Thursday, April 23, 2009

Out take #1

If you have been keeping up with my blog on Creative Loafing, the Knife's Edge, you'll recognize this piece as the precursor to last week's blog.  

If not, then simply enjoy this little out take below.... 

It was a very random call. Someone who wants to meet about going on a television show focusing on competition cooking. They wanted to talk to me about it. They didn’t really say what they wanted to talk about. But they were in town and what the heck. Sure, I’ll swing by the hotel and chat for a few.

The show was Top Chef.

I was runinng the kitchen at a place in Midtown. We had just gotten our “tattoo’s”. Our reviews. So fresh were the reviews, that ever since I’ve made up a story of how the casting team must have been enjoying their continental breakfast. Slurping some coffee. When they stumbled upon a picture of me in goggles, surrounded by smoke, blasting a tomato with pressurized nitrogen. I still don’t know if that’s the truth. But it sounds good.

Of course, I thought they were just filming in Atlanta. Maybe they wanted to do some research on the area. Maybe even wanted a set of local hands to help with a challenge. Engulfed by my ego, they probably just wanted a guest chef, a judge perhaps.

I showed up in a Barcelona football shirt. Exhausted from the night before. Disheveled. Although, I guess my general look is disheveled. They told me I looked European. Compliment? And oh yeah, there was a camera on in this hotel room... with 2 strangers. The only stories I’ve seen like this usually ends up with the person on camera naked. Or in a bathtub minus a kidney. Where the hell am I? I do have a pair of surgical tweezers and a spoon, though. If these guys get freaky I’ll just quenelle my way out of here I guess!

But they don’t want a guest judge, or a local assistant. They want cast members.

I remember the first 10 seconds of this realization causing anger. I mean, I’ve already opened and closed a ton of restaurants. I’ve done Iron Chef America! Nailed a few reviews. Already started building a National reputation. Then the anger became more of a gut check.

No one knows anything about the Atlanta food scene. We are a small pond. And I’m a medium sized fish here. If I got a chance to participate in this. The only thing holding me back would be fear. I’d be such a punk to not to take this challenge. To rest on the laurels of my mid sized accomplishments, in our mid sized city.

From inside the fish bowl, things outside became clearer.

The worst that could happen. Personal embarrassment. What’s new about that?

The best. An amazing experience. Enormous national exposure for everything about me and my company and my team. A prize or two.

There are so many times, as a chef, we reach a level of our profession and decide we can’t go back. Sometimes it means we don’t want to take a sous chef position after being an Exec. We can’t go to hourly from salary. We don’t want to work in a place that can’t afford caviar and truffles. For me, it was going back to being one of a group of young chefs competing in front of millions of viewers day after day. Another face in the crowd. Cooking, by myself, under extreme conditions..

It was, and I know this will sound so cheesy and romantic, but it was a chance to fall in love again. Rediscover the things that got me to this point in the first place. I didn’t need any clipboards for this. I didn’t need to worry about P&L’s or how to keep an under funded restaurant open. It was me and my knives. Ok... and my pressure cooker, immersion circulator, and smoking gun.

Check out the next piece here