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Cooking on Television

What a Chef Might Not Tell You
Linda Duke and Guy Fieri

What are some things a television chef might not tell you? 

•    How hard it really is to cook and speak simultaneously on TV!

•    Knowing how to articulate their recipe quickly and with few words

•    How nervous they are!

•    How some interviewers can ask difficult questions and how to react quickly 

•    Techniques to lead the interview instead of letting the interviewer lead

What are some of the things that surprised you most about cooking on TV? 

•    That most television stations have seriously old and out of date stovetops and chefs have to make do!

•    Some news stations book chefs to cook on their morning news with only one day’s notice!

•    Chef demonstrations on television and local news stations are becoming more and more popular since the Food Network and Cooking Channel have increased viewership and created millions of passionate wanna-be chefs!

What are some of the things that viewers don’t see when they watch a cooking show?

The preparation it takes to prepare to cook on TV, from getting the ingredients prepared to making a finished dish to show at the end  

Advice you give to chefs before they go on TV?

•    Understand how to select and break down the most appropriate recipes for demonstration(s). 

•    Prepare detailed equipment and preparation lists for food escorts and food stylists so they’ll bring what you really want and need. 

•    Determine your key message points and learn techniques to incorporate them into each interview. 

•    Grasp the essential rules for successful television presentations/appearances—never turn your BACK on the camera!

•    Relate to the local and regional markets you are visiting—use local produce or local brands viewers will know.

•    Identify ways to make the most of an interview if your airtime is unexpectedly decreased.

•    Always review the TV segment after it airs and practice.  Tape and critique each appearance to make each better than the last.

•    TV segments are typically very casual. This is your time to really have fun with the day and shine. 

•    Create a plan-o-gram with the set-up for your cooking demonstration ahead of time.  Be sure to include logo items of your restaurant and key ingredients. 

•    Bring product shots—“beauty shots”—of the food. It is important to have a STILL SHOT or PHOTO of the final recipe.  Arrange food in the best possible light. You want to make the show’s audience hungry for your food!

•    Avoid white plates. They can make the food look “cold” on camera. Warm plate colors are best.

•    Avoid plastic and styrofoam plates, utensils and cups.

•    If the TV segment will be shot at a restaurant or on location, it is important that your establishment look busy and popular. Even if they videotape when you’re closed, always arrange for extras (family & friends are welcome!) to sit in the background for shots involving the host, and to act as customers for the wide shot of your dining room. This is very important for the presentation.

•    In addition to the “interactive” segment, television crews normally cover the exterior shot of your building/company sign, etc. 

•    Be prepared for specific questions about what you do, your company and your food. It is important to answer questions in a full sentence. A taped interview is always preceded by a “slate”—the producer will ask you to state your full name, spell it and give your title as you wish to have it acknowledged.

•    Historic photos or advertisements are a great way to discuss the history of food and your company.  Provide any vintage commercials or print ads as well as historic photos including the founder, early storefront shots, etc.  

•    Release Forms—It’s important if any guests are filmed on television that you have them sign a release before the beginning of the shoot.   This is a form that we are required to have every person fill out who is going to appear on our show. It gives us permission to use their picture, likeness and voice on TV. Make sure everyone has agreed to be on camera.

•    Clothing—Don’t wear bright whites, dress all in black, have small stripes, or patterns like hound’s-tooth. Any other colors work fine. Please, no turtlenecks. Apply makeup like you normally would and have powder on hand to reduce any shine. 

•    The Microphone—typically a small wireless microphone that clips around your collar area, generally unseen to camera is used. The cord will run down your shirt and the receiver will clip to the back of your pants. Because of this, avoid wearing turtlenecks.

Tricks they use to make the food look better on TV than it might look in your kitchen?

•    Spraying water on vegetables, like tomatoes, make them look more appetizing on camera. 

•    Sometimes olive oil is used to brush on to make meat, chicken or other proteins look more appetizing for the camera.

•    Always put labels of products facing the camera.  If you are holding a cup, make sure the logo can be seen.  

•    Create a display for better presentation—such as fresh produce, baskets of fruits and vegetables or other products that relate to the menu item being prepared.

What are some of the mistakes that you’ve seen chefs make?

•    Burning their food!

•    Turning their back on the camera or audience

•    Cussing or foul language

•    Dirty chef coat or apron

•    Unclean cooking area or surface (dust, dirt and lint show up 10x worse now with HD TV)

•    Not prepared if time is cut short

•    Saying “um” too much

•    Not prepared—speaking or ingredients

•    Hung over!

Do you have any advice for viewers who watch cooking shows and competitions and try to emulate the recipes/techniques they see?

•    Many of today’s cooking shows post their recipes online after the segment, whether it is local morning news or the Food Network, so following their actual recipe from the show is important since many times chef take shortcuts or leave out ingredients for TV to speed up the show.

•    Plating—how you place the finished food on the plate is a big difference from experts to viewers at home.  Viewers should follow any advice from the recipe to plate from a photo on the website (posted with recipe) or from the chef’s appearance and the final plate; take notes to make sure the presentation is
the same.

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