Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Recipe to Riches Audition Experience in Montreal!

I don’t think I’ll ever forget February 19th 2011. It all began last Monday Feb. 14th, on Valentine’s day, at exactly 8:03pm, when my phone started buzzing, letting me know that I had an email waiting. I checked it immediately, as we were finishing our luscious seafood dinner, and to my disbelief, I had just received a casting audition call from a TV show coordinator asking me if I would be interested in participating in the open casting for an upcoming TV show, on Saturday Feb. 19th in Montreal! I reread the email, making sure I hadn’t misinterpreted it, or if it wasn’t a scam. But no…all the information was there in the email with the website url This coordinator happened to have stumbled upon my blog and was complimenting me about a plum tart recipe which I had posted last summer. This new TV show called Recipe to Riches, is calling out for Canadians with great recipes and stories airing on Food Network Canada and Global Television this fall! My heart started thumping as I couldn’t believe the opportunity that was presented before me. I replied right away that I was definitely interested without thinking about anything else. She was pleased to receive my quick response and asked me to pre-register first to have a better chance of meeting with the judges to present my dish!

Then, it hit me later that evening that I only had less than a week to pick and test a dish among my numerous recipes! I really didn’t have much time to go through my entire archive and didn’t want to rack my brain over the ‘perfect’ dish to present on Audition day. I decided to sleep on it.

As soon as I arrived at the office, I shared the exciting news with my friend Farah. I think she was more excited than I was. She started Googling the show and read through the site very quickly. Instantly, the ‘Oh my God, what are you going to do, what dish are you making, are you doing it, I have to forward this to my friend….’ words rambled from her mouth with such enthusiasm! I looked at her with an amused and appreciative smile. She was behind me all the way. At that point, I still wasn’t sure what I was going to prepare and thought that if I couldn’t come up with anything by the end of day, I would have to bail out. That is right. I was that close to giving up. On the other hand, my intuition was telling me to go for it, just for the fun of it!
When the evening came, I felt agitated and contacted most of my close friends to tell them about this great occasion to show Canadians what I love to do…cooking! My two very close friends Eddy and Lisa were my strongest supporters. Eddy was emphasizing more on the fun experience this opportunity would bring me. Lisa was bringing laughter and creating fun with her infectious chuckling and her silly humour during our conversation. Their energy was so positively reinforcing that I was now determined to take part in Saturday’s audition!
It was Wednesday, and I couldn’t focus on my work at the office. I also started to be a little nervous as I hadn’t started testing the recipe or hadn’t even pre-registered yet. To complete pre-registration, it’s required to submit an accurate recipe. Pre-registration did not guarantee a spot to meet with the judges. Only the ones receiving a follow-up call would have a chance. Wednesday evening, I started working on the sweet pastry crust. I wasn’t satisfied with the recipe that I’ve been using for this tart the past year, so I decided to call my friend Fabienne to come to the rescue. Fabienne is a great baker and when it comes to French cooking, she knows exactly what she’s talking about. I kept her helpful tips in mind for my first baking test the following day. This time, I was ready to complete the online pre-registration. To my dismay, the application form displayed the message ‘MONTREAL AUDITIONS CLOSED’, when I selected the Audition place on the form. I thought, ‘F---, no!’. Why wasn’t I given more time to know about this contest! Surprisingly, I was still able to submit my application. I was hoping for the best.
*Thursday morning, I received a call from an agent from Recipe to Riches letting me know that she received my pre-registration request and that I was eligible to meet the judges! The story behind my plum tart seemed to have intrigued her! I had to fill in last-minute forms within the hour followed by a short chat with her. It was a fun pre-audition interview which pumped me up for the big day! That evening, I rushed home after work to buy all of the ingredients needed to make the tart. Because I was in such a rush, I wasn’t paying close attention to the size of the only available plums at the local fruit and vegetable market. It’s not the season to find a selection of sweet and ripe plums. But I had a technique in mind that would help remedy that particular problem. I started testing in my kitchen. Everything was going wrong. It was nearly midnight and I couldn’t get the dough right…it was crumbly and dry, and I didn’t have enough plums…the plums were too small! I hadn’t made this dessert since last summer that I had completely forgotten how big, plump and juicy the plums were in the summer. But I had managed to make a few samples for my co-workers to taste-test Friday morning.
*Friday morning, five of my co-workers (Tharah, Gene, Morocan from Nice, Mongolia and Masala, thank you!) were sampling the tart slices I had brought to the office. They gave me their brutal honest opinion just as I had requested. Their feedback? The crust required more butter and the plums needed to be less sour and a little sweeter. I took note of their critiques and right after work, I went home to get a lot more plums and more butter. Off I was, preparing the plums by coating them with sugar for a couple of hours, to remove the sourness and give them more sweetness. The crust turned out superbly. It was worth staying up until 1am! As Julia Child would say, ‘there never is too much butter!’ The tarts were ready. I had made three, two for the audition and one to taste-test and pre-cut that morning.
*Audition day, February 19th, 7am. I am up and feel much incitement to see the tarts after being chilled overnight. They looked fabulous! I cut and tasted the ‘test’ tart. I couldn’t be happier. I started getting ready, do a bit of yoga exercise and meditation to calm my nerves. I had less than 4 hours before my scheduled time. Eddy couldn’t accompany me due to professional obligations, but he did drop me off at the audition place. Lisa was to meet me a little later. With my tarts packed carefully in my practical cooler bag, I entered the audition waiting room. As soon as I stepped in, I felt the electric and passionate energy of home cooks like me, nervously and patiently sitting and waiting. That energy ultimately changed my nerves to a more serene state of mind. I was happy that my tarts had made it safely. They were immediately taken away from me to refrigerate after I signed in. I was given my number, sat down amongst the pool of competitors and quietly observed my new and exciting surrounding. Unfortunately, I can’t share with you any more details on the audition process from that point on, but I can share with you the emotional experience most of the contestants, including myself, went through that day.
*The atmosphere was filled with an incredible joy to participate in this contest or to have that possibility of sharing with the nation our passion… Some were very talkative, especially the ones who brought along their cheering squad, and others were more quiet and kept to themselves. A few were not smiling at all, so much they were stressed! Nonetheless, one thing brought us all together…nerves. Waiting for hours can make one’s mind wander towards confidence or even self-doubt. But seeing a couple of contestants walk out with a gold ticket, a ticket to the next round of the competition, created hope and cheerful thoughts!
My friend Lisa had finally arrived. She was all smiles (up to her ears) which contagiously cheered me even more! She introduced me to another contestant, Joe, whom she knew through her husband. He found out about this audition only after the day I had told her about it. He had prepared an Italian fish soup/stew in a bucket. What a unique idea! I was getting a tad hungry despite the nervousness, and I didn’t want my stomach to growl on television! I think I would have asked the judges to give me a piece of their pie! During break time, I offered Lisa and Joe some of my grilled cheese sandwiches. Joe said ‘no thanks, I think I’ll puke, but it’s ok I have my bucket’. We were all laughing and in good spirits. I was glad to have my cheering buddy with me and a funny Italian contestant. It just made the experience even more fun.
Every time a contestant would come out with a gold ticket, Lisa would hilariously say ‘Oh my god, it’s like we’re on American Idol!!’ We were having good fun. As I was getting closer to my turn to present, I was moved to another part of the room. Lisa was telling me that in order to be closer to me she had to ask a lady, who was anxiously waiting her turn, if the seat beside her was taken. That lady had told her ‘yes it is, but if you sit here, you’ll have to talk to me’. It’s funny how stress can turn a complete stranger to a funny conversationist! Some, as Lisa observed, were even almost hyperventilating and shaking like leaves.
*My turn was up, I felt the adrenaline kick in immediately. Lisa and Joe crying out ‘Good luck!’ I was focused but found such an enjoyment in the frenzy backstage area with the culinary staff, the camera men, the microphone guy, and the coordinators. I felt it was MY moment to enjoy and to experience it to the fullest. As I walked in front of the camera and the judges, I was surprised to see that I was more comfortable than I had anticipated. Surely, I was a little clumsy on my words and on where to look, but I think it went really well for a first-timer being filmed for a national television show.

I didn’t get a gold ticket because my plum tart was not sweet enough for the North American market, but I did get two great comments from the judges : ‘I also like desserts that are not too sweet…it would be too bad to let this one go...’, which put a huge smile on my face, and ‘... great story!’. I won’t lie. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t go through the next round. When I walked out and returned to the waiting room to see Lisa, I carelessly mumbled ‘Can you believe that, more sugar!…do they not realize that there are so many diabetics out there!’. Lisa smiled and laughingly said, ‘oh my, thank god they didn’t catch that on camera!’ I then chuckled and realized that I was definitely tired and needed to say ‘ok, it’s done and over with. I had fun’.
*One thing I realized after this amazing experience is not only I really enjoy meeting people who share the same passion for food as I do, but I also tremendously enjoy being on TV, for shows related to food. The adrenaline, the disorder, the frantic energy….is loads of fun!

Good luck to all participants for the Toronto Auditions! And remember…..have fun!!!!!

1 comment:

Bawanie said...

what a story Quynh! I wish you would ahve made it though. There will always be another opportunity.