How to do a TV cooking demo

Bottom line: A very specific need here: a restaurant needs to do a cooking demo on TV and doesn’t know best practices. If they do it right not only will they impress the audience and capture some free marketing—but they’ll get invited back.

Whether it’s Good Morning America or the local news show, being invited to do a cooking demo on TV can be a great way for an operator to get free marketing. Help them do it right.

“Keep it simple and make it sizzle,” advises culinary media trainer Lisa Ekus about choosing a dish to demo. “Chefs tend to overcomplicate what they can do in three to four minutes—which is all the time you generally get for a live segment.” And take the “sizzle” advice literally—viewers should be able to hear the cooking process and see (a little!) smoke. Color, texture and seasonality are also keys to connecting to the audience. For example, one-pot braises look brown and unappetizing on camera, but the vegetables and herbs that go into the recipe can punch up the set and visually entice viewers.

Which segues into the next point: choose recipes that can be broken down into several components or steps that flow seamlessly. “Show the finished dish, and then demo one step or piece of it, explaining how you make the salsa for a plate of grilled fish, for instance,” says Ekus.

Ana Sortun, chef-owner of Oleana in Cambridge, Massachusetts, took a 10-hour training session with Ekus to get ready for a stint on national TV. She chose Shrimp Saganaki—a dish that showcased her restaurant’s Mediterranean menu. “Lisa recommends that you choose something you can do with clarity and confidence,” says Sortun. “And the more you prepare ahead and practice, the better you can streamline what’s important to show and say.” Adds Ekus, “Figure out which steps you can skip without frustrating the viewers.”

Once the operator chooses a demo dish, have them follow these steps to success:

Step 1
Be hyper-organized. Even if there’s a full kitchen on set, the chef needs to pack essentials that make them comfortable and might not be on hand—chef’s knife, cutting board, paper towels, etc.

Step 2
Familiarize themselves with the space. Choreograph beforehand where the kitchen equipment is, where the host will be, where the ingredients and utensils are placed and where the chef’s hands will go.

Step 3
Understand the audience. “Don’t use language like ‘mis en place’ or ‘plate the food’ when you’re talking to home cooks,” warns Ekus.

Step 4
Know the message points. What is the chef promoting? His restaurant? A new menu or cookbook? Sortun incorporated the name of her restaurant by starting sentences with “At Oleana, we do it this way.” Since every second counts, advize the chef to try to get the plug in during the first minute or two.

Step 5
Include one “aha” moment. “Introduce an ingredient, recipe tip, technique or serving suggestion that’s unique—a take-away that will make viewers remember you,” says Ekus.

And what about pre-show jitters? Sortun recommends chewing gum. Just tell the chef to remember to remove it when the cameras start rolling.


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