Flashback: Master Chef Casting Call



Warning. Warning Warning. 

(This was an old post, written years ago, probably in anger with some attitude. I was snarky back then. I’m re-posting it solely to provide a little back story to the Master Chef Short Rib Recipe.)

Casting call for new Fox reality TV show. Qualifications:

Amateur chef or home cook= check

Never worked in a restaurant= check

Never attended culinary school= check

Must be passionate about food= check

Can handle being yelled at by Gordon Ramsay= sure thing

So seeing as I qualified for all the obvious items, I began assembling the pieces for my future TV star role: a completed 12 page application, a picture of yours truly and a photo of my dish plated.

A week before the San Francisco casting call was to take place, my aunt forwarded me a link to the production companies website. There it was… a show designed with me in mind. The first year of production, so crowds would be minimal and only home chefs can apply. Perfect.

Friends and family occasionally see a cooking show on TV like Top Chef and they throw out the idea that I should try out for it. The fact is, I’d get my culinary ass kicked in a show like that. Even trying out for a show of that caliber might damage my cooking self esteem to the point of only preparing Top Ramen for the next year or so. No thanks. I’ll take my chances against other novices.

Prior to the casting call, I sent an e-mail into the production company who was hosting the event, inquiring about the setup. The premise is that you show up to the Sur La Table in SF with prepared dish and completed application in tow. Sounds easy. Only issue was I lived 90 minutes away and I’d be waiting in line for hours. At that point, I knew mussels, steak, seafood and just about 90% of everything else in my repertoire was off limits.

So I meticulously filled out my application and began planning for the dish I would present to the judges and producers. I’d do a braised dish that would handle the down time in the car and the lines. And if nothing else, it would only getting better as I patiently waited for my chance to plate.

With my braised short ribs finished, my sauce strained and reduced and my mise en place prepped and ready to roll, I grab my app, photos, backpack (filled with every imaginable plating necessity) and hit the road for cloudy SF. I had a good feeling about this. Hell, the last time I made this dish I won an award. It was fail proof.

It was smooth sailing and I had crossed the brick red Golden Gate in good time. I parked a few blocks from Union Square, sprinted to the nearest Starbucks to pee and then grabbed a cup of joe for some much needed pep. The Sur La Table was easy to find, despite being tucked away in an alley. I just followed the throngs of ice chest toting, TV star hopefuls.

The birds were chirping, no rain yet despite the week of storms and I didn’t have to wait in line (I spoke with the producer the night before who put me on a pre-screened list- straight to the front). I felt like Charlie with the Golden Ticket. Except my ticket consisted of short ribs braised in sake, pear juice, mirin and soy sauce served with baby carrots and brussel sprout leaves.

After checking in, I headed inside and down the stairs to a massive room, where a horseshoe shaped table sat with amateur chefs sweating nervously and the judges and producers buzzing around like mosquitoes. My time had come and I was ushered to a two foot by two foot section of the table that was taped off.

I snapped on the sanitary gloves and began plating my dishes. I carefully spooned the reduced sauce on the rectangular plate and with a swift motion, I smeared it into a nice tear drop pattern. Then the braised short rib was gently placed on top and painted with some more sauce. Brussel sprout leaves and roasted baby carrots were neatly arranged next to the beef and the dish was garnished with some crushed, roasted pistachios. After that I plated my miniature caramel apple coated in candied bacon and poured a sake shot for the judge (a little booze bribe never hurt).

Judgment time…

The bearded bastard who claimed to be a judge strolled over to my section and asked what I had made. Explaining the dish and it’s ingredients, I pointed out the local, organic produce and meat used, making note of the difference in marbling with grass fed beef versus corn fed… blah, blah, blah. He dove in with his plastic utensils. I could tell he liked it.

“So where did you get the verjus?” the Bearded Bastard (who I’ll refer to as BB from now on) asked. I told him I made it by reducing down the braising liquids, straining it and then skimming the fat off. I asked if it was maybe to salty because it over reduced a little.

“Nope, it’s perfect… But what restaurant do you work in?”asked BB.

“Never worked in a restaurant.” I said.

“So where’d you go to culinary school?”

“I went to Chico State, where I ate a lot of Top Ramen and taco truck burritos. I’ve never gone to culinary school, but I’ve driven by CIA Greystone quite a few times. Looks nice.” I explained, trying to hide my mounting frustration with BB’s questions.

“Bullshit,” he said with a half-hearted smile. “Sorry man, I just don’t buy it.”

He then asked me how many teaspoons were in a table spoon and what a meir benet is (I failed both questions). At this point, I could tell my chances where slipping away. I offered him my social security number, a DNA swab to trace my origins, whatever the hell he wanted, just so he could see I’ve never been there and done that. I asked what he thought of the dish and he said it was in the top 3 he’s tasted and seen all day. And that was it. He thanked me for a great dish, saying it was perfect and how he even appreciated that the sake was from Berkley and the mini caramel apple.

“A producer will be over soon to chat.” And BB was gone at that point. As were any remaining hopes of being yelled at by Gordon Ramsay. The producer came over, picked up the application with the judges notes, chatted with me for 30 seconds and then said “thanks for your time”.

Evidently they were looking for mediocre cooks. Or they needed an Asian dude to fill a certain role. Hell, it was the last casting call out of 8 cities, so maybe they had 9 out of ten contestants picked already. Maybe they just needed one gay guy from San Fran to fill the necessary, token homosexual role that all reality TV shows are required to have.

I drove home slightly pissed off and feeling very cheated. For some reason, I actually thought the best cooks would have a chance. But what fun would it be to have a group of semi-normal, halfway decent cooks on a TV show. I mean, have you seen the ratings for Jersey Shore? And let’s not forget that the host is the same guy who has a Jerry Springer-esque cooking show called Hells Kitchen. The experience was a mixed bag. It went smoothly and I was really positive going into it, even confident, but the end result was a let down. But that’s life and the chances are… I won’t be cooking short ribs for a long, long time. It’s back to Top Ramen and the taco truck for me.

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