You Won't See Me on TV

In late January and early February I shared with the readers of this newsletter that I auditioned for a new reality TV show for home cooks. It's call Master Chef and scheduled to appear on Fox this summer, with Gordon Ramsey as the star.

The idea is that you can have no professional culinary background in order to be on the show. Well, after test cooking, on-camera interviews, 52 pages of forms and background checks, and an hour long home video, when all was done.......I came close.

Apparently, based on comments made by the casting director, I was one of the very last people cut before the final selection. I don't know how many people will be on the show, but usually these shows start with 12-16 people. So out of over 5000 contestants, I'm pretty proud of how far I got.

On the other hand, I don't know what my gut is going to feel like when the show finally airs. It might be hard to watch. But one consolation, and this will hardly surprise you, they were far less interested in cooking skill than they were "the rest of your story". Since I have a few interesting stories to tell, and our family situation is somewhat unique in some ways, I HAD stories. Just not enough.

In the process of auditioning, I had to verbalize and write quite a bit about my cooking approach. One of thing that my have held me back from a cooking perspective is that I don't have a specialty - either a specialty style or specialty dish. While on the one hand that proves my flexibility and range, it also makes me a little harder to categorize. I described my cooking philosophy as:

  • Use very fresh, high quality ingredients

  • Develop lots of flavor without using tricks or shortcuts

  • Continuously be on the lookout for new and interesting recipes

  • Cook in a way appropriate for the season and your guests / family

Sounds a little vague, doesn't it? Well, I DID cook authentic Sichuan Chinese dishes both for the audition and on camera. And I DID explain the 9 course meal I made for high school homecoming last fall. The menu appeared to be kids food, but each dish was actually a high-end gourmet preparation (frozen red vinegar vinaigrette, anyone?).

All in all it was a great experience that made me look at myself, my cooking and my dreams in a way I had never done before. Plus I spent a couple nights in New Orleans eating in great restaurants.

I also became a fan of Gordon Ramsey. I mean, if I was going to cook for the guy's show, I'd better know more about him. His TV reputation in the US is far from his reality. I recommend his book A Chef for All Seasons. The recipes and presentations are a little advanced, but they are fresh and bold. In paperback it's not much of an investment, either.

Lately I've had quite a taste for simple, spring flavors. We've spent a good bit of time outside on our patio before it gets too warm and buggy in Houston to do that much more. Pleasant appetizers we've tried are a turkey and ham pate with Cointreau, and homemade Fromage Blanc cheese, each on homemade herbed flatbreads.

But those dishes are pretty complex and time consuming to make. (Drop me a note if you want me to share the recipes, though). So in the spirit of cocktails on the patio, this week I present a recipe for flavored olives. Try to get high quality fresh or jarred brine cured olives. Working them up with your own flavors will be far superior to the flavors from the ubiquitous olive bars in the supermarkets. I'm sure you'll be pleased.

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