Small Talk

Stuff from being on TV

So a coupla weeks back, Brendan and I were guests on the Bravo TV show “[Rocco’s Dinner Party](,” which marks the ([first]( ([second]( third time this summer we’ve appeared in a visual medium. That old chestnut about having a face made for radio? Apparently does not apply to us, y’all.
Anyway, since folks sometimes ask, it seems as good a time as any to recount a few things we remember from all these video shoots. Most of them happened weeks if not months ago, so let’s just go in the order stuff occurs to us.
1.) Curtis Stone is incredibly tall
Stone is the star-chef host of “Top Chef Masters,” and while we knew he had the rugged good looks of a supermodel, we did not know he was also sired by giants. Look at him towering over us in [this picture]( *I am six foot one,* for God’s sake.
2.) Yes, the food is really good
On “Top Chef Masters” especially, determining the best dishes was mostly a matter of splitting hairs. Which is something, considering the challenge the chefs had been given was to prepare an entree using a dollar’s worth of ingredients. On “Rocco,” the winner was much clearer, but it’s not like the loser’s food was lousy. We’d happily have her prepare us lunch any day.
But why, then, did you see us occasionally pretty critical of a dish? Well:
3.) They tell you to be critical
On “Top Chef Masters” we were told straight up to say *something* negative about every dish. Not to lie, but to find something worth criticizing. Otherwise there’d be no drama to the selection process, right? We don’t want it to sound nefarious — the process actually kept us from being unreasonably effusive with praise, since our instinct was to avoid being even slightly mean, on national TV, to talented chefs we’d never met. And [Mary Sue Milliken](’s BLT salad really was too salty. Sorry Mary — if it’s any consolation we still love Border Grill.
4.) Cooking competition shows are not rigged
As comforting as it might be to believe the chef you’re rooting for lost x, y, or z food challenge because he’s not photogenic, or she’s a woman, or he’s too flamboyant — and that the show’s evil producers made sure the hot guy won because he’ll make for better ratings — in our experience it’s just not true. As judges, no one ever told us which dish to pick. And we had no idea what had happened in previous episodes — none of them aired ’til weeks later — so we weren’t making our choices based on inter-chef squabbles or politics. If anything, the producers were sort of scarily adamant that we pick the winners based completely on the food, and wouldn’t guide our choices even if we *asked* for input. At the last minute on “Top Chef Masters” I changed my mind about one of the dishes I favored, and it seemed to really freak out some of the crew. I think they suspected I’d been “got to”.
5.) You actually do forget the camera is there
Ever wonder why anyone on a reality show would say anything stupid, when they know it could eventually be broadcast to a million people? It’s because after a while you forget about the “million people” part, and even about the cameras. On “Rocco’s” we were fed two meals, ate on and off for several hours, and were filmed the whole time, and I think we were self-conscious about it for maybe 10 minutes. Especially during moments where there wasn’t a lot of chatter with the show’s host, and we were speaking quietly to the other guests, it somehow felt like we weren’t being watched, which is of course ridiculous; on some shows, that’s *especially* when you’re being watched — then they can take your whispered bratty aside, run some dramatic music under it, and presto: You’re evil! Luckily, most food shows aren’t in the habit of embarrassing their judges. But I’m pretty sure there’s footage that coulda been used to make us look like idiots/jerkfaces if they’d wanted to. P.S. Let’s also note the free-flowing wine did not *raise* anyone’s inhibitions.
6.) Our table manners went out the window
Look at me in these shows, talking with my mouth full. And then on our KCET “Free Lunch” segment Brendan and I kept eating straight off a shared platter instead of taking a portion and putting it on our own plates. One thing they graciously *didn’t* include in the final cut of our “Top Chef” episode was the moment when Curtis Stone had to remind me to use a knife, instead of my finger, to get a bite of food onto my fork. Thank you, editors, for sparing me a scolding from my Mom.
7.) It’s interesting reading about yourself in recaps
By way of explanation, for you public radio types who disdain TV: There’s a whole blogger universe wherein witheringly judgemental (and often very funny) writers “recap” the previous night’s episode of a given show. Brendan and I escaped their wrath mostly unscathed, but SF Weekly [misspelled Brendan’s name twice](, and then there was [this]( from blogger Jordan Baker:
“[The Top Chef Masters’] guest diners are from American Public Media’s Dinner Party Download. I’m sorry… whose what now? Not to give away the store or anything, but I know more than most about Public Radio, and I have never heard about Dinner Party Download. Come on, Top Chef Masters. You couldn’t even get [The Splendid Table]( lady?”
Believe us, Jordan Baker, we asked the same question ourselves. But I think they were pretty happy with us. Despite the thing with me and the knife.