On a recent rainy Monday morning Squid Ink traveled to the Marriott Burbank, to learn more about the journey to becoming The Next Food Network Star -- and what sort of person hopes to make that happen.
Popular shows have very little trouble luring people to open castings, even in an over-saturated market like Los Angeles. But older, more established projects can't say the same. This casting was advertised online and local media and food bloggers were inundated with emails asking for help spreading the word about this exciting (right) opportunity. With all that pleading, we decided to see what the experience was like.
Around 100 people from all walks of life -- including many who admitted they try out for any and all reality shows -- heeded the call. The first step was filling out an online application. Probing questions included "What are your top 5 ORIGINAL cooking/food/ingredient tips that demonstrate your food knowledge?" (Unless you're Ferran Adrià, we sincerely doubt you have a real answer to that.) Applicants then printed a few release forms and some recent photographs and gathered at 10 a.m. for a few hours of waiting to meet with one of two congenial casting agents for a quick chat. This included a few questions about who you were, where you came from, what you like to cook -- and wrapped up with a gentle "don't call us, we'll call you."
So after waiting among the hopefuls, we thought we'd share some tips for your next casting call:
5. You do not need to show up in person. If you can send in a video, do it.
Of the 30 or so people we chatted up, at least a third had flown in to try out for the show. Most came in from Western states, but a few had come much further -- which struck us as a tragic waste, especially when the destination is a hotel in Burbank. The thing is, you don't need to do this, no matter how much more sparkling you think you are in person. Save your money. They give you the option of sending in a video application for a reason. You really can be cast without showing up for the first round.
4. Don't drink first.
Sure, a well-crafted cocktail can take the edge off, and maybe it makes you more amusing to the other anxious citizens sitting there killing time. But no matter how practiced a drunk/stoner you are -- everyone can tell you're lit, including the casting kids. We estimate at least six of the people we spoke with had hit the hotel bar or a bong for a morning nip. The woman who kept proclaiming she was high as a kite and had walked through the woods to get there was by far our favorite. (Fingers crossed she makes the cut. We would watch the hell out of her show.)
3. The smart kids think of it as a party instead of a job interview.
While there are people who show up who are a bundle of nerves -- or possibly crazy -- for the most part everyone in the room is pretty cool. So our advice is to make the effort to get to know a few people, because it beats sitting there staring at your iPad -- and who knows, something more may come of it. We met a former Nobu sous chef, a YouTube cook, a few unemployed actresses, a lot of caterers, a Survivor contestant and a former GM of Fudruckers. Hello, America. If this had been a cocktail party, it actually would have been a fun place to hang out. Also, if you're a single, gay man, this was a pretty cruise-y scene. Think about it: good looking people with a love of food, all hanging out in a hotel. The possibilities are endless.
2. Be excited and have fun.
Any actor who has ever auditioned for anything can tell you this, but it really rings true here. The NFNS should be a freaking cheerleader for the idea of cooking (ability to actually cook notwithstanding) and the network that can potentially turn them into the next Guy Fieri. (God help us all.)
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1. Have a Culinary POV
According to the casting agents -- who were doing their level best to seem thrilled to meet everyone -- the most important thing a NFNS applicant can talk about is their "culinary point of view." A kind of baffling phrase that sort of means you need to have a kick-ass show idea. In this case, "seed to table cooking" would be a head-scratcher. They're more used to "quick and easy cooking with a sassy attitude" or "fried food with a Southern twist." But no matter what you come up with, it's important to know your Food Network audience. Try for something unique, but not too far off the beaten path. We might want to watch Kill It & Grill It, but FN viewers tend to prefer something lighter.
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