A Day in the Life of a Guy's Grocery Games Judge: Part 2
Lights, Camera, Action
The chefs are introduced and then jog through the grocery store to join Guy in front of the kitchens, just as you see on TV. The chefs are told which game they are playing, and they scoot around to their carts. At that point, we stop down (stop filming) for just a minute or two to make sure the chefs truly understand the rules of that particular game. But that lasts only moments, which is woefully too short to plan out a menu. Guy then counts them off and they run with their carts.
Here’s a little inside scoop: The chefs always head down Aisle 6 first, so the cameras can capture that cool shot of all the chefs racing with their carts together. So even if they want to go to produce first, for instance, it’s only after they hit the magical Aisle 6. One thing that was a huge surprise to me when I cooked on GGG for a charity episode is how physically exhausting it is to run around that HUGE store! If you need something in Aisle 9, you’d better remember to get it while you’re there, because running back may not be an option timewise!
During the cooking segments themselves, we judges follow along and comment on what we see, doing our best to guess what the hits and misses might be (“Uh-oh, I think Chef Jeremy forgot to plate his port wine sauce … I hope that beef won’t be dry!”). One thing I have learned, however, in 10 seasons of filming GGG is that you can’t call it from the cook session. I have been surprised (both pleasantly and unpleasantly) over at the judging table. So whatever I think I see happening in the cooking session, I know that the result is what really matters. And I really feel for these chefs! I’ve been there, and I know what it’s like to let my nerves get the best of me. It’s hard sometimes to sit mere feet away from a kitchen and not jump in and help a chef who desperately needs it.
While the chefs cook, Guy meanders around the kitchens, asks the chefs questions and chats a little. I know a chef’s tendency might be to stay focused and ignore anyone getting in the way of getting the food on the plate. But, I implore you, chefs: If you ever cook on GGG, please listen to Guy! His comments and questions are usually peppered with a gem of genius you need to improve your dish! If Guy asks you why you picked up the frozen scallops instead of the fresh ones, by golly, go get those fresh scallops! If the judges holler, “Watch the grill, it’s hot!” please check your food and see if it’s burning.
Here’s the thing: We want the chefs all to have a great day and put out their best food. It’s stressful, for sure, but it’s a kind and supportive environment. We are all on the chefs’ side for those 30 minutes that seem to fly by in moments.
Straight after cooking, we head over to the judges’ table. The chefs get water, and a powder pat if they are shiny. The judges, well, we get primped, brushed and glossed before our close-up. The AD (assistant director) yells “Clear the set!” the glam team runs away in nanoseconds, and we start. I always listen to the chef announce the dish before digging in. One thing I have learned (at about Season 5!) is that I cannot eat the whole plate of food.
In one episode alone, we have nine dishes served to us, and we film 1.5 episodes a day! So I’ve become a master of tasting with restraint. My one exception: high-end proteins. At heart, I’m still the girl who grew up on food stamps and was allowed steak only on holidays. So you put a nice juicy filet mignon or a perfectly cooked New Zealand lamb chop on my plate and it will be gone. How full I am means nothing to me; I will find space. I’ve watched some episodes where it’s actually a little embarrassing how much meat I can put away. But mind over matter, and waste not, want not, right?
One question I get a lot is whether the food is ever bad. Overwhelmingly, the food is terrific. Sometimes it is truly exquisite, which is a miracle given the constraints some of the games have. These chefs can cook! But does it ever happen that the food isn’t great? Yes. Even great chefs have bad days, and sometimes a chef’s nerves get in the way of real talent. Only once have I ever had a dish that truly was awful. To this day, evoking the memory gives me a little shudder. (I’ll never tell who …).
Food is subjective, and decisions are rarely unanimous. We’ve had some seriously heated debates over the years! We care very deeply about sending the right person home, because all of us have competed. We all know how a loss can be seared into someone’s heart, and they are left wondering if there was just one tiny thing they could have done differently and ended up winning. Believe me, on my rougher days, I can replay Episode 2 of my season of Food Network Star in my head and start to feel yucky — and I won the whole darned season! So I take losing seriously.
For instance, when the chefs come back to the judges’ table, about to find out who is eliminated, I make a point not to be joking around with the judges, just out of respect for how stressful this moment is for the chefs. And since I don’t trust my eyes not to give away the result, I fix my stare on Guy until the moment he says the eliminated chef’s name. My heart sinks every time, because I know how that person’s day has just taken a nosedive at the mere mention of their name. It’s hard to send chefs home.
The Shopping Spree
After the third round, the winner does the shopping spree for up to $20,000. It’s crazy-hard to get the full amount, and I’ve only seen it done twice (once by Aaron McCargo, who won the charity episode I competed on — and he did it with time to spare!). Those two minutes fly by! Next thing you know, Guy is tallying up the winnings, and the judges are cued to head over to the winner camera for (sweaty) hugs and goodbyes.
We cut, take a few still photos with the winner, and then race back to the trailer to change our makeup and hair into a new look, put on a different outfit and then start again (or head back to the hotel if we’re not judging the next episode). We film 1.5 episodes a day, or two seasons in a little over a month. I won’t lie: It’s a fun job. Filming GGG is like going to summer camp — exhausting, but it’s always a joy to see summer camp friends who make you laugh so hard sometimes that soda comes out of your nose.