The green room was filled with male models who do construction, the actor Alden Ehrenreich (star of “Beautiful Creatures”), a mob of make-up people, hair people, managers and agents all hovering around a plate of half-doughnuts, half-bagels and half-muffins. I hovered on the sidelines with my book publicist, Molly, and didn’t allow myself to feel nervous. That, I knew, was the trick.
Cooking on T.V. is about two things: confidence and joie-de-vivre. The food almost doesn’t matter.
I learned this watching Mark Bittman on The Today Show. Any time Bittman makes an appearance, he offers up a master class in how it’s done. For starters, he seems utterly relaxed. It’s like he just stumbled into the studio after eating a sandwich at the deli next door and the fact barely seems to occur to him that millions of people are watching him at this very moment. He may as well be in a friend’s living room on a Sunday afternoon, shooting the breeze while basting a turkey. That’s just the effect he’s going for.
He’s also not consumed with the dish that he’s making. Too many chefs go on T.V. and you can tell how seriously they take the food they’re cooking. That’s what makes them great chefs, but not necessarily great T.V. chefs. That’s why comedians like David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno have so much fun throwing them off their game: they like to watch the chefs sweat. Bittman doesn’t sweat it. The food will be fine, it doesn’t have to be perfect. What matters more is that it looks like he’s having a good time making it.
Which is exactly the mindset I was going for when I appeared on “The Better Show” last week. It was my first time cooking on T.V., though back in my Food Network days I did once grill a swordfish for Michael Symon in front of an entire crew of cameramen and T.V. executives. This was when they thought “The F.N. Dish” (the show I was hosting) would be done in a studio like “Talk Soup”; the segment was only for an in-house pilot. It was one of the more terrifying moments of my professional life and, thankfully, the show shifted to a more man-on-the-street format.
Part of my fear, at that time, was that I wasn’t a good enough cook to cook on T.V. I didn’t know enough to be telling people, “Do this, not that.” I suppose that’s what’s changed the most for me over the nine years I’ve been doing my blog: now I feel like I have a leg to stand on. Especially after writing this book, which empowered me, more than ever, to feel confident in the kitchen.
As for my cooking segment (watch me give tips here, and make soup here), it all happened in a blur. There was a food stylist who set everything up for me. All I had to do was make soup and that’s basically what I did. I’ll let you be the judge of how I did (though I already know, for next time, I want to slow down and speak clearer). I feel confident, though, that by focusing on being relaxed and having fun, the segment went better than if I’d obsessed over sharing every minute detail of the recipe. I didn’t out-Bittman Bittman, but I learned well from the master.