Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef

I am documenting my personal quest to become the host of my own cooking show. Since this is a relatively new “career” there are no vocational programs or community college courses to prepare me for it. From what I have seen, thanks to shows like A&E’s Biography and TFN’s Chefography it appears that the two most import elements in securing such a position are passion for food and plain old dumb luck. Born with a passion for food, I set out to make my own luck.

Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef Pt. 16

This is the latest installment in a continuing series that documents my personal quest to become the host of my own cooking show. Since this is a relatively new “career,” there are no vocational programs or community college courses to prepare me for it. From what I have seen, the two most important elements in securing such a position are passion for food and plain old dumb luck. Born with a passion for food, I set out to make my own luck.

Roman Candles Fizzing Out

My job as the executive chef at Mars Hill Cafe paid well enough to afford to go out and do things while also providing me with the time to go out and do things.  That’s uncommon for many chefs.  My problem was that all of my friends were married folk – homebodies who expend all of their energy raising kids and paying the mortgage.  They have little interest and even less energy for social activities like the theater or festivals.  So, I’m at a culinary event when I meet a young woman.  She’s beautiful – long black curly hair, sultry brown eyes and SHE’S A FOODIE!  The timing was perfect.

Beach WalkWe met on a Saturday.  Tuesday we go on a date, meeting for dinner downtown at a local brew pub.  We split a craft brew sampler tray and share each others meals.  You know those awkward silences on most first dates?  Not a one.  After dinner, dessert and a ton of flirting I walk her to her car and a little smooch time.  Best first date ever.

Just that quick we are an item, her the brainy-beauty who works at a local museum and me the chef at one of the city’s hottest restaurants.  The whole thing had a real Romance Channel feel to it.  Finally I have someone to go with me to all those cultural festivals that my married friends (who’ve never actually attended one) consider uppity.  It is an amazing month of romance, flirtation and snuggling.

I’ve always heard it said that the woman you date for the first month of a relationship is not the woman she is on the inside but rather the facade that she uses to lure you in.  I don’t know how accurate that is.  But I can tell you in this instance it was dead on – you could set your watch to it.

As fast as it all came together it fell apart, faster even.  The fun loving, caring person I had met a month earlier had been replaced by an scheming, angry and insulting task master.  I was no longer asked if I could help her with something; I was commanded.  Pet names like sweetheart and dear had been replaced with idiot.  A friend once gave me some great advice – as soon as a relationship stops being fun get out.  I endured the insults.  I endured the ridicule.

What I refused to endure were her attempts to completely retool my life.  I needed a flashy car.  I needed to spend more time with her hip friends and less time with my own.  I liked to go out once or twice a week; she wanted to go out every night.  But the kicker was her constant insistence that I quit Mars Hill Cafe to find a job at a casino in Biloxi because they paid more.

I loved being the executive chef at Mars Hill Cafe.  I loved that everyday I went to work I not only made lunch for our regulars but that the proceeds from the sales went to feed the less fortunate, disaster victims and those who had suffered personal tragedy.  That’s where I learned that the best gift anyone can receive is giving to others.  And she wanted me to walk away from that for money – to spend on her.

We met a few weeks before Thanksgiving.  We didn’t make it to Christmas.  Four of the best weeks of my life and one of the worst.  We wanted different things.  I may have lost my girlfriend but I still had my dream job.  Right?

 

Have you missed previous installments of Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef?  No worries, you can always click the button at the top right on the menu bar entitled “WannabeTVchef Diary.”  Or just click HERE.

Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef Pt. 15

This is the latest installment in a continuing series that documents my personal quest to become the host of my own cooking show. Since this is a relatively new “career,” there are no vocational programs or community college courses to prepare me for it. From what I have seen, the two most important elements in securing such a position are passion for food and plain old dumb luck. Born with a passion for food, I set out to make my own luck.

Leaps and Bounds

Bad Hair Day
My first TV demo went well. . . with one exception.  What the holy hell was up with my hair?

<<<<<<<<<<<  Look at that!

Now, granted my mop has thinned a great deal since my mullet-sporting days as a prog rocker in 1990’s Nashville but the lighting and overhead cameras made it look a lot worse.  I looked like I had the mange.  That’ll never do.

I made the decision to shave my head.  I’m talking cue ball shaved, the old Mr. Clean.  In order to make it as painless as possible I started by taking my beard trimmer and cutting my hair down to about a quarter inch.

Stu's new dooYou know what?  It looked pretty good like that, with my hair and beard the same length.  So I kept it.  I now had “a look.”  It seemed silly to me that I even needed “a look.”  It still sounds pretentious but I don’t make the rules.  If I did TV cooking competitions would just be about the food, college football would have a playoff system and all politicians would leave office and go directly to prison.

What was more important is that the restaurant was booming.  In an economy that had bogged way down no less.  It was the W Recession and people were budgeting things like lunch, people were allocating their lunch budget to eat at Mars Hill.  All of our hard work was starting to payoff.  Suddenly everyone was buzzing about the cafe and about my food.

They loved the mix of traditional deli standards like Rubens and French Dips combined with original recipes like My Rockin’ Moroccan Garbanzo Bean Salad (Garbanzos tossed with a dressing of olive oil, fresh mint, cilantro and cinnamon) and the Cackalacky Po Boy (grilled chicken with pepper Jack cheese and a Carolina mustard-based BBQ sauce).  I made salsa, hummus, BBQ sauce and horseradish cream from scratch, the same with the Cranberry Vinaigrette, Southwest Ranch, Greek and Thousand Island dressings.

The aforementioned hummus drew several nominations for the best in the city.  The house soup (Turkey Queso – smoked dark-meat turkey in a spicy béchamel with pepper Jack cheese, smoked paprika and chipotle chili powder) was getting a lot of attention too.  We also started dabbling with renting the cafe out as a banquet facility with food service ranging from continental breakfast to full-on dinner buffets.

Mars Hill Cafe was the “go to” place for lunch.  I was having the time of my life.  I returned to WKRG for more cooking demos and they sent a crew out to do a story.  WPMI TV came out to do a story on the cafe as well.  WHBR TV in Pensacola, Florida came all the way over to do an interview with me.  An article from the local paper had people literally lining up outside the door.  We were going on a wait at lunch.  LUNCH!

My first shift we had five tables all day, the cafe seats about 115 and now we were turning it over three times a shift.  I, for the first time in a few years began hitting the social circuits.  It was at the annual Greek Heritage Festival that people began to recognize me if not on site, at least on reputation.

“This is Stuart Donald, he’s the new chef at Mars Hill Cafe.”

“Really?  We love Mars Hill.  You certainly have turned things around down there.”

I was humbled, embarrassed even.

Strange the dichotomy of my psyche – to always aspire to professions that come with adulation (musician, writer, chef) and then to feel such discomfiture when I receive it.  Perhaps it is shame – I only realize how childish my yearning for attention is when I receive it.  Rest assured I don’t let it bring me down but I do draw on it to keep me in check.  The last thing I ever want to become is a d-bag.

As we work our way through the crowd I see chefs that I used to work under and they have heard about the job I’ve done and congratulate me.  It is really an amazing experience to now be held as an equal to these men I had so looked up to coming up.  Finally, my life was falling into some semblance of the plan in my head.

Then I met a girl.

 

Have you missed previous installments of Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef?  No worries, you can always click the button at the top right on the menu bar entitled “WannabeTVchef Diary.”  Or just click HERE.

Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef Pt. 14

This is the latest installment in a continuing series that documents my personal quest to become the host of my own cooking show. Since this is a relatively new “career,” there are no vocational programs or community college courses to prepare me for it. From what I have seen, the two most important elements in securing such a position are passion for food and plain old dumb luck. Born with a passion for food, I set out to make my own luck.

New Chef in Town

Roughly a month after I am hired as the executive chef at Mars Hill the church that owns the cafe brings in a new general manager to oversee the operations. That’s a load off my shoulders. The FOH manager is a great guy who works hard but doesn’t have management in his blood. He’s not comfortable being the bad guy. The new GM is perfectly happy being the bad guy if needed. With a new management team in place we were ready to resurrect this noble enterprise.

My job was revamping the menu. I had to make flavorful food that was “wholesome and healthy” and have it out the window in 10 minutes. Well there is nothing healthy about pasta Alfredo plus it took way more than 10 minutes to prepare. Gone. The jerk yellow fin tuna wrap with mango salsa? Though delicious it was hardly ever ordered and therefore led to a lot of spoilage. Gone. The sweet potato hash brown – oh yeah, those were staying. Also gone was the nastiest potato salad ever. Not gone (but should have been) was the nastiest chicken salad ever; it was the one recipe I was forbade to alter.

In just a few weeks the word was out that the food was faster and tastier so people began to notice oft forgotten Mars Hill Cafe once again. Word of mouth is great stuff, press is even better. One day the general manager informed me that the local food editor was coming in to do a story on the cafe’s turnaround and mission. He also informed me that one of the local TV stations wanted me on to demonstrate a dish or two.

That’s right, I was being asked to cook on TV. And here it is, my first ever appearance as a TV chef:

Have you missed previous installments of the Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef?  No worries, you can always click the button at the top right on the menu bar entitled “WannabeTVchef Diary.”  Or just click HERE.

From Chef to Celebrity Chef

Stuart Reb Donald cica 1989Years ago I was working a nondescript job for one of those big American corporations where individuality and creativity are frowned upon.  It was a demoralizing job for anyone but I especially hated it.  You see I am a creative person, always have been.  I earned college scholarships in both music and drama.  Most of my professional life had been spent in music and music’s better paying cousin “restaurant work.”

In my life I have also worked as a rhythm guitar player, jazz trombonist, pet store clerk, paintball referee, campus cop, web designer and rental car agent.  But I had always done well in food service having held every position from dish washer to general manager.  Everything, that is but a chef.

So for some reason seven years ago my subconscious mind sent me a message via the dream world, “Be a chef.  And not just a chef either, one of those chefs on TV.”  In the dream I had started a web site called Wannabe TV Chef where I posted my writings about food, shared my cooking videos and shamelessly pursued celebrity chef status.  The next day I registered the domain name.

Stuart Reb Donald todaySince then I have made pretty good progress.  I have published two cookbooks, written hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines and online media, worked as a sous chef at a high-end steak house and at a catering company, I have been the executive chef of a neighborhood restaurant, failed to win multiple cooking contests and I have even made a handful of TV appearances.

Some of those food articles have been interviews with the likes of Bobby Flay, Ted Allen and Michael Symon – all Food Network stars.  Among my cell phone contacts you can find the numbers for producers with Oprah, Tyra Banks, ABC News and a couple of people with the Food Network.  I’m on a first name basis with Average Betty – I call her Av she call’s me Wanna.

I’m not bragging, mind you.  I’m just pointing out that I’m about as famous as a person can be and still not have anyone know who he is.  That is bound to change and when it does you can honestly tell people, “I remember when he was just a food blogger; he sucked then, too.”

next food blog starBut before you can brag that you “knew me when . . .” you have to help me get famous first.  That’s why I have entered the Foodbuzz “Next Food Blog Star” Contest.  A premium gig like that is just what the doctor ordered.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

Stu’s Latest Kindle Single is Just $2.99

Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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