Somehow Susie and I got roped into applying to be on a new television show that is premiering in September 2010.
It was easy enough ... We filled out a form and sent it to one of the producers and we got a call back to arrange a screen test. They asked us to be available for 30 minutes and to be prepared to make something while we were being interviewed ... Just to make sure that we could talk and cook at the same time.
We thought long and hard about what to make and, because we couldn't decide, opted to make two versions of chicken bites.
Susie made one of her favourite recipes: chicken breast meat cubes, tossed in Franks Red Hot, then rolled in crushed up baked BBQ chips and Fibre One cereal. She served the bites with a honey-mustard dipping sauce.
I made a boneless chicken wing, which was inspired by Rousseau House in Ancaster. I didn't have a recipe, but I knew what flavours I wanted to incorporate. I deboned the wings and stuffed them with sautéed garlic and shallots with a little fresh cilantro. The stuffed wing was placed on a hot BBQ. For a dipping sauce, I made an emulsion of lavender honey and red vinegar with chillies and a little more cilantro.
Both dishes turned out great!
We were great on camera and were notified almost immediately that we would be on the show. Our filming week was July 19-23, 2010, which meant that we each had to reschedule the two different weekend getaways that we had planned. Susie was supposed to be heading to Miami and I was heading into Algonquin Park with some buddies.
Susie had a brilliant idea for a theme that would be sexy and fun almost immediately. We would make an entire menu of small dishes, each of which would include an ingredient that is an aphrodisiac. She has a book called Intercourses, which is filled with recipes using aphrodisiacs. We ended up using none of the recipes from the book, but we did take inspiration from the ingredients that were perfectly suited for the theme.
For the show we were to attend dinner parties held by two other couples on Monday and Wednesday, then we would host a dinner party on the Friday before being judged as to who threw the best shindig.
The Monday and Wednesday were easy because all we had to do was show up. At some point during each night, the invited guests were individually taken away to a "confessional". This would be the chance for every invited guest to criticize the host's performance and send a message for the judges to consider.
The Friday was a whole new ball game. Cameras were rolling from about 10:00 am and didn't stop until after 10:00 pm. Each of the other couples had already had that experience by the time we came around but, of course, nobody warned us about how intrusive the crew doing setup would be to our schedule.
We had everything planned for the day. In fact, we made up a game day schedule so that nothing could go wrong and we would always know what we needed to do and where each of us needed to be throughout the day. For the evening we actually planned down to every 15 minutes to make sure that our guests had plenty happening while still having a relaxed atmosphere. To be clear, only Susie and I knew about the schedule so the guests would have had to assume that we were going with the flow.
We made sure that we had plenty of time and were working with easy to manage ingredients with lots of padding added in so, at first, when the crew were calibrating lighting and camera angles, we were happy to relax and let them do their thing.
Then, we were told that we would be doing an afternoon interview with the judges that we had not planned for in advance. It took an hour or so to do the interview and re-record all of the pickups. (A pickup is when they like something that someone said, but they want to either hear it again more clearly or with a different intonation)
We were left scrambling a little, but there was still extra time in the schedule. Then Susie dressed the salads hours before the party and killed the spinach! I had to do a last minute grocery store run.
It came down to the prep for the final course ... Dessert Pizza and I had to roll out the dough and toss it, but the kitchen was full of crew. I ended up having to prep it on a serving tray and toss it in a corner, but all was done on time before the guests arrived.
Susie was in charge of decor so she picked up some beautiful floral arrangements from Burst to finish off our room and she managed all of the transitions with our counter/table. Since we have only one surface big enough for guests to eat and for us to do prep with, this was a huge job to manage.
All in all, I am glad that we participated in the show. It was a great experience to share with Susie and something interesting to tell kids about in the future.
The one thing that surprised me the most was how the producers shape the show while filming. They don't go out of their way to tell you what to say in as many words, but they definitely lead you to act a certain way and have specific responses.
First, we were told not to be "Canadian" with our responses, rather than to act more extreme would make for better TV. They said "If you like white wine and you're asked; "Do you like white wine?" The preferred responses would be: "Yeah, I love it!, or "No way, I can't stand the stuff!"
They also shaped our responses to fit the story. They would ask questions and then you would need to incorporate the question into your answer so that the audience could figure out the reason for the answer
For example, at one of the dinner parties, I was asked about how the food tasted and I actually liked it, so I said so. Then they said that others had said that if one dish was slimy and over cooked and ask if I agreed with that assessment. This went on for a few minutes until I said: "The food was okay, except the eggplant, which was slimy from being over-cooked and wasn't spicy enough"
You aren't exactly given lines, but the producers are pros at coming up with ways to create drama from the ordinary. I can't wait to see they how they cut me together. I'm sure that I will come across as an overconfident, arrogant jerk, based on my memory of some of the things they were getting me to say. I guess that's pretty close to my personality anyway.
We were sworn to secrecy when it comes to announcing the winners for the week so I can't share that quite yet. Susie wrote a very accurate account of our experience which I will be posting after the episode airs on the Food Network.
The show has been getting a lot of press in recent weeks, some of which you can read through below. They also used our place for some behind the scenes footage and pictures, which you can pick out in some of the articles if you've ever been in my living room.