That was what popped into my head when the casting director for a show on the Food Network called me for the umpteenth time. This was after many telephone interviews, Skype interviews, personal interviews and video interviews.
“ We’ve selected you to be one of the Grandmas on our new show, Clash of the Grandmas.” Hallelujah! I was really going to be on the show.
Was I nervous? Was I terrified about what they might ask me to make? You betcha!
But, I took a deep breath and thought:
Then, the fun really began.
The producers called and interviewed our daughter, Susannah and our grandchildren all of whom live in northern California. I had no idea what was in the works because no one was telling me anything except that both of us should appear in a solid colored shirt ––no stripes, no patterns and no white. So, off I went to Target and found a Chambray shirt that I liked, and hoped they would, too.
Soon, the emails started coming: when to check-in at the Universal-Sheraton Hotel, when to meet the bus that would take us to the studio and loads of details and information about the upcoming production.
After a nervous night at the hotel, we woke up early to meet the shuttle that would take us to the studio
The other three grandmas were already on board and we got a chance to introduce ourselves. I discovered that all of them were food professionals There was Sabra from Virginia. She owns a Middle-Eastern restaurant. Blanca has a Colombian restaurant in Memphis and Mama Pain had a restaurant for years in the Bahamas.
To be honest, I had no idea who Mama Pain was. She’s T-Pain’s mother. Raise your hand if you know who T-Pain is. I sure didn’t.
So, these women have all had restaurants serving a lot of customers. Yikes. That’s tough competition. But I was in it to have a good time and I knew even if I didn’t own a restaurant, I cooked good food, studied with excellent teachers and knew how food should taste.
As we entered a small room in the studio complex, I glanced around looking for the usual table laden with doughnuts and other goodies to snack on. That was the usual setup when I appeared in commercials years ago. Those were the only times I could justify eating a doughnut…or two or…
But this table only had stuff like Doritos, candy and apples. Big let down.
Next, the wardrobe people arrived and approved our shirts and we got to pick out our aprons. They liked my blue Chambray shirt and I loved the pink polka dot apron (which I got to keep)!
Then, the makeup person started on our makeup. She gave one grandma false eyelashes and whoa! we all decided we wanted them, too. Ladies, if you want to step up your game put on false eyelashes! Wow, they upped our glamour ratings by 1000%. Next, the makeup lady applied lip gloss. I kept stealing glances at myself in the mirror to confirm that this gray-haired grandma was really me.
Was the world ready???
If we want to go to the bathroom, someone comes with us. No wandering around the studio or anywhere else. Someone is always with us but this gives us the chance to get to know each other.
The time passes pleasantly enough and the next thing I know, it’s lunchtime. We were offered a beautiful buffet for lunch that more than made up for the morning’s Doritos. I don’t have much of an appetite because I’m getting nervous.
Next, it’s showtime!
They tell us to walk onto the stage (which we have not seen before) and WOW!!!!!! It is gorgeous. I am overwhelmed. The stage is HUGE –– the size of two or three basketball courts. And it’s also beautifully designed –– lovely colored and textured walls along with charming fabrics to decorate each station. There is extensive stainless steel shelving along the walls holding every kind of dish or serving piece you could imagine, along with a lot of refrigerators containing milk products, herbs, meat, etc. Who can remember what’s in which? Bounteous baskets of fresh produce, better than you’ve ever seen at any farmer’s market, are also ready for our selection.
All of this is placed around the outside perimeter of the stage because the center was filled with cameras, cables and people. That means that we had to run around the outer fringes of the stage to get our dishes and food stuffs from the refrigerators. We ran a lot that day. I felt almost as though I had done a 10K by the time I was finished.
Next, we were introduced to our host, the charming and oh-so-handsome Cameron Mathison, who then told us that the challenge was that we would have thirty minutes to make a pot pie that reflects your family’s heritage. Pot pie? The only pot pie I was aware of was Swanson’s Frozen Chicken Pot Pie. True, I loved it because it was one of my very first culinary efforts as a child, but I had never made a pot pie from scratch. Suddenly, I developed a bad case of sweaty palms. But, just at that moment, they asked us if we’d like help and that’s when they brought out our children. (By the way those arrow buttons on the photos don’t work)
I had no idea that my daughter, Susannah was in the studio and I was so excited to see her. She really knows her stuff so when she hears that she is to help me make a pot pie that is a family heritage, she immediately pipes up, “Hamburger Romanoff!” Of course, I can turn that into a pot pie. I think.
At each cooking station, there is a pot of boiling water. What a great idea. You don’t have to wait for water to boil. When they’re only giving you thirty minutes to cook a pot pie you can’t wait for the pot to boil. I know just what to do. I run around looking for a ramekins to put the pie in. I need color to give the pie contrast. I find blue ramekins which will do the job. Susannah starts making the pasta, while I start making the filling.
I run around looking for the meat, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, onions and surprise, Campbell’s Tomato Soup! So I start making the hamburger mixture while Susannah cooks and drains the pasta. I layer the pasta on the bottom, then the meat mixture and now the piece de resistance, the crust.
Suddenly, a flash of inspiration –– I’ll put a phyllo dough crust on the pies to make it look like a Frank Gehry building. Problem: I have no idea how to work with phyllo dough. I just know that you have to keep it moist or it will dry out in a minute. So, I get the dough from one of the refrigerators, stare at it blankly and then realize that the granny cooking next to me, Sabra, has a middle Eastern restaurant and she MUST know how to work with phyllo dough. Without even thinking twice, I went to her and asked what to do. She very graciously told me to just smear melted butter on it to keep it from drying out. I pressed on, slathering the phyllo with melted butter and then picked up two pieces of the dough and plopped them on top of each pie. I think it looks pretty cool. Very Frank Gehry. Then I realize that I must put the pies into the convection oven so they will cook quickly. Of course, I have no idea what temperature nor how long it will take. I ‘m scared of burning them and ask Susannah to keep watch. Meanwhile, I think the plate needs some visual interest. Why not a tri-color salad? Susannah gets the green lettuce and the red radicchio and I make a salad dressing. About this time, Susannah tells me she thinks the pies are golden. Golden they are…puffed up and luscious looking, too. At the last minute, I put the pie and salad on the plate and I’m done!
My thirty minute wonder.
Now comes the judging. Our dishes will be evaluated by the judges, Sharone Hackman, Aarti Sequeria, and Jake Smollett. Each of us grannies were evaluated individually and none of the other contestants were present It’s just you, the judges and the cameras…lots and lots of cameras watching every expression or twitch.
The judges weigh in: No one has heard of using pasta as a base for a pie. No one has used a phyllo dough as a crust, and then Jake asked what was in the sauce. I don’t know what possessed me, but I said, “No.” They all looked at me aghast. No one had ever refused to tell them what was in a dish. I then realized I was skating on thin ice so then I grudgingly admitted that I’d used canned tomato soup. There was a moment of silence and, to my relief, the judges all agreed that it tasted pretty darned good. Artie even thought my creation was quirky like me. A compliment, I think.
After the judging, a producer and a cameraman took me into a darkened room with a kitchen backdrop and a camera. They proceeded to question me about every aspect of what I had done so far. They asked about using canned tomato soup, asking about the phyllo dough, and on and on. So,not only do you cook like crazy but then you’re interviewed extensively for all the details. They did this with each one of us.
Then we all join together for the results of the judging. None of us had any idea who might win. They announced who would be eliminated and it wasn’t me! I dodged that bullet but it’s still a bit sad because you will miss one of the grannies. I also had mixed feelings because I was happy that I could continue and also a bit frightened because what in the world will they want me to prepare next?
So ended the first day. Off we went to the hotel for some R&R. Our next session will include Mama Pain, Saba and me with no help from any family members.
The day starts again with the makeup person making us glamorous again. We are still in the same little room and we’re not allowed to leave without an escort. Finally, they call us to the stage.
They show a video of each of our respective grandkids naming their favorite colors which turned out to be purple, yellow and orange. We’re supposed to create a brunch using all three of those colors.
Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m an artist. When I make a dinner I always think of how the food will look on the plate. I think in terms of colors and textures. When I looked into the studio refrigerator, I saw raspberries and blueberries and immediately thought: red plus blue = PURPLE. But, purple what?
My thought process took me from the color purple to Queen Elizabeth’s royal robes to a British posset, the simplest custard ever. So I mixed the blueberries and raspberries together to make purple, added cream, powdered sugar and a touch of lemon.
Purple Posset Finished!
Then for the yellow dish, I saw these gorgeous pineapples. They screamed salsa to me. Now, all of us grannies were afraid of cutting our fingers while chopping. I certainly don’t want to chop my fingers off so I’m not as fast or precise as I’d like to be. Meanwhile, I can hear Cameron counting down our thirty minutes, so I quickly slice the pineapple, orange and yellow peppers, jalapeño and onions and throw them together. I taste the salsa and it is delicious. Done. Rustic Salsa!
Now, on to the orange dish. And what else do you need for brunch but orange eggs. So I immediately start cracking eggs. I find some cream and chives to also add to the eggs and then think of prosciutto. Problem: even wearing glasses, I didn’t see that the prosciutto is pressed onto clear plastic sheets. I try cutting the prosciutto and can’t figure out why it won’t cut. I chop away until I realize I’m trying to cut through plastic. Adjusting quickly, I began peeling the prosciutto away from the plastic and literally threw the prosciutto into the eggs
Cameron is counting, time is running out, I’m beginning to sweat and my eggs are nowhere near being done. It’s then that I realize that the pan is too small to cook such a large serving of eggs. So, I poured the eggs into a larger pan, made sure they’re not over-cooked and then literally throw them into their ramekins. Done just in the nick of time. Are they strict and exact about the time? Absolutely. You would think they were planning raids for Seal Team Six.
Time to be judged
Sharone thinks my eggs are cooked perfectly which is a rare occurrence because most people do not know how to cook eggs properly. Arti loved the fruit but is not happy with the chopping of my salsa because the ingredients were not chopped evenly. I told her to think of the salsa as “rustic”, you know, rough around the edges, and a bit countrified. They all laughed but I didn’t get away with it. So, my score was thumbs up on the eggs and the posset, but a thumbs down on my rustic salsa.
At the final judging, my choice of the three items on the menu was not considered to be a cohesive brunch, because it contained Italian eggs, Mexican salsa and a British posset. I lost, but I must say that each dish was delicious and lovely to look at. Perhaps I might have had a better chance if I had served Bloody Marys to each of the judges.
I loved the experience. But, it is really hard to cook under those time constraints, come up with appropriate recipes in a flash and find all the ingredients in a vast cooking stage that you’ve never seen before.
Would I do it again? In a heart beat!
People have asked for my mother’s Hamburger Romanoff recipe. I’ve been making it for years and everyone loves it.
1 cup chopped onions
1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 clove garlic smashed
1 can Campbell’s Tomato Soup (not the healthy one)
1 cup sour cream
Lawry’s Seasoning Salt, pepper, a few drops of tabasco
Saute´the onions and garlic in oil till soft, then add the meat and cook till brown. Add the Worcestershire Sauce and other seasonings. Taste and then add the sour cream. Serve over the spaghetti with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese to taste.
As my mother would say,
Без труда́ не вы́тащишь и ры́бку из пруда́.
Without effort, you can’t pull a fish out of the pond.