Auditioning for a reality television series is not something I had ever dreamed of or planned on doing. But last year, I found myself, among other hundreds of contestants, waiting in line at Hilton Hotel in downtown Minneapolis for a casting call of Fox’s cooking competition series Master Chef US. I found out only with a week before, after a friend of mine posted it on my Facebook page encouraging me to participate.
I was very reserved at the beginning, because I never liked these kind of shows. Especially after watching Master Chef Romania (the country I moved from to US many years ago), I told everyone that there is no way in hell I would ever audition or expose myself on any of these shows, as I would never be able to put up with the verbal abuse and humiliation happening to the contestants…I was not into watching the Master Chef of US either, so I was not sure if the verbal abuse happens there also. On the back of my mind, though, I was curious to see if I would even be able to make it through the first casting, so I started to watch the last season and get familiar with the requirements. During the process, I fantasized about the plate I would present and think about the logistics for that day.
I do not know about you, but I am always worried about my image out there. Besides the fact that I never liked the attention in public, I also never thought I would look good on TV or have the right personality for a show like that. Also, I was and am still convinced that my mind would never be able to work that fast to put together a dish in 3 minutes after opening a box full of surprise ingredients that have no connection with each other. When I entertain, I like to take my time, think about the menu, plan in advance. When I bake a cake, I take a lot of time to think how the cake would look like, if the flavors would go well together, if the decorations would fit the occasion etc…
However, even if I was trying to convince myself that there are so many reason why I shouldn’t go, I kind of needed the validation of somebody who doesn’t know me…You know how all your family and friends tell you how great you are as a cook or a baker, but you think that they only want to be nice with you? This is me….not trusting myself enough, so for that matter, I decided to challenge myself, as usually, and go for the Master Chef casting and get that stupid feedback I needed so much.
So, I pre-registered, not yet convinced that I will even make it there on Saturday. I did not want to put any stress on me and be disappointed, so I told everyone that if my dish will come out right, I will go, if I am not satisfied with it, I will not. However, on Tuesday before the casting, a producer from Los Angeles called me to make sure that I will be there on Saturday. She was able to take a look at my blog, liked it very much and encouraged me to go. I told her that I never applied for any show before, I am not confident that I could even pass the first casting and that I am thinking not to go. She said that I should try, as it seems my blog was very interesting for them. They liked the fact that I can cook many things, I can also bake, and that in terms of plating, my food looks very good. The audition was going to start at 10am, but she scheduled me between 12-2pm. She also explained to me the process a little bit. She said that we will be invited in groups of 10-15 people and that 4 tasters will taste our food. We would have only 3 minutes to plate the food before that.The dish was to be planned and prepared ahead of time. We could make anything we wanted, but it had to be served as is. They would not provide us with any electrical outlets to warm or finish our dishes.
Full of confidence, I started to really plan on what to bring to the audition. I have to say that because of so many years of experience in the kitchen, I feel like I am a better cook than a baker. However, as I just graduated two years ago the pastry school training, back in Romania, I decided to make a cake. A fancy one, where I can show many techniques. My thought was that if I would make a dish, it will be very difficult to keep a decent temperature on it for many hours and the texture would change in time. Also, because it was summer and had no idea how long we will be there, I was worried about the safety of eating food that was kept warm for so long. I chose this cake, A Dacquoise hazelnuts cake with white chocolate mousse and a strawberry and pistachios insertion in the middle, because the cake was supposed to be frozen over night and decorated the same day with the audition. Waiting for many hours in line, would give the cake the right consistency and also would be safe for eating.
I chose the recipe from Ana Consulea’s repertoire, a famous Romanian pastry chef I met last year, while on vacation in Bucharest. I had the honor to met her and work in her kitchen for 3 days, where I learned lots of new things.
I made the cake once and noticed few issues with it. Here is the first version of it. Pretty good, huh?
The layers inside the cake looked like this:
The only problem was that the cake was kind of melting and the glaze on top was runny, sign that it needed more gelatin. I was nervous about getting to the audition with a cake that would not hold together, so I contacted Ana Consulea and asked her about the recipe. She was extremely helpful and gave me lots of tips on how to succeed with it.
Friday morning, a day before the audition, I made another cake, thinking that it is going to be the one that I will take with me the next day. As I said before, the white chocolate glaze on the first cake was a little runny, so I decided to put more sheets of gelatin in the mixture this time. BIG MISTAKE! The glaze came out like glue, was thick and impossible to spread on the cake! BUMMER!
The surface is bumpy and thick and not appetizing at all, despite the fact that I tried to decorate it nice. UGGGHHHH!
Almost crying, I told my husband that I need more white chocolate, as I have to bake another cake, now that I ruined the one I was working on…at 8pm that night, my husband got in the car (he was not very happy, let me tell you that!) and went to the grocery store to pick up more ingredients.
So, I started to basically work on my third cake! This time, I was decided, one more mistake and I am not going. I was convinced that if I get there, the cake has to look impeccable, the taste should be amazing, the textures should be right and overall, the cake should be the most perfect cake ever!
I baked that night, put the cake together and shoved it in the freezer until Saturday morning, when I was supposed to glaze and decorate it before the audition. The next morning went by without any major events, so I left the house with this one:
I even had time to make little gum paste flower decorations AND also a transparent glaze for the fresh fruit. I was finally very happy with the results!
I tried to dress up for the occasion, as they said: do not wear any logos, t-shirts with inscriptions, jeans or anything like that. The first impression counts a lot, so dress like you would go for an interview. I never go out of my house in sweat pants anyway, so I wore a nice blouse, a skirt down to my knees and a pair of cute flats. I wanted to be comfortable and presentable at the same time. I had no idea if we will have a place to sit there, if it is going to be inside or outside and how long we will have to wait in line.
We got at Hilton hotel in Minneapolis in time, I hand them the application with a million questions about myself that I had to complete before the audition. I received a sheet with my name on it, the name of the dish, to attach to our application and a number. Mine was #162.
I was guided to a waiting room with chairs where a lot of people were waiting. Lots of people wearing jeans, t-shirts and shorts. So much for following the rules, huh? Anyway, I only had to wait for about an hour until I was able to get inside the tasting room.
Groups of 10-15 were brought into the room at a time. I looked around and saw that in my group, I was the only one with a dessert. My husband told me though, that outside were a lot of people who brought cupcakes and other sweet breads, so I was not the only one. I noticed that many people in the room had a lot of pasta dishes and fried food. I did not see any salads or fresh vegetables, I did not notice any colorful plates.
We had 3 minutes to plate the food. I was nervous about slicing my cake…you know how the first piece usually comes out really hard and it doesn’t have the best look? So, I said a prayer and started to slice the cake. Took the piece out and it looked PERFECT, so I put it on the plate and quickly decorated it. After the 3 minutes were up, somebody came and took a picture of each of us with the application and the plate we brought. Then a taster came around and questioned each dish. When he got in front of me, he asked me to describe the dish. He said that the plate looks gorgeous and the presentation is very nice. Then he tasted the cake and said that it was very good. He asked about the middle of the cake and if I put pistachios only on top of the cake, or there are pistachios somewhere else. I told him that the insertion of the cake has pistachios that were added to the strawberries, for texture and crunchiness. He was very pleased and overall he told me that my dish is very tasty and beautiful. He also looked at the entire cake and said that it looked really nice. The producers also walked around the room and told me that the cake looked gorgeous.
After that, an interviewer(producer) came and quickly tried to find out a little bit more about me. “Did you ever attend a culinary school? Did you ever work as a cook or a baker in a professional kitchen? Are you married? Do you have any children? How old are they? How long have you been in this country? Where are you from? What hobbies do you have? “
After all these questions, they selected few people from the group to interview further and the rest of us were free to go home. I was not selected among the ones who went further. Despite the fact that my cake looked perfect and the taster liked it very much, I was not selected. Right next to me, though, was this young guy, who wore a pink suit and a black T-shirt with a white skull on it. He came with a huge Davanni’s pizza box where he had a Cheese curds pizza with some fresh basil on it. Somebody even asked him if he really made the pizza or just bought it. He had the Davanni’s name crossed from the box with a black sharpie and his name was written on it instead. He actually made it to the next round of interviews, with his cheese curds pizza.
One observation though…Very few people from my group made it to the next level and majority of them were much younger than me , so I am wondering….
If the show is really about the best home cooks in America, wouldn’t you think that many of the competitors should be older people with many years of experience? People who have years studying cookbooks, perfecting family recipes, or traveling the world to try new cuisines? You look at past seasons of the show and you really see photogenic 20-30 somethings, many of them with media experience and aspirations to become TV stars. Maybe I am wrong, but even the older ones who made it to the show, were eliminated in the first episodes, so it makes you wonder.
It seemed that most of the people I saw that day getting a “golden ticket” for further interviews were on the younger side. Were these people really “the best home cooks in America”, or were they just the best at getting on television, with their youthful age and appearance?
I took some time to think about if I want to write this post or not. I did not want to come as a “crying loser” or be unfair about a show that so many people are watching. However, it seems to me that not only this show, but most of the shows on TV are all about younger people. I cannot say that I have any insight whatsoever into what the casting people are looking in a contestant and how the “Top 100” people out of thousands who show up at casting calls are chosen. As I said before, I might not have the look or the personality they are looking for, and I am totally fine with it! In truth, I never liked the drama in these shows and I always said that I would hate to go through the grueling experience of being in a reality show anyway and having people around the world commenting and criticizing me based on what they see, and not on what actually happens while the show is filmed. However, I do still question the honesty of the show and what is all about.
One thing I know is that before leaving the house that day, I prayed and ask God to help me go through the experience in an honorable way. My plate was gorgeous and lots of people were very impressed with how the cake looked like. I got lots of compliments on my way in and out of that place.
Then, I gained a lot of experience making this recipe that was not very easy for a beginner baker as myself. All my 3 cakes went downstairs in the Community area of the building we live and lots of people had a piece of cake during that week while practicing. None of them was unhappy with it, so from that perspective, I got again the confidence that whatever I am doing, I am doing it well. I am proud of myself for having the guts to apply to the show and go through the experience.
And finally, I will always be my husband and my daughter’s Master Chef, as they call me, and that is all that matters! 🙂