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Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef – PT 10

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.

Big Timin’ It

Since I began actually writing about food for a living, my life has been going well. Not only am I making seven and a half times as much per article with Current than I made for that first one published by Lagniappe, but the food editor for the latter has begun to mimic my style. My work, it seems, has created a buzz as the cuisine articles are what’s driving the success of both ‘Zalea and Current.

One summer day I get a call from ‘Zalea’s editor. Two appearances have been booked for October featuring cooking demonstrations from Food Network Chef Bobby Flay. The magazine is a sponsor of the event and, therefore, has been granted an interview with the Iron Chef to help promote the event plus his latest publication, The Mesa Grill Cookbook. I have been picked to conduct the interview.

Meanwhile, the meeting with the production company went well. Over wings and beer I meet the other members of Wade’s team. We hash out our different ideas for a cooking show called Coastal Cuisine and we are all on the same page as far as concept. The only thing standing in our way is financing. We need advertisers.

Each of us sets out to make contact with potential advertisers, something that is easy for me since I am already traveling the area talking to winery owners, chefs and shopkeepers anyway. If I feel the potential for selling advertising for the show, I get the contact information to Wade; he’s the money man. The wheels may be moving slowly but they are moving.

Finally the day approaches for the interview with Chef Flay. Because of my history in the entertainment industry, I am never phased when I get around famous people from that world. I performed publicly for the first time when I was five. Had the lead role in a play when I was 10 and have done a smattering of TV over the years. I’ve shared the stage with some of New Orleans’ legends and gotten a standing ovation at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville. I’m in my element around entertainers. World class chefs, on the other hand, are a different matter.

Bobby Flay is a very influential chef and I count myself among the influenced. His bold style when it comes to the spicy flavors of the Southwest speaks to my natural tendency towards foods with strong, accretive flavors. I have long admired his blend of simple proteins and complex sauces. I guess it can be said that he presents his New World creations with a French accent.

There is also the public image to contend with. Flay has long been labeled arrogant and intense, a typical cocky New Yorker. Not a New Yorker in the way that Rachael Ray or Mario Batali are New Yorkers, people who’ve moved to the city and adapted. No, Flay was born in Gotham and has lived virtually his entire life there. And I am a food writer from Mobile, Alabama who has learned the bulk of his food knowledge from watching TV chefs like Bobby Flay.

A wave of anticipation rushes over me as the world’s most famous area code appears on my cell phone. I answer and hear a woman‘s voice, “Chef Bobby Flay for Stuart Donald.”

“This is Stuart.” I reply.

“One moment.”

“This is Bobby.”

Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef Part 9

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.

I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night

So now I’m Stuart the food “journalist,” the food “critic.” And life is good, my friends. My editors love the style I have evolved of doing a paragraph or two about five or six restaurants in a given genre rather than the more familiar method of one article dedicated to a single establishment. Sure, part of the reason this has developed into my “style” is so that I get to eat at five or ten restaurants on any given assignment but also because I have a lot to say.

At the same time I begin writing for Current Publications I also start blogging for the foodie site Well Fed Network. Rather than being just one site WFN is exactly what it’s name implies, a network, or more aptly a syndicate. Several food related virtual magazines each focusing on different elements of food. I become a writer for Cook Smarter doing product reviews, Well Fed On The Town offering restaurant reviews and the two blogs I still contribute to Paper Palate (reviews and articles about food publications) and Edible TV (dedicated to TV chefs).

With this modicum of fame comes a few perks. Like being invited to the opening of Mobile’s first wine bar aptly named The Wine Loft. I am quickly ushered to meet the owners, the manager, the chef. I am treated to glasses of wine, plates of exquisite cheeses and various other sundry hors devours. It’s like being in a different world, Mobile is not a town where restaurants open with any fanfare so a gala like this is rare. Not only do I get good articles for both Current and WFN, but I also establish a relationship with an eatery that will play a reoccurring role in my pursuit of being a TV chef.

I meet so-and-so, who is a photographer for the society section of the newspaper that owns the rags I write for and he helps me navigate my first media event. I then meet what’s-her-name, who is the late-night weekend anchor for one of the local TV stations. That-guy-over-there is a city councilman. And I meet Wade.

Wade is working as a server to earn a little extra cash and to network the influential guests. As it turns out, he is the producer for an upstart local production company. They produce two regular TV programs and have been looking to expand their résumé with a cooking show. Cards are exchanged and a tentative meeting is set-up.

From the set-back of being laid off from my sous chef/kitchen manger job to being a food writer who is setting up a meeting with a production company is roughly five months. And it has been just four years since beginning this quest. This is merely the first big thrill on this roller coaster; there are plenty more twists and turns before the ride finishes.

Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef – PT 8

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.

The Food Writer Returns

Toiling away for pauper’s wages at a BBQ chain that could best be described as blah is very depressing to someone that is used to working at higher-end restaurants. One day, while devouring the restaurant jobs in the local paper, I find an ad that is advertising three new magazines that are published by the local newspaper. Two of the magazines are lifestyle tomes. On a whim I send an e-mail to the editor letting him know of my past writing (one article for a similar magazine that paid $20). In the e-mail I include a link to my website where he can read some of my articles.

The next day I get an e-mail from him asking for a phone interview. By the time the interview concludes, I am a food and drink writer for Current Magazine and a Food and Travel writer for ‘Zalea Magazine. Each article pays $150. Current is published once a week and ‘Zalea once a month. If I am productive I can really make some cash.

I inform the BBQ joint of my new position and immediately my kitchen manager is nervous. She knows I will not be in her kitchen much longer. Before my first article makes it to print I leave the cooking job. I start picking up tables part-time at a national chain Italian restaurant to help fill in the voids between productive months and so-so months.

My first article is a study of what food defines our community and where to get the best examples. It is well received. I then begin writing articles on themed reviews – best pizza parlors, best late-night eats, etc. I venture away from food just a little by drawing on my contacts in Nashville. I do two interviews with musicians and one with a stand up comic, all of whom have dates upcoming in town.

Things were going well. Both magazine editors are happy with my work and they have even given me a nickname at the office, Big Love, for my ability to get my articles written before deadline with few errors that need editing. All this and I had yet to meet anyone at either magazine in person.

Finally, the day came when I went down to the office to meet folks. It was fun, I got the VIP tour, which included the press room where a giant printing press knocks off 75,000 copies an hour. I got my picture made for my first press pass. I had made it. To a certain degree.

I was now rubbing shoulders with the people I needed to meet to get somewhere in this town. The only thing missing? A cooking show.

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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.

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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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