To hear Chef Celina Tio tell it, there was no giant PR machine lobbying to get her on The Next Iron Chef on Food Network, set to begin airing its third season on Sunday, Oct. 3 at 9 pm CST. She made it onto season three, just by picking up her cell phone at 6:30 pm on a busy Friday night in her restaurant in Brookside called Julian.
"I usually never answer my phone when, I am on the line, but I took this call because I could see it was long distance. I thought, this must be someone who clearly does not know what I do for a living to be calling me at this hour on a Friday night, or someone from a different time zone."
Good thing she took the call, as it was a representative from Food Network who was calling her to see if she would be interested in interviewing to be considered as a Chef candidate for season three The Next Iron Chef. She did not hesistate, she was interested.
She was flown to L.A. for a screen test for the show, and returned to wait to see if she had made the cut. She got the call-back. She was going to be competing against 9 other nationally and regionally known Chefs to see who had what it took to be The Next Iron Chef.
"It was an honor to be chosen to compete on the show. I am up against some really talented Chefs."
When I asked her if she knew any of the Chefs who she would be competing against, she named Ming Tsai, of Blue Ginger in MA and Marco Canora, of Hearth Terrior Wine Bar in NYC. She said that all of the contestants are brought together at the same time and must commit to be present during the entire shooting schedule, so there was plenty of time to build friendships and camaraderie amongst all of the Chefs competing on the show. "Yes, we would go out for dinner and drinks after we were done shooting. It was a really great group of people," Tio said.
Tio compared being on the TV show like going to summer camp. You go, meet new people, you have fun and bond with everyone in that environment. Then when camp is over and you have to go back to your real life, you are a little sad.
I asked her if she minded the cameras in her face and in her way as she completes each challenge. She said not at all. She decided the best way to handle it was to make friends with the cameraman assigned to her, and use constant communication, just like you do when you are on the line in your own kitchen. You give courtsey calls to keep everyone safe and out of harm's way. "It kept us out of each other's way, and kept him safe too. Communication was key."
I asked her about challenges, was there anything about competing on the show that was harder than she thought. She said, "well, they call them challenges for a reason." But she did confess there was one point that she and all the Chefs competing on the show agreed upon. The toughest part about being on the show, aside from the actual competition, was the fact that for the first time in years and years these Chefs were required to do all of their own prep work. Back in all of their home kitchens they have plenty of people to help with the drudgery of prepping all the ingredients for a dish, not so, on the show. She said many Chefs had forgotten the labor that goes into all of the prep work. "It takes a long time," she said.
I asked her if she knew what reality show stereotype she may have been cast in. Are you the friendly one? The Bitch? What role did they edit you into, I asked. She said she had no idea. She has not been allowed to see any of the show or the footage. "I just tried to cook my absolute best", she said.
I approached the subject of whether she thought that being on The Next Iron Chef made her a sell-out, carefully. Celina is a bright, talented Chef, but the sell-out question floats around for any Chef that is put in the position of being asked to be on national TV.
Celina said, "No, I don't think it makes me a sell-out, because unlike some TV shows, you compete for the title of The Next Iron Chef by doing all of the things that a Chef actually does every night on the line in their own restaurant. You have to be smart, resourceful, creative, motivated and you have to be and do all of that under an hour to deliver your food to the table."
I was surprised and moved by the honesty and simple truth of that statement. Celina is right. There is no shame in demonstrating all of the honorable skills you acquired over years of working in kitchens, even if it happens to be broadcast on national TV. She is competing doing what she does in her own restaurant everyday.
For those of you wondering, none of The Next Iron Chef contestants get paid to be on the show. You come because you want to be on the show. There are, of course, deep and important PR benefits to being on a national TV show. For you, for your restaurant . . .it can, and has, put Chefs on the map.
Celina is also planning to do a series of dinners in her restaurant at Julian every Sunday from Oct. 3 to Nov. 21, the length of the Next Iron Chef season. She is calling them "watch parties" where TV's will be broadcasting the show in the restaurant. There will be two seatings for these Sunday night dinners at 5:30 pm (before the show) and 7:30 pm (during the show) where she will be preparing the dish she will be competing with on the show that night. You will be eating, what she prepared for The Next Iron Chef judges. Awesome! Many nights have already booked up, so you must call (816) 214-8454 to make your reservation for these special "watch party" dinners.
I'll be watching, and cheering for Chef Celina Tio to be The Next Iron Chef.