diary

Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef Part 11

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.

It’s Always Darkest Right Before It Goes Pitch Black

Wow! Life is great. I am actually making money writing about food and travel. Notoriety? Yep, I’ve got some of that, too. I’ve just published an interview with Food Network star Bobby Flay and my series on tailgating (Saturdays in the South) has created a bit of a buzz here in college football obsessed Alabama.

After a night out on the town with a co-worker I pop into a 24-hour eatery to scarf down some horribly un-healthy food. Nachos at 2AM anyone? I pass a table of drunken foodies who are discussing the upcoming visit of Bobby Flay to the Port City. I’m not sure exactly how but I got pulled into the conversation but one point someone asks me if I have read the interview with Flay in ‘Zalea magazine?

I wake up one day to find a voice message from my editor that asks me to call the magazine when I get a chance. I’m pumped because the last time I had a message like that it was to tell me that I was interviewing an Iron Chef. We have been efforting the great Emeril Legasse who had just opened a restaurant in nearby Gulfport, Mississippi. Could it be? Or maybe Alton Brown perhaps? His show Feasting on Asphalt 2 was taped right here in the heart of Katrina Country.

The recession really hadn’t been recognized as such yet but it was about to hinder my goals for the second time in less than a year. The newspaper that was the parent company of the two periodicals I wrote for was shutting down production on the weekly rag and cutting out freelance on the remaining monthly magazine. Once again, I was out of a job.

To make matters worse, the part-time gig I had waiting tables at a cheesy Italian chain restaurant was now my lone source of income. Big national chains are the scourge of the restaurant industry. They are a menace to locally owned restaurants, shamelessly enslave their employees and quite literally poison their customers all in the pursuit of the almighty buck. And now, through no fault of my own I was forced to prostitute myself at one of these denizens of culinary corruption.

At least I have a potential cooking show in the works. . . right?

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 – PT 3

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 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.

Building Credibilty

So, here I was the proud author of a cookbook that could only be found in one place, the web site of a T-shirt company. But that was better than most people can say. 4 Star put the cookbook in with their regular advertising, but if I wanted to get the word out about the cuisine I had created, I had to learn the publishing game with a quickness.

Armed with a sack full of For Dummies books and an inbox crammed with self-publishing newsletters, I began to sell myself, figuratively speaking. A new bi-weekly newspaper had gone into print around Mobile and they had a guy (their food editor) who did restaurant reviews, but no one who wrote cooking articles. I sent an e-mail to their senior editor inquiring about the possibility of my filling that role for them.

AmigeauxsWhy shouldn’t I? After all, I was author of Amigeauxs – Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine and a veteran of the restaurant industry. The editor asked me for an article to show my stuff. I had noticed that the style of writing preferred by this paper employed sarcasm, so that was how I wrote my article which explained how béchamel was not some fancy French food, but a part of our everyday lives. That article earned me the fat sum of $20 (US) as it was quite humorous. Upon publication it was well received. Enough so that the food editor decided that a cooking article should be part of the regular food section. Unfortunately, he assigned himself to write it. After all, twenty bucks is twenty bucks.

Regardless, I now had my first professional writing credit. I was now a freelance writer. Go figure. I soon got the attention of the web site, Global Chefs, who commissioned me to write an article about self-publishing. Just that quickly I had gone from aspiring food author to self-publishing expert. Once again, go figure. That is how this journey to become a TV chef has progressed. Lots of hard work with little to show for it, then bam! (no pun intended) a whole gaggle of good fortune.

Soon interest in my cookbook and food writing cooled off. It was becoming apparent to me that I needed to get back into a commercial kitchen to really start building credibility. Mobile’s economy was rebounding and new restaurants were starting to pop up. I soon found myself the pantry chef (this position handles salads, desserts, and appetizers) at a swanky new steak restaurant in a fast-growing, affluent suburb of Mobile. It was time to work on my chops.

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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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