I spent last weekend visiting my sister in Brooklyn for what was mostly a girls’ weekend. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect – in the 60s during the day, and a little chillier at night – with lots of beautiful fall leaves lining the Brownstone flanked streets of Park Slope.
We spent lots of time walking her dog, but also doing the usual foodie things – devouring New York pizza slices, enjoying brunchy breakfasts, and noshing on eclectic chocolates.
And I also volunteered at Battery Urban Farm’s Harvest Festival, where my sister’s the lead farmer and they grow some amazing produce! I mean, check out these fabulous tomatoes, harvested last Saturday morning before the festival started – they look like they’ve been painted!
Oh and there was this little thing called an “open casting call” for a new show called “Home Cooks” for Food Network.
I had done some preliminary work with the casting company in September, including both a telephone interview and filming a 15 minute video. And then in early October the casting company announced that they had added New York City as a destination for an open casting call, having already held them in San Francisco, Dallas and Chicago.
So, I bought my bus ticket to New York and told my sister I’d be visiting.
Back in September I submitted a 14 page application to the casting producers. Four of those pages were hand-written. As in, WRITTEN BY HAND. It’s a miracle I didn’t end up with a claw hand; it’s been a really, really long time since I’ve written anything by hand longer than a check or a Post-it Note. I did, however, survive. (First world problems.)
I also had to submit five signature recipes along with five photos of those recipes, and turn it all around in two days. This is where I said to myself, “Thank GOD I’m a food blogger.”
Because, can you imagine?? This show isn’t about home cook food bloggers, it’s simply about home cooks. A normal home cook doesn’t pause to take pictures of EVERY single thing that’s made for dinner or eaten for lunch. So, to have to make five dishes and photograph them, all in two days’ time? Impossible. (Or nearly.)
I solicited some crowd-sourced feedback from you guys on Facebook. What the heck are my signature dishes, anyway?
You gave me some great ideas, and I had a lot of moments where I thought, “My readers really do know me!” Warm and fuzzies ensued, and I landed on these five signature dishes: pancakes, cobbler, shrimp pasta, turkey meatloaf and oven-fried chicken thighs.
Good, right? Application complete, I sent it off.
The Single Savory Signature Dish
About a week later I found out about the open casting call in NYC, and also that I had to narrow my signature dishes down to only one savory meal. I had to bring it with me to the casting call, already prepared, kept to proper intended temperature, and ready to plate.
Thank God my sister lives in Brooklyn, because I’m not sure how I would’ve managed if I had to either go up and back from Maryland in one day, or attempt to prepare food in a hotel room.
I chose Seared Salt & Pepper Shrimp over Thin Spaghetti with a Mushroom Garlic Cream Sauce as THE recipe. I make it (or versions of it) a lot, and it’s a breeze to whip up on a busy weeknight. So, yeah. It’s a signature dish.
I sourced some fresh Maryland organic tomatoes from a friend’s small farm, and brought them with me up to New York. Then, the Friday before the casting call, I visited a seafood market in Park Slope for shrimp. They didn’t have anything local, but they did have wild tiger shrimp. BINGO!
Then, we hit Eataly
because I’ve never been there to gather things like pasta, basil and mushrooms, followed by a little supermarket in Manhattan for goat’s milk.
With all the ingredients pulled together, I made a deconstructed version of my shrimp pasta on Friday night – one that could be reheated in the morning, kept warm, and then assembled at the open casting call. Except for the shrimp. Shrimp reheated is no bueno, so those were seared in the morning, just as I was getting ready to leave.
The Open Casting Call
The open casting call for “Home Cooks” on Food Network was on the same Saturday as Harvest Festival at Battery Urban Farm, which meant my sister (a.k.a. guide around NYC) couldn’t accompany me from Brooklyn to Midtown that morning.
So I did what any other out-of-towner would do to prepare: a dry run on Friday. It was just enough of a confidence-builder for me to brave the NYC subway solo. Here I am waiting for my train on Saturday morning. My sister snapped this photo unbeknownst to me while she was on the other platform waiting for her train.
Dare I say the NYC subway system is far better than the DC Metro system? (It’s far superior in many ways.)
I made my way from Brooklyn to 35th between 8th and 9th in Manhattan, and aside from the large bag I was toting with all of my food and kitchen accessories, it was a painless trip – in fact, I got there 30 minutes early!
Thirty minutes early meant I was 6th in line, and also that I was one of the first 12 to be called into this room:
See those pieces of paper? They’re quizzes! We each had to fill out a quiz before moving on to plate our dishes, and while not terribly difficult, my brain wasn’t in quiz mode.
How many teaspoons in a tablespoon?
So, anyway, I breezed though the quiz questions in anticipation of finally getting the chance to plate my dish. Clearly not the fastest in the bunch though:
Finally plating time. All I kept thinking was, “I wonder if the pasta stayed hot? Or if it got clumpy? And the shrimp – are they overcooked and mealy??”
But no. Everything was perfect.
And then I Wait.
I was the third person to be done with plating, and as the first judge made his way over to our table I was feeling pretty confident!
Until, that is, he uttered these unforgettable words as he peered over at my plate with three perfectly seared shrimp:
I can’t eat that because I have a seafood allergy. I will die if I try even a bite.
The casting producer assured me there was another judge on his way, and not to worry at all.
Meanwhile, all I kept thinking about was how my acrobatics around keeping my pasta and shrimp at the perfect temperatures, all the way from Brooklyn to Midtown, were all for naught. The judge moved from home cook to home cook, while the casting producer followed up with an interview.
I stood there smiling and waiting for the second judge to arrive. My tablemates packed up their bags, and a fresh crop of home cooks took their places by my side, completing their quizzes and plating their meals.
After about 45 minutes, judge number two arrived in a frenzy, clearly upset about being late and ready to get the show on the road. (Me too.)
After grabbing his materials, the casting producer sent him over to me (thank goodness), where he wasted no time in digging in. A slight pause ensued, and then he looked me straight in the eye and said:
I realize this has been sitting out longer than you wanted. But let me tell you, it’s FUCKIN’ GOOD.
Ahem. Excuse my language – er – his language. But, I do believe that in the world of food and cooking, the use of curse words to describe how much one loves a particular plate of shrimp and pasta is…AWESOME.
He continued on, eating half the pasta and all but one of the shrimp (which he later came back to finish after judging another plate or two). The casting producer followed, and she paused, recognized my name, and said, “OH, Liza! It’s great to see you!” as she quickly remembered our conversation in September.
I’m feeling pretty good here.
Someone in the room asked what the next steps were after the judging and interview. Ears perked. Eyes turned.
I remember the casting producer saying, “If we have a callback spot for you, we’ll let you know by 7:00 PM tonight.”
So, I packed up my bags, the leftovers, and my kitchen utensils, and I left the casting call, headed for Battery Park and some volunteering at Battery Urban Farm Harvest Festival (all by myself on the subway).
And then, a few hours later, as my sister and I ate one of the best meals we’ve had in years, the clock rolled over to 7:00 PM and my phone never rang.
This means one of two things:
- I didn’t get a callback.
- I misheard the process by which they’re doing callbacks.
Only time will tell…but I have sure had a great time over the past two months! Want a peek at my casting video? (Note, next time we’ll turn the phone sideways, LOL!)
After some confusion around when those who auditioned would hear about a call back (I thought it was going to be the weekend of the casting call; other folks heard a few weeks after the casting call), I decided that closure was in order.
I emailed the casting producer two weeks ago to confirm, and she said the process took longer than they expected, but they had finally selected the cast for the show.
So, there we have it! It’s a no for me. Don’t worry though, there will always be more opportunities….
Food Network finally announced the show – it’s called “America’s Best Cook” and premieres on April 13, 2014, at 9 p.m. (ET)! You can read all about it here, and follow along all the social networks with their hashtag #BestCook!