Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef – PT 1
In the coming months I will be 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.
Origin of Wannabe TV Chef
I guess it all started when I was about five years old. My maternal grandmother was down for a visit from her home in Spokane, Washington. My father and brother had taken my grandfather on some manly adventure that I was apparently too young to appreciate. I was left to the women of the house who had decided to prepare a large batch of biscuits for when the men returned.
I watched diligently as my mother sifted flour into a large bowl. She added a few other dry ingredients and finally buttermilk (ick!). She then set about stirring them together. My sisters had pulled out three medium sized cast iron skillets and began smearing bacon grease on the inside of them. My grandmother set the oven for 350 and they each chatted happily. Looking back it was a true Rockwellian moment.
Tired of feeling like the fifth wheel I whined my way into the kitchen. My grandmother took me under her wing most likely to spare the other girls from my childish banter. She set out a large clump of biscuit dough and showed me how to knead it into a would-be biscuit. She then produced a small iron skillet and together we greased and filled it with the mass of dough. I only made one biscuit that day compared to the dozens prepared by my mother and sisters but it was by far the biggest and that was good enough for me.
I could not wait for it to come out of the oven so that I could savor the biscuit I had made. I remember how golden the top was and I can still hear my mother telling me that I had to let it cool a little or I could burn myself. How did it taste? Beats me. It was like over 30 years ago. That is a long time to carry a memory. The important thing is that this one episode introduced me to the joys of the culinary arts.
As I grew older I grew bolder, at least in things gastronomic. When I was roughly ten I got a Presto Magic Burger Maker for a gift. This was the ultimate in freedom. A hamburger was my favorite meal and now I could have one whenever I wanted. It did not take long for me to discover the different burger flavors I could create by experimenting with the various spices in my mother’s cabinets. After that I began creating with my mothers leftovers, specifically a leftover roast was a favorite canvas of mine. I called what I created goulash. It started with cubed pieces of roast beef or pork simmered in barbecue sauce but soon I was braising meat in many strange liquid concoctions, most all of them fiery.
After high school and during college I worked a few restaurant jobs as a busboy, dishwasher, and sandwich maker. But it was after college that I was introduced to restaurant management. I became a manager trainee with Domino’s Pizza. I learned many things that I still keep with me today during those years with the country’s number one pizza delivery company. Chief among them is my love of ethnic food. I began a friendship with another employee, a dental school student from Syria. From him I first learned the flavors and spices of the Middle East.
To this day Mediterranean cuisine is one of my favorites. A few years later, while trying to earn a living as a musician in Nashville I found that restaurant work offered me the opportunity to make money while maintaining a flexible schedule for my musical endeavors. I ran a steak restaurant in a swanky neighborhood, worked as a line cook at a Tex-Mex restaurant, a server at an eclectic mall eatery, a baker, and even a hot dog vendor at college basketball games.
At this time in my life I had friends from different parts of the world. I learned traditional Mexican food from an LA bass player, Indonesian food from an exchange student from Jakarta, African food from a tennis player raised in Nigeria, and tons of other recipes from watching cooking shows on cable. Graham Kerr, especially, had a significant influence on me.
In the 90’s I took a trip to Chicago that would have a profound impact on my life. Not only did I try real Chicago pizza but I also I learned of a cable cooking channel called the Food Network. Can you imagine my joy in finding a TV network just about food? It was like the mother ship had landed.
Soon I found myself engrossed in the creations of Emeril Lagasse, Ming Tsai, Bobby Flay, and the incomparable Wolfgang Puck. I learned of food trends and restaurant concepts and ultimately it all began to make since. I was meant to be a chef, specifically a TV Chef. I mean, why else would I have been given talent in both the entertainment field and the kitchen right? Destiny. Like Abraham Lincoln rising from poverty to become President, or Albert Einstein overcoming bad study habits to become the most important figure in physics, or a simple farm boy like Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi Knight. Destiny.
I have dedicated myself for the last four years to this goal. First, I wrote a cookbook. Next I began cooking in competitions, soon after I was writing cooking articles for magazines and online sources. Then I left my job at a car rental company to return to professional cooking. Now I am a full time food writer and I have created a web site entitle what else? WannabeTVchef.com
I am a foodie with a vision, a dreamer with a plan, and master of the spatula. I am Stuart Reb Donald, Wannabe TV Chef.