“I am a producer for the new live lifestyle show “Afternoon Live” live on KATU from (3-4pm)… I got your name from just perusing the web actually and your great reviews….
We are looking for knowledgeable, personable, and fun guests for our new show and I am wondering if that would be in your comfort level?
Let me know if this is something that would interest you!”
This is when I, Chef Alison Wonderland Tucker, winner of The Most Cynical Girl in Portland Award, paid no attention. I brushed it off like I was being hassled by a Nigerian Prince. I figured it was a con because everything these days is a con. Sure, you want me to go on your show, but you want my birthdate and social security number first, right?
I happened to mention the email to my husband the next morning over coffee. He looked at it and said, “Sweetie, this looks pretty valid. Why don’t you write back and get more information?” This is why I keep him around. He’s smart when I’m not.
What I wrote back was that I was flattered by the interest, but I didn’t know how entertaining a guest I would be. I’m just a little ol’ chef with a little ol’ catering company. I said I could give it a try, though.
The producer wrote back enthusiastically, saying that they were still interested and attaching clips from previous guests. They were all cooking segments. Duh. Of course they didn’t want to interview me! They wanted me to cook. Whew. THIS I could do.
She and I went back and forth to determine which of the food I suggested would work best for a 6-minute segment. We agreed that the shrimp skewers with red pepper rouille would be perfect. Thinking through the necessary equipment, I asked if there was a Cuisinart on set. “No!” she responded. “You need to bring everything with you. We have a working kitchen, but it’s completely empty. If you need a Cuisinart, bring it. If you need a bowl, bring it! If you need a spoon, bring it!!!”
Thank god I asked that question.
I have always coveted the little bowls of ingredients in cooking segments on tv. There’s something so clean and perfect about a carefully measured mise en place. In a professional kitchen, your prep work is extremely important, but you’d never use different ramekins to measure out every single ingredient. That spread only happens on tv. It’s a soothing piece of fiction, letting you believe that your kitchen could be that clean and organized, your food that delicious.
Now then, did I have the right bowls? Were my ramekins too small for some of the ingredients? Can I use these bowls with these platters??? I started to tear my kitchen apart to find the perfect props.
“We’ll see you on the 18th at 2:30. The live show starts at 3:00.”
Huh, I thought. No rehearsal. No run-through. In truth, I’ve suffered through a lot of debilitating stage fright in my life. Years ago in New York, I went on an audition for a cooking show that was disastrous. My hands shook violently, my words were jumbled, my food looked terrible. I made an ass out of myself so I figured from then on I’d limit my cheffing skills to the kitchen. But this felt different. I was different. I realized that the very date they had asked me to be on Afternoon Live was my one year anniversary of moving to Portland. Maybe this was an opportunity to see how much I had changed.
I was a theatre major in college and an actress for years, but this performance was playing to my skills as a caterer more than a thespian. In catering, you have to be ready for anything so you spend a lot of time thinking about what might go wrong. For Afternoon Live, I thought I’d better make sure I knew what was going to say so I didn’t make a fool of myself. What if I dropped something? Or cursed (always a strong possibility with me). There were so many ways to screw up on live television that I actually started to deny that it was happening live. My husband texted me a few hours before the show. Not completely understanding what was going on (because I was being really quiet about it), he said, “Do you know when your episode airs?”
Instead of screaming, “OH MY GOD, IT’S LIVE TV!!!”, I controlled my stage fright by letting my denial linger a bit. I replied, “I don’t know. I don’t know much of anything.” Which was halfway true.
I carefully thought my 6-minute segment through. I measured my ingredients and counted my ramekins. I packed a large platter for the final reveal and two sheet pans for the before and the “magic of television” after.
I arrived right at 2:30, lugging my equipment into the studio. Many other guests milled about the green room and watched as the host, Tra’Renee, got her make-up done in the adjoining room. Tra’Renee waved to us as she walked to the set, “See you out there!”
One of the production assistants escorted me to the side of the set that had the cooking counter.
As he mic’d me he explained that the set was mobile, so I would get all my food ready while the show did its opening segment. I would fill the ramekins, plug in the Cuisinart, place the sheet pans in the oven and the completed platter on the hidden counter below; and then the kitchen would be wheeled out seconds before my segment started.
“Wait, um, but how does it work?” I was petrified that everyone there thought I knew how the segment was supposed to go when no one on set had said a word to me. Tra’Renee walked onto the set and introduced herself. She was so calm that I was immediately at ease. She explained that in two minutes she would introduce me and we would cook while explaining the recipe. We would talk to each other rather than to the camera. It was 100% improvised.
And then we were filming. It felt fun. It felt easy. And then it felt over. Whammo. Six minutes flew by like seconds.
Tra’Renee seemed pleased and said I should come back again sometime.
When I got home, there was an email from the producer who said my segment was great and that she’d also love to have me back on the show soon.
You just never know what’s going to happen in life, do you? I’d always said I would never do a cooking show, but this one was so much fun!
They’ve booked me for an episode later this month and one in March too!
So now, without further ado, here’s my segment: http://katu.com/afternoon-live/cooking-recipes/shrimp-skewers
It’s also worth saying that every single time I make these shrimp skewers I get asked for the recipe. Every. Single. Time. It’s smokey and sweet and spicy in all the ways you’re not expecting. I can’t recommend this recipe enough.
with Red Pepper Rouille
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon spicy paprika, to taste
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 24 raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 lemon, cut in half
- Salt and pepper, to taste
To roast, seed and peel the red bell pepper:
- Place the pepper directly on the burner of a gas stove. The pepper will pop and burn, but that’s good– that’s what you want. After about 5 minutes, the bottom side will be charred completely. Turn the pepper with tongs to start charring the rest of the pepper. When the pepper is black and charred completely, place into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. This will create steam that will help loosen the charred skin from the pepper.
- When the pepper is cool, run it under water to remove the charred skin. Cut it in half and remove the seeds.
- Slice it into strips for the rouille.
To make the rouille:
- Place the egg yolk in the bowl of a food processor. Add the garlic, salt, saffron, sweet paprika, spicy paprika, and red wine vinegar. Pulse for a second to mix.
- Turn the food processor on and slowly begin to drizzle the oil in. When all the oil has been incorporated, add the sliced peppers.
- Run a spatula around the inside of the processor bowl to make sure all the spices are included in the mix. Let the food processor run for 1-2 minutes. Season to taste.
- Pour into a small serving bowl.
To make the shrimp:
- Turn the broiler in the oven on. Cover a sheet pan with aluminum foil.
- Place the shrimp in a bowl and marinate with 2 tablespoons of aioli. (Can marinate for a few minutes or a few hours refrigerated.)
- Place shrimp on foil-lined sheet pan and drizzle with juice from the lemon. Lightly season with salt and pepper.
- Broil for 3-4 minutes, or until opaque throughout.
- Skewer each shrimp and serve with rouille for dipping.