That half-hour to one-hour episode of your favorite cooking show is the product of hours and days of work by people you’ll probably never see onscreen. We spoke to Jason Black (not his real name) who recently worked on the crew of a national TV show where cooks compete to have their recipes adopted and marketed by a supermarket chain.
Only one day was set aside for local auditions in Jason’s area, but what a day it was! Crew members began setting up at 7:00 am in a supermarket parking lot, where tents housed a kitchen, judging area, and more. At 8:30, contestants who had pre-registered were allowed in and began the first of several long waits. You need to pass through several levels of the org chart before you’re let into the presence of a judge.
First, production assistants gave each contestant a number, got a brief description of each dish, which was put in writing to go with it, and photographed all the food. All had to be ready to eat; the kitchen was there only for keeping dishes hot or cold, or for quick reheating. The contestants then went to a waiting area.
Walk-in contestants were allowed in at 9:30 and kept coming all day, eventually forming a line that reached out of the parking lot.
When a contestant’s number was finally called, it meant — more waiting. They were allowed to put any finishing touches on their creations, and at last came face to face with a judge (not a panel, like in later rounds) who spent five to 10 minutes tasting and deciding. The judges were friendly, but honest about their opinions. Quite a few contestants made the cut — this time.
Judging went on till 9:00 pm, making for a long day.
If this sounds like something you’d gladly put up with for a shot at cooking on TV, Jason has a few tips for you:
- Pre-register to be among the first contestants of the day. It means an early morning, probably on a weekend, but you’ll be in and out faster.
- Know the rules. If you’re supposed to show up with a ready-made dish, they’re not going to let you do any cooking in their kitchen.
- A dessert is often your best bet for getting to the next round.
- Keep in mind what the show is looking for — in this case, something to sell in supermarkets.
- Don’t argue with the crew and don’t bend the truth. Contestants like this tend to get eliminated. Save the larger-than-life part of your personality till after you pass the auditions.