy.  I did, however, get to watch Julia Child’s omelet special and remember everything that she did to make it right.

And then, there was one more problem.  We were to use an induction cooker.  Aargh! I’ve never used one, not even a number of my fellow hopefuls.

There was no turning back.  It’s still is just an omelet.  And it’s just an induction cooker.  And I know how an omelet looks like.  Showtime!

We were ushered into the room, where we were greeted by the show’s three hosts.  One of them is a Filipino, who happens to own the restaurant.  Hmmm… if not for my cooking skills, may be I could dazzle them with my hosting/presentation skills?

But alas, the hosts said that we were not really allowed to talk and sell our dishes.  Come to think of it, that’s supposed to be a good thing.  The dishes should sell themselves. They shot our batch in mini-segments.  And contrary to popular belief, this reality show still has a clapper and a director shouting, “action!”  So there were brief periods when nothing was happening, since cameras, lights were being prepared, while the judges were in huddles at the side.

We were given the following ingredients: two eggs, milk, turkey ham, bell pepper, onion, butter, olive oil, parsley, salt and pepper.  We were given 10 minutes to cook a fantastic omelet.

Time flew so fast even if we were asked to make something very simple.  I put almost all of the ingredients.  Using Julia Child’s formula, I put my ingredients, and jolted the pan to get the omelet folded.  Unfortunately, the egg didn’t come together as I had planned.  In my desire to have a creamy omelet, I may have put too much milk and butter.  And the result — scrambled eggs! Hahaha!  If memory serves me right, it was a miss for two of us in that batch.

Then it was judgment time.  I had a good dish.  But unfortunately, the judges just chose to taste two of the dishes made.  They did not bother to taste the six other dishes.  This made me wonder.  I mean, presentation and technique are important, and I get that.  But shouldn’t the final basis still be the taste of the dish.  I guess, this would be my only question throughout the process.  I remember watching an episode of Master Chef Season 2 recently, in which five contestants were asked to make their best meatballs.  Only three were chosen worthy of tasting, and this was based on presentation.  Thing is, the third contestant, which had the best presentation, had the worst taste according to the judges.  So the lesson?  We really can’t judge a book by its cover.  Or a dish by its plating.

I harbor no hard feelings, but I noticed that the judges only tasted the chefs’ dishes.  I thought about this and even processed with an uncle who happens to be a foodie too — and a consistent viewer of food reality shows.  I guess the show really was looking for a particular profile of contestants.  Perhaps they really needed chefs.  The contest, after all, is for the next star chef of the station.  Duh!  And part of the prize, by the way, is a one-year contract to be head of the F&B at a foreign hotel chain.  It makes sense, I guess, that an ordinary foodie, isn’t the best fit.  This, I guess, explains why only a number of hopefuls received a call from producers a day before the audition to make sure that they show up.  Majority became warm bodies then for the camera.

We went out of the restaurant and were asked to be on standby in case someone would call us for a second screening.  But I knew then and there that there wasn’t going to be any call.  And I was right.  After all, I made scramble eggs, right?  Still, I am proud of it.  I tasted my dish and it tasted creamy and tasty.  I should post it one of these days.   And I finished the challenge on time.

So am I bitter about it?  Hmmm…maybe just a little.  The little bitterness aside, I know that the audition was good validation for me.  Whenever I watch food reality shows and see people get eliminated, they would always say that they’d continue cooking, and that they are not letting anyone tell them that they can’t cook.  I declare the same thing now with an arm and a clenched fist in the air: I can cook well!  But yes, for a second, I must admit feeling the other way around — that I can’t cook.  But that was only for a second.

My important lessons

1) When you think about it, can we really measure a cook with just one dish.  An omelet?  I realize, if someone wants to really see the cook I am, ask me to cook something else.  I know that I can still make a good, memorable osso buco.  Or I can make good lasagna, ravioli — and from scratch.  Will I allow an omelet to get the better of me? I’m not complaining that my cooking skills have been measured through a mere omelet.  Not complaining at all.  But I have to say that I find this way of judging funny.

2) Understandably, reality shows still need to follow the realities and economics of television.  Skill isn’t everything.  Producers have to think: will this guy be able to bring in the ratings?  Can this guy sell us books?  Does he look credible or good?  And still, I understand the point of why the omelet is the dish we were asked to make.  It’s quick to make, given that 100 people were trying out.  And the ingredients are cheap.  A show, after all, can’t go over budget, especially one that is region-wide.

3) My experience validated my philosophy for cooking.  I’ve never cooked to compete or to be the best.  I do it out of real passion.  For me, competition, time pressure, berating judges just take out the fun in cooking.  I feel that it distracts from my wish to letting food bring people together.

4) The judges were very nice.  That aside, I’ve read the reviews of people about one of the judges’ restaurant.  The reviews are consistent — the judge doesn’t serve good mac n’ cheese.  Hahaha! I still make better mac n’cheese than you.  Peace! Hahaha!

5) Fine.  I still have to practice my omelet.  I will include to the list making a mean batch of pancakes from scratch.  I’m confident that I can make good versions of these in no time.  I will even blog about it.  And I will also buy an induction cooker and use it.

6) The bottom line is still taste.  Plating is nice to have and I am not undermining its importance.  In the end, however, it’s still the taste that’s most important.

7) In the end, whether it is cooking or something else, we are our own judges.  No one should tell us what we can do, and what we cannot do.  No one can make us inferior without our consent.  Our life is our decision and how we make out of it.  So in the end, if you know your worth and you can see yourself for your full potential, then you’ll be all right.   Go for your dreams.  Go for your passions. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Try and try until…?

To end, I am grateful for this wonderful opportunity, and I look at it with fondness.  Thank you.  Auditioning was actually fun, and I did make it a point to at least enjoy every minute of it.    I may not have a show telecast over Asia, but I still am a proud host and producer of my own food show — and this can be seen worldwide, thanks to YouTube.  Hehehe.  I am grateful for any experience that allows me to improve and be wiser.

So will I join another reality show in the future?   Nah, I don’t think so.  One memorable experience is enough to make me happy.  But I will continue to cook because I know that it is my passion.

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