29 Things TV Chefs Won’t Tell You
Get the inside scoop on your favorite cooking shows.
The world of cooking on TV
What you see isn’t always what you’re going to get. A lot of what you see on your television screen is thoroughly planned out and when you try to replicate it yourself, it won’t be the same. Our sister publication, Reader’s Digest, went behind the scenes to hear from your favorite chefs on TV to learn their dirtiest kitchen secrets. Want to know even more secrets about professional chefs? Here are some cooking tips that are only taught in culinary school.
Many TV chefs don’t write or develop their own recipes
Some don’t have time. Others are more focused on being on TV than on cooking, so they would rather pay someone else. Here’s why chefs never order these items at restaurants.
The grill marks on meat don’t just appear magically
Wonder how there are perfect grill marks on steaks and hotdogs so quickly on TV? The fire grills are pre-heated on high before so that when you put the steak on the grill the marks appear in seconds.
If you want the food you make to look as pretty as mine, don’t fill the plate
Putting something small on a bigger plate always looks better, especially if you stack the foods or lay them against each other. These restaurant workers reveal their favorite cooking tips and tricks.
When a chef forgets to say something important, we have to do what’s called a voice-over
That’s when you’re watching and all of a sudden, you don’t see the chef’s face. Instead, you see a close-up of the bowl or their hands and you hear them saying, “Now add a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon.” With the best talent, you’ll almost never hear a voice-over. When you attempt to make the recipes you see on television, make sure you aren’t making these common baking mistakes.
Some close up shots might not be the celebrity chef
Many of the close-up shots of mixing, serving and presenting are done after the main talent is out of the studio and the hands you see are another producer or actor. They try to limit nail colors and jewelry so those shots aren’t too noticeably different. Sometimes the close-up shots aren’t even filmed in the same studio. One of the assistants stands by taking notes on everything from the angles, bowls used, and hand used to stir, pour, and gesture to make it seamless in post-production.
Obviously, we’re not all going to wait for a roast to cook
So there are people in a second kitchen behind the scenes cooking a bunch of versions of the same recipe so it will be ready to go at different stages. That’s called a swap-out. Here are some pro chefs’ least favorite foods.
Sometimes, the dishes we taste on are stone-cold because of a swap-out
So we may be saying, “Mmm,” but really it tastes bone-cold. We just smile and stomach it. This is why chefs never use the microwave “defrost” button.
We don’t account for prep time so when you make the same recipe
Everything is prepped and ready to go on set. Meaning, vegetables are washed, dried and chopped. Salads are washed and spun. Meats are trimmed and ready to wear. Things are already measured out and ready to use. Often times there’s a carrot that is chopped in front of the camera, but it’s rare things are being measured out as they go.
Sure, we burn things
When that happens, we just make sure to pick it up with the charred side away from the camera, and we never flip it over. Here’s how to fix your most common cooking disasters (including burnt food).
We are not going to tell you how bad a recipe is for you
While more chefs are acknowledging that we have a responsibility to people’s health, you’re never going to see calorie counts when we’re making chocolate cake. By the way, here are some shamelessly indulgent carb-heavy recipes.
Here’s how to enhance just about any dish: Add some acidity
Whether from fresh citrus juice or vinegar, acidity wakes up the palate and makes food jump and pop. These are the best cooking classes in the country (including online!).
Before I host a cooking segment, I go through every step of the recipe with the art director, prop stylist and food stylist
They ensure I have every tool I need, they mise en place—or prepare and measure out every ingredient—and they make the finished dish look gorgeous. So keep in mind that getting your dish to look as good as it does on TV might take some practice.
Please don’t follow my recipes to the letter
A recipe should be a loose map to guide you, but since no two ingredients are exactly the same, you should be constantly tasting the dish and adapting as you go along. These are the kitchen mistakes to stop making ASAP!
When I say something should be brown, I mean brown—not tan
Whether searing a piece of fish or baking bread, home cooks generally under-bake food. Really yummy, magical things happen when food turns brown.
In the restaurant, I cook in a very methodical way; I use something, and then I clean it right away
But in competitions like Hell’s Kitchen or Master Chef, the kitchens get destroyed. Afterward, there are dozens and dozens of dishes, anchovies on the floor, mayo is splattered all over the wall and you can still hear the stove clicking because someone left the gas on. You might think that saving time is always a good thing, but here are some cooking shortcuts that you just can’t get away with.
We make mistakes, lots of them
Towels catch on fire. Food gets dropped on the floor. We get cut and burned. One chef actually had the words “All Clad” branded onto her wrist for weeks after touching a pan that was coming out of the oven. But unless you’re watching a reality competition, you won’t see any of that on the air.
Yes, the cooking and food we make on TV is real
Enough said. Here are some tips from an expert food stylist on how to make even the most boring recipe look amazing.
Want to know the hardest thing to do? Go on a morning show.
Once on the TODAY Show, it was Halloween. I was trying to talk to the host who is in costume. I’m in costume, too, so I have these big rubber gloves on, and I’m trying to ice a cake. Then there were Ewoks messing with everything. At the same time, I’m supposed to be answering questions and promoting the new season of my show. You have no idea how impossible that is. Plus, it’s live, and you have only two minutes.
MIKHAIL SPASKOV/GETTY IMAGES
This job is harder than it looks
Besides just cooking, you have to describe your method step-by-step, talk about different ingredients and make eye contact with the camera. And then there might be someone in your ear telling you you need to get to the next step or to move the pepper mill because it’s blocking the shot.
What kind of spoon did I use? The one they handed to me.
Usually, only chefs who have their own line get to use specific products and tools. These cooking mistakes will ruin your food.
TATIANA VOLGUTOVA/GETTY IMAGES
We’re cooking all this amazing food on TV, caviars and truffles and such…
…But when we take a break for the most part what we’re eating—unfortunately—is very standard catered food like baked chicken breast or unremarkable mac-n-cheese.
If a TV chef is going to do a recipe that calls for a pound of asparagus, we’ll have four pounds on the set, just in case of retakes or swap-outs
If there are four recipes per show, and you tape four shows a day, you wind up with a tremendous amount of food. Most of the extra gets distributed to food pantries. But sometimes the crew gets a treat. Try out these brilliant kitchen gadgets you’ll wish you had years ago.
I once had a chocolate malt shake shoot out of the blender and all over me
The crew thought it was the funniest thing in the world. Because of continuity, my wardrobe had to stay the same, so I had to run offset, take off the outfit, soak it in seltzer and blow dry it out. Plus, my hair and makeup had to get fixed. Meanwhile, the food was getting cold. Viewers saw none of that.
The first thing I ever cooked on camera was a minestrone soup
I made the whole soup and didn’t realize until the end that I forgot to add one of the vegetables and the beans. That meant I added only three of the five veggies that were supposed to go into the soup. But I stood there smiling proudly as if I had made the whole thing right. To make your cooking better, try adding these secret pantry ingredients to take them from good to great.