Not long ago, what you needed to be a great chef was technical chops and a creative streak. Now add to those: salesman, performer and competitor. A recent fl urry of New Orleans chefs on reality cooking shows (plus cameos on HBO’s “Treme”) makes the case for being camera-ready. Here, we look at fall’s crop of Food TV, with tips on how to get cast (and survive).
Food Network • Tuesdays, 9 p.m. CT
Format: Four on-the-rise chefs have 30 minutes to cook and plate each appetizer, entrée and dessert, showcasing surprise – and often strange – ingredients pulled from the “Chopped” basket. Judges eliminate one chef per course. The winner gets to keep his or her dignity, and $10,000.
NOLA connection: Past winners include Chef Matt Murphy (The Irish House), fi reman and Manning’s line cook Mike Gowland, Ya-Ka-Mein lady Linda Green, and Monroe chef Cory Bahr (Restaurant Sage).
Other local contestants have included: Chefs Justin Kennedy (Parkway Bakery) and Richard Bond (Mardi Gras School of Cooking), and sous chef Cody Monfra (Palace Café).
As of press time: Chefs Bryon Peck (Elizabeth’s), Chuck Subra (JW Marriott), Andrew Scurlock (Whole Foods) and Jude Huval (Pat’s Fisherman’s Wharf in Henderson) are scheduled to appear in “Chopped” episodes, as is Lynette Thomas, cafeteria manager at St. Martinville primary school.
Casting Notes: The network’s looking for home cooks, teen cooks, moms, whole families, military cooks and chefs “cooking for a cause.” Before spending that $10,000 prize, you’ll fi ll out many essay questions describing your cooking background, goals and specialties. Food Network also wants to know “your story” - notice that “Chopped” contestants are packaged as the bad boy, annoying hot girl, egomaniac, heartstring tugger and underdog. Make the casting crew’s job easier by defi ning your own backstory.
NOLA “Chopped” stars dish:
Matt Murphy, executive chef and owner, The Irish House:
The night before: “I got a place close to the studio, read a few cookbooks and called home.”
Filming reality: “Call time was 6 a.m., but I woke up at 4 a.m. and had to get my head in the game. It looks like we do it all in one hour, but we were fi lming until 10:30 that night.”
Culinary strategy: “I’m good at coming up with variations of dishes. You need to be able to take any ingredient and make bread, pancakes and sauces from it. I tried to take the four [secret] ingredients and tie them in on the plate.”
The judges were watching every step: “I wanted to work clean, organized and very precise. I didn’t want to give them any (reason) to criticize me.”
Lamb plan: “You have to have a huge knowledge of ingredients… you can’t roast large pieces of lamb properly in 15 minutes, so I cut the lamb thin, marinated and seared it, and kept it tender.”
How to get on: “Food Network found me. You have to get on their radar.” “It’s good for publicity, win, lose or draw.” Murphy’s Irish House threw a “Chopped” party the night his episode aired, with free drinks and a special menu.
His advantage in the final round: “The biggest issue is that a lot of chefs train on appetizers and entrées, but haven’t trained themselves on dessert. But I was a pastry chef and knocking out dozens of desserts every day at the Ashford Castle in Ireland.”
Lynette Thomas, cafeteria manager, St. Martinville primary school: How she was picked:
“I was voted a 2012 National Everyday Hero from the American Federation of Teachers; later they contacted me and asked if I’d like to be on a Food Network show.”
On the audition: “I auditioned via Skype and explained what I do with the kids, what kind of food we serve, and what I would do if I won. It was an intense interview.”
How she won over the network’s casting team: “I get to the cafeteria around 4 a.m. to get breakfast ready – everything’s scratch-made daily, even the breads. Every month in the cafeteria we celebrate the kids’ birthdays with a small gift and cupcakes and their own table with friends; we raffl e bikes at Christmas; we host Mardi Gras parades [and game shows to help kids on their standardized tests]. It’s the time I take with the kids; that’s what did it.”
Under the lights: “I was very scared, but I put my mind right to do it. When I got [to the taping], I prayed: ‘Work with these hands, Lord, guide my hands.’”
Fox • Premiered Sept. 28; airs Fridays 7 p.m. CT
Format: The terrifying Gordon Ramsay whips raw restaurants into shape, and usually makes at least one person cry. NOLA connection: The show featured Zeke's in Metairie and Oceana Grill in May 2011. Casting Notes: To qualify, restaurants have to have been open at least a year, offer dinner service, and not be a chain. Occasionally, cooking shows search out diners to fi ll restaurants on the days they tape there (as “Kitchen Nightmares” did when they taped at Oceana Grill). Check with onlocationvacations for upcoming “diner calls.”
Fox • Aired this summer; Season 4 to be announced.
Format: Novice and home cooks make their signature dish for judges Graham Elliott, Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich, and only the best advance through the challenge rounds to become closer to the whopping $250,000 prize. Casting Notes: This contest relies solely on talented amateurs (nearly 30,000 fl ocked to the latest open casting calls). If you’ve got what it takes, call their casting line at 310-313-9100.
Bravo • Premieres Nov. 7; airs Wednesdays 9 p.m. CT
Format: As many as two dozen rising young chefs have to meet two challenges every week: a short-fuse Quickfi re and a more complex Elimination. The Quickfi re winner gets a prize (usually immunity or an advantage in the next Elimination round), while the Elimination loser goes home. The ultimate winner brings home $200,000. NOLA connection: Chef Emeril Lagasse was a judge on last winter’s “Top Chef: Texas”; Chef John Besh appeared as a guest judge. Casting Notes: In the past they’ve looked for passion, creativity, and a fi rm grip on cooking techniques. Plus: be “charming, charismatic, competitive and adorable.”
Fox • Season 10 just finished; new season to be announced.
Format: Teams compete in challenges with weekly eliminations (usually only one chef gets the axe per week, unless Chef Ramsay is really mad). Winning teams get to ride yachts, while losing teams face Fear Factor-type stunts, like blending up their failed dishes and drinking them. Last season, the prize was the head chef position at Gordon Ramsay Steak in the Paris Hotel, Las Vegas. NOLA connection: Recent season casting call was held in New Orleans in May 2012. Casting Notes: Fox periodically holds open casting for foodies, as well as private chefs, caterers, and fast food and cafeteria workers; you just have to be at least 21 and “passionate about food”; email [email protected] theconlincompany.com.
Bravo • Season 4 aired this summer. Next season to be announced.
Format: The same as the original “Top Chef,” though this version features more established chefs playing for charity; the winner of each Quickfi re challenge wins $5,000, and the overall winner scores $100,000, all for their favorite charities. NOLA connection: Chef Sue Zemanick (Gautreau’s) and native son Chef John Currence (City Grocery Restaurant Group in Oxford, Miss.) competed in spring 2011.
New Series coming on ABC “The Taste” with Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson
Casting calls ended mid-July; season premiered to be announced.
Format: Charismatic chefs Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson will appear either as hosts or “mentors” (the show’s fuzzier euphemism for “judges”). Each week, the mentors will coach the competitors, then send home one chef after team and individual challenges, including blind taste tests. Casting Notes: Executive chefs mix it up with home cooks (and “foodies,” even); at open call auditions, applicants present their signature dish, fi nishing and plating it on the spot. “Passion and talent” are what this show’s looking for. Learn more about the show, and get future casting dates, at abccookingshow.com.