Saturday, November 7, 2009

"From Home Cook..."

I just about fell out of my chair when I received word that my audition tape had been selected! Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to have the experience I was about to have.

I've always enjoyed cooking for my family, with 3 boys ages 18, 15 , 8 and a busy husband, I have to juggle schedules, nutrition and tastes in a way that gets everyone to the table.

Cooking has always been a passion of mine, I love to experiment and write my own recipes. Guess you could say I am a foodie from California.

I was contacted by the Food Network’s production company, Reel Life Film, letting me know I’d been selected to participate in a taping at the Food Network Kitchen in New York City. I also got a call from a food stylist to go over my recipes, emails were suddenly flying between Kathy and Liza from Recipezaar, Dria at the Food Network and John and Joan of the production company. I was told 5 of my recipes were selected for the videos and included Chunky Guacomole, Shrimp Ceviche, Mexican Lasagna, Chile Verde and Chile Relleno Casserole. I couldn’t believe I was leaving for New York in a week. I had a million questions and they answered all of them, what do I wear, how does it all work? When? I quickly made appointments for my hair and nails to be done. I wanted to call everyone I know and tell them. I was ecstatic and nervous at the same time; I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.

Are You the Next Online Cooking Star?
A couple of weeks prior, I had seen Recipezaar’s call for audition tapes for the next Online Video Star. I jokingly told my family that I was going to do it and to my surprise, they encouraged me to do it. We sat at the dinner table talking and joking about it. My family wanted me to make their favorite, my Chile Verde. My 15-year-old son raised his hand and said “I will tape you Mom, we can do this.” Encouraged by their response, I decided to go for it.

Now my task was, how was I going to make this dish that cooks in a slow cooker all day and video tape it—within 2 minutes? I got busy the next day getting everything together. I figured we could always re-tape if needed and decided to just wing it. We set up the camera, the food was ready and my son, Colin was now taking his role as the director, producer and stylist very seriously. He told me what to wear, where to stand and how much time I had for each part of the video! At the end of day after 8 hours in the kitchen, we finally had a video that was just one second under the 2 minute requirement. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to do this, but I was exhausted. Happy with the outcome of my son’s work, smiling at some of the bloopers and the way I was dressed (T-shirt, shorts and my hair a mess), we were done. Colin spent a lot of time editing, and regardless of if I was really taking it seriously, I felt it was important to see it through for both of us and to submit the video.

The Friday before we were to leave, I received a call from Angie Ketterman, the food stylist. She was so much fun to talk to. We discussed my recipes and the grocery list. Angie would be getting everything together for me to cook. She was concerned she wouldn’t be able to find the chile peppers I needed for a recipe and asked if I could bring them. It was funny to think I would be packing a couple of one-pound cans of whole green chile peppers in my suitcase! Emails about every detail was flying between all of us, including a call sheet. My name was on the list as the chef, right under the producer‘s name! So amazing!

We started making arrangements with the airline to fly to New York in a week to star in my own series, taped in a Food Network Kitchen for the whole world to see. Wait, go to New York by myself? I’ve never been to the big apple, and the folks at Recipezaar agreed I should take a guest—of course, I wanted to take the one who encouraged me the most, insisted on uploading the very first video on the site, who came home every day from school asking if there were anymore competing videos uploaded, how many views did “ours” get, watched every video uploaded. Colin had never been on a plane or even been out of California, and he was just as excited as I was. This was going to be an adventure and something neither one of us would soon forget. Kathy and Liza were so gracious and included Colin in every plan scheduled. I received an email from them asking if Colin would choose the restaurant we were to dine at the night we arrived. After viewing the links to all the fabulous cuisine choices ranging from Thai to Mexican, he chose The Lure Fishbar, which specialized in seafood.

Colin and I drive to Los Angeles to stay a night with my sister who lives there. Our flight leaves at 6:30 a.m. which meant we needed to be at the airport 2 hours prior to check in. I can’t sleep, I’m excited and nervous and this is beginning to feel surreal.

Fortunate enough to have window seats on the plane, Colin was amazed by the view from the sky, he snapped quite a few photos. He compared the take-off to a rollercoaster ride and enjoyed the entire flight.

When we arrive in New York, it’s hot and humid. You could immediately feel the dampness in the air and on your skin – weather we are not accustomed to. But hey, we’re in New York City, and happy to be there. We immediately found our driver, and Kathy standing next to him.

The Soho Grand Hotel

We arrive at the Soho Grand. I was fascinated with the architectural design of the building. It was so modern, the staircase and lobby were beautiful.

Metal Staircase

Soho Grand HotelOur Room

The rooms were compact, but very comfortable. We had a great view of the City from our room.

Once settled in, it was time to get dressed for the night and begin the adventure! We were to meet Kathy and Liza in the lobby and go to dinner. It was so incredible to meet these two gals. We all gathered like old friends and headed out the front door. Liza asked the doorman what direction “Direction” the Lure Firshbar was, and he pointed the way. The restaurant was only 3 or 4 blocks away, and we enjoyed the walk.

First Night in NYC
The Lure Fishbarwas a perfect choice to unwind. The decor for this restaurant is phenemonal! As soon as we walked in, I felt a sense of tranquility which was enhanced by the exceptional service we received. The dining room mimics the feel of a luxurious yacht complete with Porthole windows, and beautiful teak wood throughout. We were seated immediately in a large round, roomy booth, a great place to congregate.
We ordered cocktails for the girls and soda for Colin and enjoyed a fabulous dinner consisting of sushi rolls and blue crab. It was delicious, we all had a great time. After a toast, I was told the video series was called Southwestern Sizzle with Chef ~V Liza and Kathy just made us laugh with their stories and openness.

Kathy insisted on us getting a photo in front of a graffiti wall. These ladies were so much fun to meet in person and just as wonderful as I had expected, if not more.

After returning to the Hotel, still wanting to see our surroundings, Colin and I decided to take a walk. I was a bit nervous about this one, I am somewhat shy in large crowds and wasn't sure if I would be comfortable in this setting, but all my fears were soon gone. I was encouraged by a combination of the martini I had at dinner and by my son’s confidence and terrific sense of direction.
Night lights in NYC

We walked all over Soho through Little Italy and found ourself at the Hudsen. One thing we immediately noticed is New York is vertical. Our landmarks were buildings instead of signs. All the streets ran diagonally, not the square corners we were used to. My son finally admitted he had lost the building he had used for his landmark, but soon remembered where he was and was able to get us back to our hotel.
Before shutting out the lights, we ordered breakfast—blueberry muffins and coffee for me, and belgiun waffles for Colin (his first room service meal!)—to be delivered at 6:00 a.m. as we would not have time to eat before leaving for the shoot. We were to meet Kathy in the lobby by 6:45 as our car would be there to pick us up and whisk us away.

The Big Day: Video Shoot

I didn’t sleep well, I was excited and filled with anticipation. And though I don’t wear a lot of make-up, I felt naked leaving the room with nothing on my face but moisturizer! Following the producer request, I only blew out my hair and really didn’t do much more. I gathered my “wardrobe” and emptied my travel bag to carry the 4 cans of whole chilis to the set. We met Kathy in the lobby, and jumped into our waiting car. I kept thinking to myself, I couldn’t believe this was happening. My first trip to New York is to star in a professional cooking demonstration, complete with waiting town cars? I don‘t have butterflies, because I don‘t think it‘s hit me at this point....

Chef AnnMarie Hustes kitchen

When we arrive, I immediately admire the huge gourmet kitchen I was about to cook in.I was thrilled to find out I would be cooking in chef extraordinaire, cookbook author, food stylist, culinary teacher and television cooking-show host, Chef AnnMarie Huste's kitchen.

I was greeted by Angie, the food stylist, the production crew that I had been corresponding and talking with, a makeup artist and hair stylist
Room off the Kitchen
There was a large banquet size room off the kitchen where we all gathered. I met Dria, director for Scripps Networks and Debbie from Recipezaar, everyone was so welcoming and nice.
While the kitchen was being set up, my stylist and I decided which blouse I would wear from the few I’d brought with me.

Makeup and Hair
After I changed clothes, I was at the mercy of Cynthia, the make-up artist, who I’d hoped could erase the lack of sleep and puffiness from the flight.

“Close your eyes, so I can paint you,” she said.What? I had never been painted before! She airbrushed on foundation then continued with my eye makeup. While Cynthia worked on my makeup, Brian got started on my hair. This, I thought, must be what it feels like to be a celebrity! I finally started feeling nervous. Chatting with Kathy, Liza, Debbie and Dria seem to settle my nerves a little, then I hear a voice saying “Chef ~V? We need to get started” I’m looking around at the girls, those butterflies that I mention before? There here! Deep breaths, I kept telling myself “I can do this!”
At that point I was approached by one of the crew, telling me they needed to wire me for sound. I looked at him, puzzled as to what he wanted me to do with this tiny microphone with a long cord attached to a small black box? He asked me to tape it under my blouse and we would put the box at my waist. Sounded great, but one problem. Did I mention how hot it was? It was incredibly hot in the city and it felt as though the air conditioning wasn’t running at all in this building! I was afraid if I were to break a sweat, I would be electrocuted. Seriously, I told him that! He stood back looking me over while I held the equipment. He suggested that I tape the microphone under my blouse and drop the cord down my pants and he would tape the box to my ankle. I went to the corner of the room and did just that. I was now wired for sound!
Lights & Cameras
As I walk into the kitchen I realize there had been a lot going on while I was getting all dolled up. The kitchen now had the brightest lights, cameras and fresh ingredients laid out for my first video. With those dang butterflies doing a dance, I stood at the end of the island where I would be taped. I looked around and don’t see any teleprompters. What was I going to say, is there a script-? I kept calm as the crew checked the monitor that had been set up in the next room and asked me to start talking so they could check the sound.

As it neared time for the real thing, I had Brian fixing my hair and Cynthia dabbing more color on my lips. They gave me a glass of water with a straw so I wouldn’t ruin my lipstick (I will have to remember that trick in the real world!).
Liza overlooking monitor
I’m now standing in the kitchen in front of several cameras, lights, John the director and Angie, sitting on the counter, just to watch. There were about 15 people in the area of the kitchen. I could see everyone in the room off the kitchen gathered around a laptop sized monitor, ready to watch.

I felt that nauseous feeling when I heard “Okay V, let’s get started….take a deep breath, smile, quiet on the set, and ACTION."

I went to speak and my lip is now stuck to my top tooth. I just had to laugh. “CUT” …. Cynthia quickly came to my rescue with a tube of Vaseline. I rubbed it on my teeth and then hear “Places everyone”….
Once I started actually cooking, I became comfortable talking. I imagined - I was in my own kitchen with a friend who knew nothing about my recipe--- and wanted to know each step. The attention to detail that my prep chef took was amazing--- every ingredient was placed within reach and in the order I needed them. There were several times we would stop filming so that the camera could shoot me chopping or whisking an ingredient. I then had to pick up where I left off and continue talking. I had to ask a few times, “What did I just say or where were we?”
I was given final approval on how each dish was presented on-camera. For instance, I chose to have the shrimp ceviche served in a brandy glass instead of a bowl. It was a thrill to prepare my recipes and to see them plated the way I wanted.

It was incredible! Every cook’s dream is to have everything prepared, chopped, the ovens preheated and assistants everywhere to whisk away dirty dishes. I was constantly being told not to clean: “V, go sit down and we’ll call you when this is cleaned up.” Between videos, Cynthia and Brian were right there, fine tuning my hair and makeup. We actually got 3 videos completed before lunch, in spite of my novice status, we were definitely ahead of schedule. The production crew had food brought in, but I was pleased to see that a lot of the team opted to eat the dishes I had already prepared. I was thrilled that everyone, including the crew, were enjoying the meals I had just made. After lunch, we got busy and finished the last 2 videos.
Even though I felt like I was fumbling to find feet in this strange new environment, everyone treated me like a real celebrity chef, and they were every bit reassuring.
The shoot seemed to fly by! I was exhausted at the end of day and just wanted to sit down, relax and have a cold beer! We were invited to dinner with the crew, but after eating such a big lunch and being so tired, all I could think of was going back to our room to unwind. Everyone understood and probably wanted to do the same! We jumped in a cab and headed to our hotel, but were dropped a few blocks away mistakenly! It was serendipitous because Kathy was determined to find me a place to buy a cold beer to take back to my room! Colin and I ordered room service and just relaxed discussing each and every moment of the day. Colin thought it was very interesting and fun to watch a show get filmed, and he made some friends during the day. He was enlightened by the video techniques he saw during the shoot (and has put that knowledge to use with some of his school projects, since we returned!) Later, we ordered dessert to our room.

Dria, Kathy, V, Debbie & Liza

After the shoot, the Zaar girls were photographed by Colin in the Kitchen.
Room Service Dessert

What kind of foodie would I be if I didn’t share at least ONE photo of food? We ordered (what else?) New York Cheesecake! We shared two orders and Colin also indulged and had a hot fudge sundae.
Our New York Double-Decker

A Day of Siteseeing / Food Network Kitchen Tour

We were so lucky to have a day to do nothing but sight-see. On Tuesday morning, we got an early start and hailed a cab to take us to the pier to catch our tour bus. First we needed to get tickets for the loop tours we’d choosen. New York cabbies are experts. After making a three point turn, in the middle of traffic and driving for a while on the wrong side of the street (I am sorry I didn’t think to take a picture of that, but my heart was in my throat at the time!), ours pulled up to the front of a building and dropped us off. Not too unhappy about that, we had to just walk around the center and figure out which building would have tickets. After walking in circles, we found a guy holding a credit card machine the size of a calculator, purchased our tickets and jumped on the double decker like a tourist would. Sitting up high, we had to duck when approaching trees and street lights, it was a blast, the best way to see New York! The tour guide, an expert in NYC history, entertained us with his commentary while we rode on top of the double-decker bus. We jumped on and off the bus at various stops, walked around and then back on the bus to continue. We had time to tour lower Manhattan which included China Town, the Manhattan Bridge, Soho (Which means South of Houston Street, we found out) and Rockefeller Center and later met-up with Kathy, Liza, Dria and Debbie for a tour of the Food Network Kitchen.
New York Subway

We decided to be adventurous and ride the subway (another first for us!) towards Chelsea Market.
I was amazed at how fast they go, no wonder subways are the choice of travel in New York! They were unbelievably easy, inexpensive and convenient. Only $2 one way or you could purchase a Metrocard and travel unlimited all day. The challenge though was to find the subway heading the way you want to go. Colin was instantly kind of organically very familiar and comfortable with this way of travel, so I just went with it.
Outside Chelsea Market

Kathy had given us the address of the Food Network Kitchen located at Chelsea Market. Finding it was harder to do then one would think! When we neared the address, I was a bit baffled that we were standing right at the exact address but could not see the market. You see, there was no sign at all, there was nothing (at least from what I could see) that announced that this was Chelsea Market! The construction in front may have thrown us. Regardless, we just laughed the second time we found ourselves standing right in front of the address.
Inside Chelsea Market
Once inside it feels like you are walking through a street ---that happens to have a roof on top! It is filled with specialty shops and delis, a true foodie heaven. The sights and smells were delightful. I wanted to stop and shop but we were expected at the Food Network within a few minutes. We found the elevator marked “Food Network Employees Only” where we told security, we had an appointment, and they led us up.

Food Network Tour

Being huge Food Network fans, this tour was one of our highlights. After meeting up with Dria, Debbie, Liza and Kathy, we were led on a private tour by veteran tour guide and network employee Joe Moseley who provided us with the history of Food Network and the Chelsea Market building.

One of Colin’s favorite spot was seeing where they film Iron Chef. You know the opening of Iron Chef, where the chefs enter through the doors of a smoke filled entry as they are being announced? As we headed into the test kitchen that very area, we came around the corner and literally bumped into Guy Fieri, the Next Food Network Star, TGIFriday’s spokesperson, and star of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives! --He was going into the studio to tape a segment of Ultimate Recipe Showdown, and he was as nice as you could hope he would be.

Food Network Test Kitchen

Walking into the test kitchen, it almost felt like WE were the celebrities --- everyone was interested in who we were. Colin and I saw where the food was prepped, and we even got to peek in the refrigerators of Tyler Florence and Bobby Flay. It felt strange, and was a lot of fun!

Photo with Sunny Anderson

How exciting! I met one of my favorite chefs. Sunny Anderson of “Cooking For Real” We went around a corner and there she was, stirring something that smelled heavenly on a stove. She greeted us so warmly, we stood and talked to her for awhile while she tested a recipe that she had developed at home. While we talked, an assistant stood beside her writing down everything she was doing, every ingredient, to get the recipe down precisely. Sunny asked what we were doing there, and I told her about the shoot and how it all came together on Recipezaar. We talked about not just our love of cooking---but also of our mutual affection for Recipezaar! As Colin and I were leaving she said she looked forward to seeing me in the test kitchen soon. We had a lot in common, our style of cooking is very similar she told me she was going to look up my recipes. WOW! What a compliment.

After the tour, we were led back to Dria’s office where we visited with Liza, Kathy and Debbie and talked about our wonderful trip to New York. We said our good-byes to those lovely ladies and ventured out to see as much of the city as we could before leaving the next day.

Colin & I on the Bus Tour

Colin and I rode the subway again and enjoyed another bus tour. We took in the sites of the Empire State Building, United Nations, Wall Street, the Financial District as well as the World Trade Center. We saw people enjoying a horse-drawn carriage through Central Park. Feeling like we were in a parade, we got to experience a trip down 34th Street, where the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade takes place!

Times Square with Colin

We approached Times Square just after dark. It was the perfect time to see the neon lights and billboards everywhere. The atmosphere is unbelievable! We just had to savor it --! It was exciting to stand and watch the gigantic advertising screens, and the busy streets filled with people enjoying the same thing, the city that never sleeps. This is truly the center of NYC!

Once off the bus, we walked around South Street Seaport (Pier 17) which is home to street vendors, a display of local art and the most intoxicating restaurants around. We enjoyed the sights and smells that surrounded us. Colin and I were determined to find a pizzeria before heading back to our room. Upon entering SoHo we experience the quiet calm of an old Italian neighborhood and we found a great mom and pop pizzeria. Colin ordered his favorite pepperoni pizza but I wanted to try something different, so I ordered a meat pie. Similar to a calzone, the meat pie had a flaky crust, served open-faced, with a mixture of pepperoni, salami, Italian sausage and topped with marinara sauce and cheese. Our dinner was scrumptious and definitely tasted homemade.

The next morning a town car waited out front to take Colin and I to the airport, and we enjoyed the ride out of the city to the Newark Airport--- taking in the last sights we could of the big apple. Our flight was on time and soon we were headed back to our home in the sleepy small town of Hanford, California. While we flew home, flying high on the amazing experience, Colin and I couldn’t stop talking about what we had just experienced in the last 72 hours. I was so thrilled that he could share this with me and our memories will last a lifetime.

P.S. Recipezaar and Food Network have officially turned Colin into a foodie. This trip has inspired his new interest in seafood---and possibly, a career in filmmaking!

I would also like to thank Reel Life Film for their generosity and posting my videos as well as sending me a DVD for a keepsake.

Here they are yawl! My Food Network Series

Having trouble viewing the videos?CLICK HERE

Southwestern Sizzle with Chef ~V



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