Donna and family were already in Washington and NY for a week-long Spring break vacation by the time I flew out on the redeye to shoot the bio the first day, followed by the show the next day. I had chatted with my bio producer previously who wanted to present me from a unique angle. She seemed very interested in my homemade PC grill and asked me to bring it to NY.
The Chopped Grill Masters Journey, Part VI
By Donna Fong
We filmed our biographies on the first day and the show would be on the following day. The Chopped set was on one side of the park and the biography sets were on the other side. Since Harry and I were the first to be filmed, much was being figured out as we went. Our driver picked us up in the morning and drove us to the farm. Harry was pumped up. I had never seen him in this new super competitive mode. He questioned the driver about the set before we ever got there. I figured out later that our driver was a better expert on the NBA rather than on how the set would be laid out. I liked it better that way.
When we got to the farm, we parked in a dirt lot covered in yellow hay. About five rows of barren grape vines lined one area with an odd-looking scarecrow standing in the middle of the field. Then there were a few stacks of hay in another area. A broken-down wooden foot bridge could be seen in another area besides a couple of old working farm trucks. We knew that off in the distance was the hidden set which the crew had been building for a few hard weeks.
We arrived just as Tom Spaulding of Live Fire Cooking from Austin, Texas was leaving. Tom is 6”4’ tall and when you factor in his cowboy hat, he looks ginormous. Our cameraman and our production manager were present to shoot our biographies. The production manager was as easy to work with and as sweet as anyone could be. She’s a little on the thin side so when we asked if she was a vegetarian, she said, “Why does everyone keep asking me that? Do I look pale?” We all laughed and gave her a few slices of Harry’s tri-tip. The cameraman moved his heavy camera with ease. He had to occasionally hold it in awkward positions, asking assistants to reflect light at varying angles for the perfect shot.
There was a person in charge of sound and five other assistants who carried things around, drove the golf cart, started the fire or deflected the sunlight when needed. The culinary person in charge of creating the “money-shot” was about 5 feet tall, serious and talented. She had to work fluidly and meet quick deadlines. Yet she made the food for our bios look fantastic. She had worked 10 years in the kitchen and I was fairly certain she could cook the pants off of me. Everyone was much younger than either of us. Harry said they had to be young because an old person would wither doing this kind of job. I nodded my head silently in agreement.
I mailed a few of my favorite trophies to my cousin who lives in the financial district of NYC and carried them to the set that morning. We were asked to recite catchy phrases, which summed up our BBQ personalities as a camera uncomfortably zoomed toward our faces. My honesty made me a poor subject, as I couldn’t think of reasons why I was so great. The poor staff had to come up with lines for me to say. I cringed inside when I said, “I’m going to SMOKE the competition!” Harry was comfortable in front of the camera, never running out of great things to say.
So I sat on haystacks, grilled a rack of baby back ribs coated in oil, sugar and some red chili powder. I watched the pyrotechnics person pour canola oil into the Weber grill to produce the flames that Jonathan wanted for visual effect. After all, this was a grilling show. Being a BBQ instructor, I tried to explain where on the pig the baby back ribs rested and why black smoke should not be oozing out of a pit, but I think it fell on deaf ears. The only person really interested in BBQ was the fire marshal from the fire department who had seen Harry on TV. We talked about BBQ and his proclivity for buying stuff (like a smoker) on late night television.
After a lot of talking, waiting, walking and smiling, we were finally done with the biographies. It took six hours to film our two separate bios and by the time we got home, I passed out for two hours. When I woke up, I found Harry watching yet another YouTube video; this time it was about the three different types of plantains one can cook. I had under-estimated his competitive drive, rolled my eyes and plopped my head back into my pillow.
We ate dinner that night at a Korean BBQ restaurant down the street. At the hotel, he drilled down his list of potential meats we might cook and asked me to describe how I would cook them as an appetizer or as an entrée. I did so until I was so tired that I begged to stop. It was well past midnight before my head hit the pillow for a long nervous night of no sleep. At the very least, my eyes were closed for a few hours before our 5am departure time in the lobby the next morning.