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On Becoming A Rat (Or Not?)

I’m always looking for the odd chance to appear on a national cooking show. I really want my own show but, that’s another story. I appeared on Food Network’s Cooks vs Cons a few years ago. It was fun but it didn’t go anywhere (at least for me and the show has since been canceled so there you go). I continue to get emails and other notices about shows looking for chefs and I continue to apply. About a year and a half ago, there was a notice about a new cooking competition show so, of course, I sent them an email and told them how I would be perfect for the new show. When you send those emails, you never know what’s going to happen. They do not let you know if they received it and if you never hear anything, that means you were not what they were looking for. No, they do not kindly tell you that you’re not in. You are simply ignored. I am mostly ignored and to be fair, most people are, too.

She’s Got The Look I think I am ignored because of a few reasons: I am older than a millennial so that’s a reason to cut, I do not have a James Beard Award but I do not aspire to that, and I am in the middle of the country, and I do not have a restaurant.

But every once in a while, I tick all (or most) of their boxes. Such was the case with Rat In The Kitchen, a brand new cooking competition show produced by ITV America and TBS Network. After my initial email to Chef Casting at the end of February 2021, I received an email from an ITV casting producer on the next business day…that’s when you know you’ve got your foot in the door. AN almost “immediate” response. Seeing that reply email in your inbox is exciting but also scary. It’s “OMG. I’ve got to do this.” My anxiety increases because I know it is now all on me to show them what I know I can do. Can I do it well enough for them to want to include me in the project? Am I what they are looking for? That is always the ultimate question. A casting producer’s job is to identify potential candidates for an upcoming show. The process usually goes like this: an initial exploratory phone call, if that goes well, you have a Skype interview, if that goes well, then you start sending food pics, videos, and whatever they want and you can think of to demonstrate how great you are and are exactly what they want. This takes a few weeks. After that, they either give you a thumbs up or you never hear from them again.

I heard from them. Over and over again. It was fun and every.single.person was so great! You end up emailing/talking with other casting people, attorneys, and producers. You have to sign a lot of Non-Disclosure Agreements and non-competes and It’s a whirlwind. You don’t know until the last minute when or if they will finally want you to come to the shooting location. In this instance, it was Atlanta.

It was June 2021, and we were still dealing with COVID so I had to quarantine for 10 days when I arrived. I then was chosen to be on “stand-by” in case another chef/cast member was (for whatever reason) not able to compete so I was in my hotel room for a month, a month of quarantine by the way. This was never a problem for me because I also happen to be something of a recluse so being by myself for a month was like a vacation. Any time we left the room, we needed a production crew escort. We were tested for COVID every other day. We were allowed two hours out of the room per day. Typically, I only took one to go workout in the fitness center. They asked if I wanted to go outside at all. Sweltering heat in Atlanta in June…ummm, no thanks. I’ll stay in the AC and do my crosswords. Although towards the end when there were more chefs and I couldn’t get into the fitness center, I did take walks in the adjacent neighborhood. Some beautiful homes to see. We also were not supposed to talk to any of the other chefs so no socializing. Okay by me! The producers would also come by to do wardrobe and makeup checks as we got closer to our shoot date.

What else did I do? I spent a lot of time researching recipes that I didn’t know how to make or hadn’t made in years. Baking, in particular, because you know I don’t bake. I cooked a lot. I read a lot. I watched movies. I revived my love of word puzzles. Talked on the phone. Practiced Italian. Watched webinars. Posted on social. And came up with ways to sabotage people’s food without getting caught. Lights, Camera, Action…Sorta of Then the day came! The night before they call and let you know your call time. 8:00 am. Not bad. Food Network was 7:30 (and we were there until after midnight in a cold warehouse). The day of shooting: They loaded us into 2 buses, all six of us. We were not allowed to talk to each other at any point during the day. They drove us to TBS studios and took us to the Green Room. The Green Room is where you wait until you go to the set. They kept us in separate open booths. Production crew was everywhere. So no talking to each other, no making friends, no strategizing.

During this time, we are taken one at a time to the interview room where the producer asks us questions about our experience during the show. We do this several times during the process so we can talk about each segment of the shoot. The producer is friendly and deliberately asks us leading questions to get the best possible responses. No, I don’t remember saying I wanted to punch that woman. But it was funny. Glad they kept that in the show. I was thinking all the time. Do I get to be the Rat? I know they wait until the last minute, so they control all the information flow. I really WANT to be the Rat. No one comes to tell me anything and then they take us to the set. I guess I’m not the Rat, Dammit! I really wanted to be the RAT!!!

My mission becomes: OK. I’m finding this fucking Rat so we can win. In the world of TV (and movies), there is a lot of waiting around. The production crew must set the lights, audio, talent, and everything, and it takes time. We are taken to the set and moved from one location to the next as they check and then tape this and that. The hosts, Chef Ludo and Natasha appear. We know things will get started soon. We move to another portion of the studio set and stand in front of them in a line. They tell us about the cooking challenge. Time passes as the production crew works and re-sets. Then we are directed to run off the set into the kitchen set and start the challenge. It is chaotic. No one knows anyone or how they work if they can cook, or importantly, are they trying to sabotage the food. We finish the cooking chaos and are sent from the kitchen set to our dressing rooms. Yes! Individual dressing rooms. It was so nice. Hair and makeup people came to fix us up. They brought us bottles of water. The crew made sure everyone was okay. Then they took us back to the set to be judged. We stood in a line again. This time for an hour while Chef Ludo judged the dishes. It takes a long time to get the amount of footage they need to make a show last an hour. At first, the judging is a little scary but as you stand there and stand there, you become accustomed to the whole process and you’re ready to move on. The judging ends and they send us back to the dressing rooms while the set is changed.

Then, we’re back and yes, in a line to find out about the next challenge. This was when they revealed we would be making waffles. I panicked. The one thing I didn’t review. Waffles, waffles, waffles, my head was spinning as I combed the recesses of my brain for waffle making. Then, I heard our group would be making savory waffles (the other group had the sweet waffle assignment), and then I had it! Cornbread. I know it like the back of my hand and making cornbread follows a path similar to waffles. OK! I can do this. Jalapeño cheddar cornbread waffles. They send us back to the kitchen and we start cooking. At this point, I was pretty sure I knew who the Rat was so I focused on our savory waffles. Then here comes the next wrinkle. Switch sides. What? Are you kidding me? I hate that. I hate to watch it and I really hate to be in the middle of it. I’m a planner and this screws up my plans. But we have to go to the other side of the kitchen to make the sweet waffles. More chaos. We discover waffle batter that is already made. Great, let’s use that. Oh, not so great, the batter tastes like shit. We have to start over, so I do my best to start a new batter. Believe it or not, it turns out okay. The only problem? The Rat unplugged the waffle iron, so it wasn’t hot. Iron is now plugged in, and waffles are baking. The rest of the chefs are working on toppings. The waffles are sort of cooked. The chefs pile on the toppings without really thinking about it in the heat of the moment. And then, it’s over. More judging. Standing in front of Chef Ludo and Natasha for an hour and a half this time. Lost some more cash to the Rat’s bank.

I Smell A Rat

Now it’s our turn to tell the world who we think the Rat is. We go back to our dressing rooms and they give us cleavers to write the Rat’s name on. We also have clever “holsters” to wear that look like medieval belts. We return to the set for the announcement. One at a time, we each “pound” our cleaver into what looks like a chopping block and tell why we think the person is the Rat. It’s a split decision and the Rat gets away with the cheese. Was I right? Yes. I knew who it was, and I wanted to punch her from the outset. Since they didn’t allow us to talk with one another, there was no way to plan a strategy for taking out the Rat. Disappointing but made sense. It was a long, 12-hour day but it was fun, the production crew was great and took care of us from start to finish. I really couldn’t have asked for a better experience, and I had an experience to compare to it. I get to come home just in time for the 4th of July. And, then it’s over. At least for a while. Television production takes time. So almost one year from the time I was contacted, on March 31st, the first episode of Rat In The Kitchen aired on TBS. You never know what a show is going to look like even though the producers I stayed in touch with were telling me that it all looked great. But you know what? They were right. Ready For My Close Up…Again The show is fun and most importantly, different from all the other cooking competition shows out there. I was happy with my episode (again you don’t know what they’ve done to you in the editing process until it’s there in front of everyone). I was excited but also anxious about how it was going to play out. You just never know. This project has now been put to bed. The last episode is a coming together of 6 of the Rats. Let them fight it out. As for me, I continue to look for more television opportunities while my team and I build what we hope will be a cooking show pilot to sell to a production company. Stay tuned for our next great fun adventure! Oh and here is the recipe for my DELICIOUS Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread Waffles!!


Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread Waffles Makes about 8 – 10

  • 1½ cup AP flour

  • 1 cup white cornmeal

  • 2 tsp baking powder

  • 1 tsp baking soda

  • 1 tbsp sugar

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 2 large eggs, beaten

  • 2 cups buttermilk

  • ¾ cup grated cheddar cheese

  • ½ chopped jalapeño chile, seeded and deveined

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

In a medium bowl, combine all dry ingredients and mix well. In a separate bowl, combine eggs with buttermilk. Pour wet ingredients over dry and stir gently to combine. Add melted butter, cheese and chopped jalapeños to the batter and stir. Don’t overmix. Heat waffle iron. Grease the waffle iron unless it is non-stick. Spoon batter into the center of the iron until the bottom is almost covered. Close the iron and cook until browned


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