30 Things TV Chefs Won’t Tell You
Goodness, greatness, great balls of fire!
The world of cooking on TV
What you see isn’t always what you’re going to get. A lot of what you see on your television screen is thoroughly planned out and when you try to replicate it yourself, it won’t be the same. Reader’s Digest went behind the scenes to hear from your favorite chefs on TV to learn their dirtiest kitchen secrets. Want to know even more secrets about professional chefs? Here are some foods that even they cook in the microwave.
Many TV chefs don’t write or develop their own recipes
Some don’t have time. Others are more focused on being on TV than on cooking, so they would rather pay someone else. And a few just don’t know how. Here’s why chefs never order these 7 things at restaurants.
The grill marks on meat don’t just appear magically
Wonder how there are perfect grill marks on steaks and hotdogs so quickly on TV? The fire grills are pre-heated on high before so that when you put the steak on the grill the marks appear in seconds.
If you want the food you make to look as pretty as mine, don’t fill the plate
Putting something small on a bigger plate always looks better, especially if you stack the foods or lay them against each other. Be aware of these dirty restaurant secrets the kitchen crew isn’t telling you.
Cameras never get super close to the food
For live TV, we use a mirror above the cooking surface to get the shots “in the pan” so no camera is ever that close to hanging from the ceiling. They simply focus on the mirror and then flip the image.
When a chef forgets to say something important, we have to do what’s called a voice-over
That’s when you’re watching and all of a sudden, you don’t see the chef’s face. Instead, you see a close-up of the bowl or their hands and you hear them saying, “Now add a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon.” With the best talent, you’ll almost never hear a voice-over. When you attempt to make the recipes you see on television, make sure you aren’t making these common baking mistakes.
Some close up shots aren’t even of the celebrity chef
Many of the close-up shots of mixing, serving and presenting are done after the main talent is long out of the studio and the hands you see are another producer or actor. They try to limit nail colors and jewelry so those shots aren’t too noticeably different. Sometimes the close-up shots aren’t even filmed in the same studio. One of the assistants stands by taking notes on everything from the angles, bowls used, and hand used to stir, pour, and gesture to make it seamless in post-production.
Obviously, we’re not all going to sit around twiddling our thumbs waiting for a roast or a lasagna to cook
So there are people in a second kitchen behind the scenes cooking a bunch of versions of the same recipe so it will be ready to go at different stages. That’s called a swap-out. This is what chefs never, ever order at brunch.
Sometimes, the dishes we taste on are stone-cold because of a swap-out
So we may be saying, “Mmm,” but really it tastes awful. We just smile and stomach it. This is why chefs never use the microwave “defrost” button.
We don’t account for prep time so when you make the same recipe, it’s going to take twice as long
Everything is prepped and ready to go on set. Meaning, vegetables are washed, dried and chopped. Salads are washed and spun. Meats are trimmed and ready to wear. Things are already measured out and ready to use. Often times there’s the token carrot that is chopped in front of the camera, but it’s rare things are being measured out as they go. Those easy “ten minutes” recipes are rarely even close to ten minutes when you take time to prep into consideration.
Sure, we burn things
When that happens, we just make sure to pick it up with the charred side away from the camera, and we never flip it over. Here’s how to fix your most common cooking disasters (including burnt food).
Sorry, but we are not going to tell you how bad a recipe is for you
While more chefs are acknowledging that we have a responsibility to people’s health, you’re never going to see calorie counts when we’re making chocolate cake.
Here’s how to enhance just about any dish: Add some acidity
Whether from fresh citrus juice or vinegar, acidity wakes up the palate and makes food jump and pop. These are the cooking tricks that are only taught in culinary schools.
Before I host a cooking segment, I go through every step of the recipe with the art director, prop stylist, and food stylist
They ensure I have every tool I need, they mise en place—or prepare and measure out every ingredient—and they make the finished dish look gorgeous. So keep in mind that it will take you a lot longer to follow this recipe at home and it probably won’t look quite as perfect.
Please don’t follow my recipes to the letter
A recipe should be a loose map to guide you, but since no two ingredients are exactly the same, you should be constantly tasting the dish and adapting as you go along. Avoid making these 50 common kitchen mistakes the next time you cook.
When I say something should be brown, I mean brown—not tan
Whether searing a piece of fish or baking bread, home cooks generally under-bake food. Really yummy, magical things happen when food turns brown.
A garnish can make anything look better
Go ahead and throw some chopped fresh greens or herbs on top. They smell nice, create a beautiful contrast in color, and give the whole plate a little zing.
In the restaurant, I cook in a very methodical way; I use something, and then I clean it right away
But in competitions like Hell’s Kitchen or Master Chef, the kitchens get destroyed. Afterward, there are dozens and dozens of dishes, anchovies on the floor, mayo is splattered all over the wall, and you can still hear the stove clicking because someone left the gas on. You might think that saving time is always a good thing, but here are some cooking shortcuts that you just can’t get away with.
We make mistakes, lots of them
Towels catch on fire. Food gets dropped on the floor. We get cut and burned. One chef actually had the words “All Clad” branded onto her wrist for weeks after touching a pan that was coming out of the oven. But unless you’re watching a reality competition, you won’t see any of that on the air.
The truth is, I have no clue what brand of ketchup or baking powder I’m using
That’s because we have a graphic artist whose whole job is to “Greek” brand name products by creating fake names and new labels. It’s to avoid giving companies free exposure.
Yes, the cooking and food we make on TV is real
Enough said. Make sure you give these 25 brilliant kitchen short cuts a try.
Want to know the hardest thing to do? Go on a morning show.
Once on the TODAY Show, it was Halloween. I was trying to talk to Matt Lauer, and he’s dressed as Luke Skywalker. I’m in costume, too, so I have these big rubber gloves on, and I’m trying to ice a cake. Then there were Ewoks messing with everything. At the same time, I’m supposed to be answering questions and promoting the new season of my show. You have no idea how impossible that is. Plus, it’s live, and you have only two minutes.
This job is harder than it looks
Besides just cooking, you have to describe your method step-by-step, talk about different ingredients, and make eye contact with the camera. And then there may be someone in your ear telling you you need to get to the next step or to move the pepper mill because it’s blocking the shot.
What kind of spoon did I use? The one they handed to me.
Only people like Rachael Ray who have their own line get to use specific products and tools. These cooking mistakes will ruin your food.
We’re cooking all this amazing food on TV, caviars and truffles and such…
…But when we take a break for the most part what we’re eating—unfortunately—is very standard catered food like baked chicken breast or unremarkable mac-n-cheese.
No, that’s not my real house or kitchen
In most cases, I’m cooking on a set in New York City or Los Angeles that gets packed up when we’re done filming the season. If you stare at the cars in the background long enough, you’ll realize it’s just a video loop.
If a TV chef is going to do a recipe that calls for a pound of asparagus, we’ll have four pounds on the set, just in case of retakes or swap outs
If there are four recipes per show, and you tape four shows a day, you wind up with a tremendous amount of food. Most of the extra gets distributed to food pantries. But sometimes the crew gets a treat. Try out these brilliant kitchen gadgets you’ll wish you had years ago.
Most chefs, especially big names, are not involved at all in deciding what they’re cooking if they’re invited to do a short on a morning show
They often don’t even know what they’re making until they get there.
I once had a chocolate malt shake shoot out of the blender and all over me
The crew thought it was the funniest thing in the world. Because of continuity, my wardrobe had to stay the same, so I had to run off set, take off the outfit, soak it in seltzer and blow dry it out. Plus, my hair and makeup had to get fixed. Meanwhile, the food was getting cold. Viewers saw none of that.
Even though my show is on every week, the whole season was probably shot in just a few days or weeks many months earlier
So we’re always looking for pumpkins in February and doing Christmas cooking in June.
The first thing I ever cooked on camera was a minestrone soup
I made the whole soup and didn’t realize until the end that I forgot to add one of the vegetables and the beans. That meant I added only three of the five veggies that were supposed to go into the soup. But I stood there smiling proudly as if I had made the whole thing right. To make your cooking better, try adding these secret pantry ingredients to take them from good to great.