There's little doubt that chefs have achieved a celebrity status that can rival that of Hollywood stars. However, this is the cooking business, not the movie business. Skill in the kitchen does not always translate to skill before the camera. Discussing the trials and tribulations of chefs making it into broadcasting was Susan Feniger, the chef/owner of STREET in Los Angeles and a veteran of cooking shows on the Food Network and Bravo; Ming Tsai, the chef/owner of Blue Ginger and Blue Dragon in Boston and the Emmy Award-winning star of Simply Ming on PBS; and Michael Voltaggio, winner of Season 6 of Top Chef and chef/owner of ink in Los Angeles. Television personality Steve Dolinsky, who also teaches media training, moderated the panel.
What do you do if you're asked to appear on a morning show and do a cooking demonstration? Would you know what to do? There are certain basics that you have to master, not the least of which is to engage the host and establish rapport. You want to take charge of the cooking segment and one way to do that is to ask the host to put on an apron and perhaps squeeze a lemon or dress a salad. Get them involved.
Voltaggio: That's right. I was on Conan and gave him a whipped cream canister, and he went crazy with it, but it was a lot of fun and I didn't let him spin the cooking segment out of control.
Feniger: Playfulness is so important. It's all about personality and being fun.
Tsai: You should have fun, but you should also teach the viewer something. But before you do any of that, if you can meet the host and talk to them ahead of time, that will help greatly because they'll be better prepared. You never want to sell any of your products during the segment or you'll lose viewers. But if the host sells something for you, that's great. I was on the Today Show and Al Roker commented about how great my knives are. That's a home run.
It's really important to get the host to taste your food, because when he or she is doing that, you can be talking and representing your brand, like reminding them that you'll be signing books at the local book store.
Feniger: Don't worry about recipe amounts. There's too little time to go into that. Cooking tips are way more important, like reminding them that if they're going to fry something the oil has to be very hot before anything goes in.
Tsai: Also important is to be prepared. You have to assume you'll have no time to do anything. Have all your ingredients ready and have them in the order you'll use them.
Voltaggio: Also important is to be ready to react when a problem occurs. You can't let it throw you. Humor your way out of it.
Dolinsky: That's so true. How well you handle a problem will determine if you get invited back.
Feniger: It rarely goes right. Sometimes they'll tell you ahead of time that you have five minutes for the cooking segment, and when you get there they'll tell you you have only two-and-a-half minutes. But never rush a cooking demo because it does not play well on TV. It's better to do less, than more. Most importantly, always have the finished dish ready to show the TV audience.
Tsai: The most important thing is to show your personality. Smile until it hurts. High energy and enthusiasm is vital, but that doesn't mean acting like a used-car salesman.
Dolinsky: At all cost, avoid dead air or long silences. A good approach is to do a play-by-play while you're cooking to keep things rolling.
Feniger: A real good trick is to bring food for the staff, and not necessarily something you're cooking on the segment. If you feed the staff they'll be happy, and you'll be invited back.