Ted Allen's Tips for The Next Food Network Star
I had the pleasure recently of shooting an episode of The Next Food Network Star. I got to meet the competitors, taste some great food and wonder which one could become the next Ina, Alton or Bobby. I have my theories, which I'll keep to myself, but whoever wins is in for some big changes. It's tremendously fun and exciting to work for this network, but there are challenges, too. To that end, I thought I'd dish out some suggestions and insights for the champion—things to keep in mind during the transition to life as a celebrity chef:
You'll be recognized everywhere.
Which sounds like more fun than it sometimes is. Feel like going to the market in sweatpants and Crocs? Think again. Fortunately, Food Network fans are a lot like Food Network stars -- generous, passionate about food and excited to meet people who’ve made that passion their life's work. Enjoy and appreciate your fans. And get some Purell.
Going to Williams-Sonoma will never be the same.
I learned in a Paramus, NJ, mall that the same people who buy peppermint bark and copper skillets are the ones watching Iron Chef America -- and every other Food Network show. It took me 20 minutes to get out of there.
On a related note, you will wish camera phones had never been invented.
Just today, coming home from the vet in Brooklyn, a chef stopped me outside his falafel place and asked for a photo. I agreed, of course, but it can really slow you down -- and my cats were getting cranky!
Practice that autograph.
People are going to ask for it all the time. You might want to think of catchphrases, too. Sometimes I'll write "To the best kisser in the room"; sometimes, "To Johnny, the next Chopped champion!" I once signed a kid’s D.A.R.E. shirt: "Don't narc on your parents." (By the way, "Bam!" is taken.)
Just accept it: Nobody will ever want to cook for you again.
If your experience is anything like mine, this will include your own mother. Why? Because now that you are on television, you are intimidating to home cooks. People don't want you critiquing their croquembouche, picking apart their paella, dissecting their dessert. Stick to the manners Mom taught you: Anything anybody cooks for you is delicious, whether it actually is or not. Don't analyze someone's tuna-noodle casserole—even if they ask you to.
You will meet many of the best chefs in the world. Get their cell numbers.
This is very useful when you need a reservation at, say, Le Bernardin, where chef Eric Ripert once gave me a table on a few hours' notice when I needed to fête a producer. It's also great when you have a question about how to make gnocchi.
Be nice to your feet.
Most people don't realize that shooting TV shows is hard work. Twelve-hour days, standing the entire time, are common. I learned this quickly; by the second day of shooting on Chopped, I was "gellin’ like a felon." Really helped.
Be nice to your spouse.
Hearing fans say how much they love you is less fun for him or her than it is for you, especially after the first few million times.
Landing a show is only the beginning.
You now have to work hard and innovate to attract and hold an audience if you want that wonderful call from Bob Tuschman [senior VP of programming] telling you that you have been renewed for another season! Speaking of which... Bob?