This weekend I was a balloon, bright and shiny, taut and bouncy with fun and life, straining upward towards new ventures. This morning I woke up, and found that overnight I had become the baggy balloon that’s scuttled under the bed to join the dust bunnies, deflated, used and sad. Why, you ask, why?
Yesterday I joined a group of around 300 hopeful applicants in a casting call for a new reality TV program for home/amateur cooks, Master Chef, to be hosted by Chef Gordon Ramsey on FOX. Joe forwarded me an invite we received on Wednesday, suggesting I go for it, and fairly confident in my cooking, and up for an adventure, I went ahead and started the process before I could back out. The first thing I did was fill out an 11 page application, filled with personal, difficult questions. I managed to be honest, yet enticingly clever, though. For the question “How would you describe yourself in one word?” I answered: imagiquirkcentric. I also drew a stick figure holding a sign over its head with a 7.5 as an answer to how you would rate your cooking skills on a scale of 1 -10. (My application was not nearly as clever, however, as Joe’s video application for Survivor, many years ago, when he ends up whipping his Utilikilt off and diving into Puget Sound, surfacing with a huge salmon bucking in his mouth. When we played it for Hannah’s family, she asked Lily “Can you believe he ran into the water naked?!” and Lily made a considering face and said “He’s not naked; he had socks on.”)
Application: check. Head shot: check. Dish shot: check. Photographer husband: check. Dish: check. OMG! What should I wear?!!
Sunday morning I sauntered up to the line in front of Sur La Table in Kirkland, purple suede cowboy boots announcing my arrival, black duster billowing out behind me, sun bouncing off my chicly coiffed hair like a copper crown, pointy chin raised up with confidence: Step aside mortals, a cooking goddess has arrived in your midst, bow down with your insulated coolers and chafing dishes, your silly, frilly aprons, and return to your hovels – you have no chance against my mighty cooking mojo and dazzling personality! It was sunny at first, spirits were high (Joe told me later I was jazzed all day, with an adrenaline high for about 3 hours – my sore muscles and mushy brain attest to this today), and as the show’s crew made its way down the line filming all of us potential new reality TV stars, coffee cups in hand, nervous excitement filled the air. One woman near me in line came down from Canada, another from Portland, a guy from Olympia spilled his coffee all over his fancy sweater on the way up and bought a brilliant white apron to cover it up, as he had no change of clothes. We’re all pulling for each other, back clapping encouragement, sneaking sidelong glances at what the new arrival is wearing, how white her teeth are, wondering what miraculous dish she is carrying. We’re posing beauty pageant contestants on the outside, all smiles and world peace, ruthless spatula wielding competitors inside. I sent Joe out on a recon mission to the front of the line where there was a window looking into the kitchen-classroom where all the action was taking place. He came back with some useful intel for me and my line-mates: judges in the back of the room, three tables set up with four stations each where applicants were plating their dishes. Looks warm inside.
Once we got up to the door Joe had to stay behind and I was on my own. After more waiting I was assigned a station and asked to set up my dish. I went for simplicity, my dish was Yucatan Shrimp Cocktail served in a large martini glass with an enormous olive, shrimp and lime wedge on a skewer. But this is when I started to feel nervous. Every time I ducked down to nab something out of my cooler-bag I took a deep breath before standing back up, worrying that this might be a bad thing to be doing because I might pass out. The next wait I spent looking around and complimenting other dishes, accepting a couple of tastes, murmuring approvingly (thinking, I could make that taste better), joking around in that I’m-totally-compensating-for-my-nerves-by-being-funny way. I suddenly realize my dress is one of those self-contained ones, bra-less, and worry about lack of cleavage, shoving my boobs towards each other with my hands, to make Joe, who is watching everything through the window, laugh. I succeed, but also make about 10 other people in between laugh, too.
Finally, I’m summoned to the judges’ table and present my shrimp cocktail. ta da! There are two judges, one a vegetarian who asks no questions, and the other a hip looking Japanese-American guy whom I totally love and relate to right away. With smiling eyes he asks questions about my food, how I prepare this and that, what I would serve with it, how long I’ve been cooking, etc. and we get sidetracked just a minute when I mention a recipe for Puerco Pibil I make from a Robert Rodriguez film, Once Upon a Time In Mexico, and he’s made the same thing, and how I loved how the recipe called for “the finest shot of tequila you can find.” Afterwards I go back to my station, pack up and leave out the back door through the store, handing my application off on the way, feeling good about the way things went, and as I pass the remaining line, wrapped around the building outside, I visualize my pointy purple boots kicking some Foodie booty!
Turns out I am not The Chosen One. Four others were selected for the second round, and I’m okay with that. It was an interesting, fun experience, and I would have kicked myself if I hadn’t tried. Tonight I made Hamburger Helper for dinner, serving it to Joe in the pan with two big wooden spoons, napkins tucked in our shirt collars. No wait, sorry, I thought about it, but just couldn’t do it. Even for a laugh.