behind the scenes @ CityCooks

CityCooks, City TV

Ever wonder what it would be like to hang out on the set of a television cooking show? Last week I was fortunate enough to have that very experience. I had phoned CityCooks producer Catherine Petersen to request an opportunity to job shadow at the station, hoping to get some insight into just how the process works. She proved to be very accommodating, arranging a date and time for me to come to the Citytv studios.

Hosted by Simi Sara, each 30 minute program is filmed ‘live to tape’, meaning that they approach it as if they are live, even though they are not. The taping of each segment is kept very close to assigned time lines and there seem to be no ‘redos’ or miles of extra footage to edit later. All this is done with the intent of capturing a more live, dynamic feel to the finished product. On the day of my visit the guest was Chef ‘Charlie’ Yang, who has been cooking with the Mark James Group for 8 years, most recently as head chef at The Yaletown Brew Pub, where he describes his food to be an ‘Asian Flair’ style of cooking. CityCooks formats its programming to allow each day’s guest to demonstrate 3 dishes, plus ‘on site’ footage is shown during the introduction of each episode to give the viewer a visual feel for the establishment where he or she is from. Chef Charlie’s menu for the day went as follows:

1) Manturian Chicken
2) Shanghai Ginger Beef
3) Schezuan Style Chicken Chow Fun (‘Ho Fun’= “Flat Rice Noodles”)

The feeling on the set was friendly and informal, while still retaining a keen sense of timing and professional efficiency. There is no live audience, only two camera operators plus 'Camera 1', 'Camera 2' and an 'Iso (isolation)-Cam' for more detailed close up shots. One of the cameramen joined Simi in knicking bits of food from the back of Chef Charlie's most recently completed 'Manturian Chicken' dish, just as the commercial break began. I was impressed when she admitted this to her future audience during the taping that followed, the 'Shanghai Ginger Beef' segment.

Catherine Pedersen is not only the supervising producer and writer, but also the person to find and screen each guest plus their featured recipes before the taping even begins. She is also very closely involved with all details of the taping process itself. While clearly a busy woman, she was gracious enough to tour me through Citytv’s studios, control rooms and tape archives….all the while explaining the responsibilities of her own job, as well as the process of how an episode of CityCooks is made. The episode I observed will air in about one month.. According to Petersen, the station likes to keep about one month ahead with their taping schedule, creating between one and four programs per week.

I was surprised to see just how hands on the creating of an episode actually is. Back in October of 2005, Harpers Magazine had published a hilariously provocative article titled ‘Debbie Does Salad: The Food Network at the Frontiers of Pornography’. It begins by bringing the reader into a scene where we are shown just how time consuming, tedious, largely staffed and, one can assume, costly the taping of a cooking show can be:

Early this morning the team had gathered at the Food Network’s new 13,000-square-foot studios on Manhattan’s West Side and proceeded to shoot three episodes of Moulton’s show, Sara’s Secrets. Now it was late in the day, and fatigue had set in”……. “More than a dozen people huddled around the star. There were the executive, assistant, associate, and culinary producers; the director and technical director; and the camera operators, production assistants, and food stylists.”

As a side bar, author Frederick Kaufman’s premise throughout the article is to draw parallels between the formulas and presentation styles of the two industries, at one point even teaming up with porn still photographer Barbara Nitke to discuss their often not so subtle similarities…….though I can assure you, Simi and CityCooks do not subscribe to such antics. They provide a bright, upbeat program that directs itself mostly towards local community and its production is done with a reasonable amount of time, resources and staff.

I finished my visit by joining the 8 or so friendly CityCooks staff in gathering around the studio's kitchen island, as we collectively nibbled on the 3 tasty dishes Chef Charlie had created for the show.....a great finish to a very enjoyable and informative experience. CityCooks airs Monday to Friday at 6:00 pm (on channel 13) in Vancouver and Monday to Friday at 6:30 pm in Winnipeg.

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