Darlings! Well, THAT was interesting, wasn’t it? Of course I mean my TV debut on ABC’s The Taste on January 22, 2013!
There were a few snippets of me at the beginning but near the end of the first episode, they finally showed La Diva in front of the judges. Or not...I was barely on 10 seconds and was disappointed that the producers chose not to show my dish or play the interaction between myself and the judges. So, La Diva's here to GIVE YOU THE REAL SCOOP!
I WAS ROBBED, I TELL YA!
So, what happened, Deeves?
Well, let's start with my dish. The contestants were only given ONE bite to impress the judges. I cook such a wide variety of food and food styles, that it was very hard for me to narrow it down. I thought about my Asian orange blossom honey shrimp, always a hit with my cooking class students, but after hearing that a number of contestants were doing "Asian" or "Cal-Asian" or "Vietnamese-Street-Food," I thought I'd give "Asian" a miss.
I also knew that everyone and their brother would be making scallops. WHAT would people NOT be cooking that would be a perfect bite? OYSTERS. I decided that I'd serve up a dish that is already a delicious one bite that I'd made many times before: Oysters a la Carl.
This is a dish that me and my dear old boss, mentor and restauranteur, Carl Blance, would make for dinner parties when I lived in Sydney, Australia. The dish is succulent and rich and was always met with delight from guests and we received many compliments.
When The Taste producers asked me which team I'd like to be on, I didn't hesitate: Nigella's. I've been watching this sexy, sultry self-made culinary expert since I'd lived in Australia and she was a gal I could really identify with. If Nigella can "make it" in the food world being self-taught, why can't La Diva? She'd LOVE my savory oyster bite and the whole La Diva brand. I was ready to compete.
Truth be told, I really prefer my oysters in their pure, unadulterated state, RAW. But I do love this recipe for special occasions and also as a “bridge dish” to those that don’t like raw oysters. Even non-oyster lovers love this dish and are game to try it.
Oysters a La Carl is comprised of freshly shucked oysters placed on a baking tray and then topped with an egg custard, dash of extra virgin olive oil and a smidgen of minced garlic, chopped prosciutto, chiffonade of arugula and a sprinkle of parmigiano cheese. Grill lightly until bubbly and brown and then serve immediately. That's it. And then wait for the compliments to roll in!
It sounds perfect, right? Who could resist such a tempting bite?
I was ready. I cooked my food calmly and plated it beautifully, even with the cameras in my face and the time constraints. I was confident and ready. The producers led me to another room, where I waited for my turn in front of the judges. Suddenly, the cubicle door opens up from the platform stage and another contestant walks down. I eagerly question: "Did you make it? Did you get on?" Barely acknowledging me, the professional chef shakes his head dejectedly and then is lead through the double doors by another producer. He looked like someone just shot his dog. It was my turn now. I carefully walked up the stairs in my Diva heels, stepped on the markers and waited in the cubicle for the judges to be served my dish. (The following is paraphrased, by the way, this took place almost five months ago!)
As I was in the cubicle, I could not see the judges, but I could certainly hear them. There was Nigella smacking away...chomp, chomp, chomp...."The sea, I can taste the sea....."
And then Anthony: "Whaddya thinking, New Orleans? (Meaning, am I from New Orleans?) Is that bacon on there? Is this a take on Oysters Rockefeller?"
I don't hear Ludo or Malarkey and I'm thinking my chances are pretty darn good! I'm smiling!
Abruptly, the door opens and suddenly, there I am, facing the judges. Except, they are so dang far away and I can barely see them. Had I known, I'd have brought my newly purchased glasses! And then, out of nowhere, I get a slight twitch on the right side of my face....twitch. Twitch. Twitch. Please, tv cameras, please don't notice how nervous I am!
Anthony asks me my name and I tell them as well as my company name and what I do. Right away, Malarkey says "Did you bake these in the shell and then transfer the cooked oyster to the spoon?"
I said, I did. There was a dilemma as to what would work best: to cook the oyster right in the spoon or in the half shell? I had been afraid the spoon would get too hot under the broiler and I didn't want to burn the chef's mouths. It seemed logical to me to cook the oyster on the half shell and then carefully remove it and then transfer the bite onto the spoon.
Malarkey stammers: "Ma-ma-my mouth is destroyed with a big chunk of oyster shell." Immediately the dismay shows on my face as he slams his delicate little Ken doll hand on the red buzzer indicating that NO, I ain't gonna be on HIS team. Oddly enough, I never heard him crunch on anything with the sensitive microphone...the shell couldn't have been THAT big! Wow. Okay. A bit of oyster shell aside, Malarkey, I ask you, how does it TASTE?!
And now it's Nigella's turn! And I'm smiling. I'm rooting for myself, thinking, 'I've got this, she loved it, Nigella loves the home cook! She said she could taste 'the sea!'" But that was not the case....Nigella begins to purr, "While I lurve the whole idea of The Diva in the kitchen, I just CAHN'T, seafood and cheese, I CAHN'T, I JUST CAHN'T."
Nigella SLAMS the red button down. Again, HOW DOES IT TASTE THOUGH?
Wha? Are you freakin' kidding me? My girl Nigella is NOT down with my fabu oysters? Because of some imagined "rule" of not pairing cheese with seafood? What happened to pushing our boundaries? Since when are these judges, who'd I'd seen on Top Chef before, all of a sudden SO conventional? Wasn't this supposed to be about THE TASTE of the bite, not some old fashioned pairing "rule?"
Then it's Ludo's turn and all I hear is, "mumble mumble, blah blah oui oui no no...."
Ludo SLAMS the red button down.
O. M. GEE. It's up to Anthony Bourdain to pick little ol' La Diva? Geez Louise, let there be an angel of mercy and let me get a break. But knowing well Bourdain's notoriously tough stance, I was losing hope fast.
Anthony: "What is the meat on there, is that bacon?"
La Diva: "No, Anthony, that's prosciutto!" I say with a huge grin.
Anthony: "Ahhh....are you a professional chef?"
La Diva, beaming: "No...." (thinking to myself, RIGHT ON, he thinks I'm a professional chef!")
Anthony: "Well, you made the mistake many professional chefs make. You overcomplicated the dish. You see, an oyster is a perfect thing on it's own. What else did you put with the oyster?"
I tell him about the garlic, cheese, custard, etc.
Anthony: "It's too much. You were ALMOST THERE, you were so close. If only you went without the garlic and the cheese....."
SLAM goes Anthony's hand down on the red button.
Executive Chef Todd Erickson of Haven, Miami Beach and La Diva watch “The Taste” and commiserate!
And next thing you know, it was over and the doors were closing on my face. What the hell just happened?
A very stunned Diva walked down the stairs and looked at the eager, confident faces of the next contestants. They know by my face, I didn't make it and all gave me nods of sympathy, but at the same time, I realize they are happy to have one less person to compete against. Bourdain's comments to me were ironic, considering I'd given the same advice to several other professional chefs that were going to be making bites with layers of ingredients, foam and what not, just the day before as we all discussed our dishes.
I was whisked into another room and given an exit interview on camera. "What's your next move? Are you depressed? What are you going home to after this?" the producers asked. "No, not at all, I've got loads of proposals to write and a thriving business to get back to." (and perhaps THAT'S why I didn't get more air time, I wasn't desperate enough?) Another contestant and I are instructed to sit in a golf cart, waiting to be taken back to the bus to the hotel and I AM OVER IT. I WANNA GET THE HELL HOME. Tired of this game of "hurry up and wait," tired of being with large groups of strangers, tired of my shattered nerves, lack of sleep and too much criticism and most of all, tired of doubting myself when I KNOW what I'm capable of. When I got back to the hotel, a mostly depressed crowd sat at the hotel bar, with faces full of regret and wondering what they could have done to change their outcome, while one girl, who'd made it on the show, celebrated with her family. I didn't want to be a part of that pity fest so went up to my room and opened a bottle of wine I'd bought several days before. It was 11 a.m.
That night, I rented a car and went to a friend's house and avoided the rest of the contestants to lick my own wounds. The next day, as I sat on the plane with my new chef friend, both exhausted and drained, I dreamed of my husband's comforting arms and sleeping in my own bed, wondering if this "opportunity" was a mistake and would it make or break me? Time would tell and January was a long way off.
SO WHAT DO YOU THINK, DARLING?
Was the show really about the taste of just one bite? Were the chefs expecting too much? Do you think La Diva got robbed? Were the judges unfair? What do YOU think of the seafood and cheese debate? You can read my thoughts and some very heated comments about that very subject by clicking HERE.
Ciao for now, darling! (and don’t worry to much about La Diva……life goes on….and it ain’t too shabby!) xo
Originally posted 2013-01-24 23:27:00.