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Celebrity Chefs

From inedible food to excessive waste, shocking cooking show secrets revealed

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MasterChef takes hours of production preparation before contestants start cooking. (Reuters)

A post on social media site Reddit asked people who have worked on the set of food shows to reveal the strangest things they’ve seen while working.

And the responses didn’t disappoint.

According to user ‘Elroypaisley’ who worked on a daytime talk show with daily cooking segments, most the hard work is done by a food stylist behind the scenes.

“Most of the food is either A) not edible (under cooked chicken, just browned on the outside to look good for camera or sprayed with shining spray to make it look glossy) or B) Eaten by the crew,” wrote the redditor.

“The most enlightening fact, for me, was that many of the chefs have no idea what the recipe is, what they are cooking when they arrive, or how it’s made. A food stylist shows up two hours before taping, having been up the night before all night making the ‘beauty dishes’ — these are the dishes the camera will take shots of to show what the final product looks like. Then the stylist lays out every ingredient, every bowl, every tool that will be needed.

“The chef arrives, does hair/makeup and comes to set where the stylist briefs them. ‘Chef, today you’re making such and such. These are the ingredients for the reduction sauce, etc’. The chef goes over the recipe a few times, then we go live and they are the expert.”

User ‘Landlubber77’ worked as a production intern on a food network and said the dish prepared on screen by the chef isn’t usually the one featured in the fancy photos.

“When they want to stage shots of just the food on its own, the ‘hero shot’, they have an intern make a duplicate of the meal (doesn’t matter if it’s undercooked inside because nobody is gonna eat it) which just has to look good on the surface. They then spray it with an aerosol can of some ungodly preservative to make it ‘stay.’

“You could come back a year later and it would still be camera ready.”

When it comes to shows such as MasterChef, ‘absinthevisions’ wrote that “each dish can be made several times so there is a lot of waste”.

“If it’s a contest style show, the judges don’t eat the version that you see cooked and plated. That version is thrown away and a new version is cooked specifically for them to eat. Then they take 2-3 bites from a plate and throw the rest away.”

If you’ve ever seen a cooking show where the chef is given a special ingredient at the start of the show and you’ve been amazed by how quickly they brainstormed and executed their dish, well ... don’t be amazed.

“My brother was a sous chef for his (at the time) boss on a popular food competition show,” wrote Reddit user ‘LadyofRivendell’.

“He said the secret ingredient was revealed a few hours prior to filming and the chefs sat down with their sous chefs and made plans ahead.”

But the best story in the thread was from a caterer called ‘Astrochef12’ who was hired in the early 2000s by The Oprah Winfrey Show to help make a number of different celebrities’ favorite recipes for the studio audience.

“I made pancakes (I think) for Harry Connick Jr, Gwenyth Paltrow’s Miso crusted-Cod and most famously Tom Cruise’s Grandmother’s spaghetti carbonara,” they wrote.

“Usually I would be the one to go to the show with a few cooks; warm everything up and plate some 360 tasting sized portions for the audience. The food would be served during a commercial break in two and a half minutes, so the pressure was pretty intense.

“Tom Cruise’s spaghetti carbonara sticks in my memories because the call came in during a lull and a bunch of staff was on vacation. We would get the call and have to have the food ready for taping that same week, so it was just me on the job.

“They requested enough spaghetti carbonara for 360 guests, plus the Mise en Place (prepped ingredients) for Tom to demo it himself on camera. They also sent the recipe, which had been dictated by an assistant and emailed.

“When I read the recipe I went into apoplexy as his recipe was flawed ... He had stated that the beaten eggs be poured into the sauteed olive oil/bacon/anchovies then stirred into the pasta (which would result in scrambled eggs). Normally the eggs are mixed in after the pasta is added, then you toss everything around and the eggs, cheese, olive oil and bacon fat make a very rich sauce.

“So I am faced with a dilemma. Do I make the recipe his way so that the audience gets the same messed up preparation or do I make it the right way and show up the biggest star ever on a major client’s very popular show?

“The populist in me won. Screw Tom Cruise.

“I packed everything up and sent it off to the show with another event chef. The chef calls me as soon as they were done: Sure enough, they roll out the demo setup and he (Tom Cruise) starts sauteing the olive oil, garlic, anchovies and bacon til everything melts down. He adds the eggs and ... scrambled eggs! He’s like ‘Uh oh! That’s not right?’ and Oprah reaches under the cart and pulls out a bowl of my spaghetti carbonara and he says, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what it is supposed to look like!’

“I’m jumping up and down and screaming and yelling, fist pumping.”