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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.

Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef – PT 2

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.

The Cookbook

They say that admitting you have a problem is half the solution. If only that same math could be attached to achieving a goal. The exact date is not known to me but sometime during the year of our Lord, two thousand three I had an epiphany that not only did I want to be a chef, but I wanted to do it in front of a camera.

The problem was I was not working in the food industry. For the past three and a half years I had been working at a 1-800 call center for a rental car company. In fact, I had not cooked professionally since the spring of 1998. In December of ‘98 I moved from Nashville back to my hometown of Mobile, AL. I thought with my experience I would surely be able to get a job in a restaurant. After all I had worked in a dynamic city and had excelled in what was a booming restaurant scene.

The problem was that Mobile’s restaurant scene was fading. My experience was useless as no one was hiring. I tried starting my own Internet business, I worked at a cultural exhibit, played a few music gigs, but still the restaurant jobs eluded me. When the call-center opened a few miles from my home it seemed I was doomed to life in a cubical.

Without a commercial kitchen to vent my culinary artistic whims I did my best in the tiny apartment kitchen at my disposal. This was a challenge as the oven was so small that standard cookie sheets would not even fit in it. Never the less I cooked, honing recipes, learning techniques, doing anything I could to improve my skills.

Through this period I had created several recipes that are best described as Mexican/Creole Fusion. Those recipes included my Creole White Chili that my company had twice prepared in the Mobile Chili Cook-off. The dish was well received. I began compiling these recipes in the hopes of writing a cookbook.

Through my days as a wannabe Internet entrepreneur I had become familiar with a company called 4 Star T-shirts & More! who did print-on-demand T-shirts, hats and other cloth materials. They were adding a new print section to their store. On July 23, 2004 my first cookbook, Amigeauxs – Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine went on sale via their web site. It wasn’t professional cooking but it was better than nothing. Most importantly I had taken my first step towards building credibility.

Me Doing Gourmet Tuna Salad on WKRG

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

Wannabe TV ChefI 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.

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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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