Bucket lists-we all have them, but how many of us actually brave accomplishing them? Chef Bradley Martin, Executive Chef and Assistant General Manager for the Riverside Convention Center, recently got the opportunity to cross “be on a televised culinary competition” off his bucket list by way of his participation on Season 2 of ABC’s The Taste.
Cast for a show, win over the judges and viewers with your skill and charm, smile into the camera and go home, right? Wrong. To viewers, it can all seems so glamorous-the bright lights, the charismatic judges and the possibility of a prize and fame provide the perfect facade for the hectic reality of the entertainment industry. In the case of The Taste, over 15 thousand individuals auditioned for the show, from which 35 were chosen to impress the judges with one bite. Over the course of two days, a final group of 16 hopefuls were chosen to take part in season 2. The lucky winner (yet to be announced) will drive away in a Ford C-Max with The Taste trophy and $100,000 in hand.
With the exception that they use knives, fire and sheer gusto to make their livings, who would have thought chefs needed to be sequestered? “Every two hours we had to check in by face, even on days off. Someone even followed us to the bathroom. We had microphones on the entire time, couldn’t use our cell phones and every night at midnight we had to turn in our room key,” says Martin when asked about the rigors of being on the production set. Regardless, Martin undoubtedly enjoyed being on The Taste and would partake in a similar experience if given the opportunity. “I love the educational aspects of the industry. I would love to have my own cooking show.”
The Taste filming ran over the course of a month and Martin and the other contestants were required to be on set by 5:30 am for anywhere from 10-14 hour work days. A husband and father of two, Martin was shielded from his family for the vast majority of shooting but was able to share the exhilaration of being officially accepted on The Taste with them. “My family was backstage when I found out I made it. They had no clue what was happening until I walked into the room they were in. I was crying like a baby and my children were wondering what was wrong with their dad,” recalls Martin lightheartedly.
While he has experienced positive attention from being on The Taste, the seasoned chef has had to maneuver through choice critiques made by fans. “This industry is pressure,” says Martin. “You have to look inside yourself and understand your balance. You have lived the life but you don’t know how the show will be edited. People have asked me why I haven’t been highlighted as much as other people and claiming that it’s because I’m the silent assassin.'” Because contestants are bound by confidentiality agreements, we’ll have to wait and see if Martin does in fact turn out to be the silent assassin.
Local OC chefs such as Joe Youkhan, Catherine McKnight, Jason Quinn and Chris Tzorin have also braved the culinary competition frontier. The most recent amongst the group to pave his way to foodie fame is Chef Joe Youkhan of Rancho Santa Margarita’s The Tasting Spoon. Winner of Chopped season 18, episode 5, Joe wowed the judges with his deconstructed apple strudel, taking home the title of Chopped champion and $10,000 with which he selflessly plans on taking a family trip to Italy. Talk about a fairytale-Joe has been watching food t.v. since childhood. Joe remarks that the toughest part of the experience was waiting long periods of time in between filming but says “once you are focused on the cooking, you get into the zone.”
“I came with lots of energy, class and a little edge,” says Savannah Chop House Executive Chef Chris Tzorin of his participation on both season 1 of Guy’s Grocery Games and season 2 of Cutthroat Kitchen. His high energy must have come in handy when shooting as Guy’s Grocery Games was shot in one intense day from 7:00am to 9:00 pm. Keeping quiet about the outcome of the shows was like “an itch I couldn’t scratch,” says Chris. Chris has experienced an exclusively positive reception from being on the shows. “I’ve gained a lot of respect from people that appreciate the chef scene. I wanted to entertain all the foodies and give something back to them, not just with my food, but by providing entertainment from their local chef. As for other up and coming chefs, I believe I gave them hope, desire and drive to live their culinary dream.”
Admit it; we all love a little competition. On season 16 of Chopped, two notable OC chefs duked it out on the episode titled “Mochi Obliged,” in which they had to utilize the likes of cilantro chutney, ivy gourd, and mochi. Chef Catherine McKnight, former Exec. Chef and owner of What A Dish catering said of her competitor Jason Quinn, “He was a fierce competitor but a gentleman. I think we were both excited about representing Orange County.” If not for the initiative of her children, Catherine may not have participated on the show. “My kids filled out the application without telling me,” says the chef. Nerve racking is an understatement when describing her t.v. experience. “It is so hot on the set, especially with all of the cameras in your face and in your prep station. Also, my cooking station was right in the path of the pantry so having the other chefs run in front of my stove was distracting and dangerous. Once I almost stabbed Chef Jason with my knife!” Since competing on Chopped, Catherine has begun working on both show and restaurant concepts.
Chef Jason Quinn of the Santa Ana restaurant The Playground, wins the crown for the longest time spent on set, raking in a gargantuan fifty days straight of filming. Although he found the down time tiring, his skills paid off in a major way. Chef Quinn and his team won season 2 of The Great Food Truck Race, raking in $100,000. Surprisingly, Jason did not avidly seek participating in the competition. In fact, “They contacted me. I would never apply,” says the chef who has both Chopped and The Great Food Truck Race under his belt.
When it comes to televised cooking competitions, all that glitters is surely not gold but these chefs prove that if you go for your dream and face challenges head on, you may get the chance to prove your skills to the world.