Blowtorches - and Other Secrets of TV Food

Showing delicious food on TV is one of my favorite parts of my job - but it also requires the most planning and coordination of any segments I do.  It's a lot of work to make it look effortless. 

Cooking for TV is different than cooking at home.  Since smell-o-vision does not yet exist, everything has to LOOK amazing.  It also has to TASTE amazing.  After all, studios are filled with hungry crew and hosts, who generally sample everything on-air during my segments.  (Maybe that's why they keep inviting me back?)

Since I'm usually in a city for a segment for less than 24 hours, I almost always work with local food stylists who help plan, grocery shop and prepare the display.

If you have heard anything about food styling, it is probably that food stylists spray food with products that make the food inedible.  That may happen for magazine, print and web photography, which require close-up photographs of food that sits out for hours during a shoot.  But for TV, where things move very quickly and most food gets eaten, things need to be edible - and delicious.

It would be easy to assume that these gorgeous tables just appear.  But what you see for three minutes on a show actually takes several days of planning and prep to pick and source ingredients; design a tablescape; select serving dishes, linens and props; and - finally - cook. 

Sam's Club on "Daytime" show.

Food styling is a marriage of art and science.  The stylists I work with have varied backgrounds, but what they all have in common is 1) the ability to cook just about anything and 2) amazing eyes for design.

Last week I did an Easter dinner segment for Sam's Club for the syndicated "Daytime" show, which broadcasts from Tampa.  Whenever I'm in Tampa, I always work with Kat Barrott of Food Styl Tampa Bay.  She is - hands down - one of the best in the business, and I won't book a food segment at this show without her.

The morning of the shoot, Kat arrived at the studio more than four hours before my taping to prep and style the food.  She rolls in with a truck towing a trailer full of her tools and props.  Professional food stylists don't travel light.

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She and her food styling assistant, Mary Jo, unloaded stacks of coolers packed with food and garnishes, several prep tables, numerous appliances - and a ginormous tool chest stocked with every possible cooking tool.  Not to mention bins of serving dishes, linens and props to dress the table to match the Easter theme.

Kat Barrott

They set up a work area in the station's loading dock - and got to work.

Several things on our menu - a spiraled ham, rack of lamb, scalloped potatoes and a fresh-baked apple pie - needed an extra touch to get them TV-ready.  When the actual cooking was done, Kat fired up a blowtorch (!) to give each a perfect, golden brown crust:

Klutzy as I am, I can confidently say I should never be allowed to operate one of these.  I'll leave that to the professionals.  (If you're curious - here is what she is using).

By this point, everyone's stomachs were growling as the delicious aromas of ham, lamb and scalloped potatoes wafted through the hallways and studio. 

Several hours later, the tables are wheeled into the studio.  After last-minute adjustments are made - garnishes placed, wine poured and flowers arranged - host Jerry Penacoli and I review the rundown with the floor director.

Amy Sewell for Sam's Club on "Daytime" show.

And we are ready to roll!  You can see the full segment here.

The tables looked awesome for about 10 minutes.  As soon as we wrapped, the crew grabbed plates and dug into a spread of ham, rack of lamb, green bean casserole, asparagus pomodori, dinner rolls and potatoes - not to mention the dessert table piled with a small mountain of apple pie, coconut tea cakes, cream puffs and eclairs.

I love that my job gives me the chance to work with super-nice and talented people, and these are some of the best!  So, next time to you see a beautiful spread of food on a TV show, you'll know a bit more about it and what went into making it look so delish.

Bon appetit!

Sunday Dinner at the Sewell's

My husband and I love to entertain.  

One of our favorite things is to have people over for Sunday dinner.  We often linger around the table for hours - catching up, nibbling on dessert, drinking coffee and looking forward to the week ahead.

To avoid a scramble to get a meal together, I dig out a tablecloth - usually the one with fewest wrinkles - and set the table while our morning coffee brews.

Then, I might put a roast in the slow-cooker, and set out serving pieces for side dishes.  Just a few minutes getting things ready in the morning lets me focus on our guests, rather than stressing out about the meal.  We live a  10-minute walk from church, so when we get home, I have just a few minutes to toss everything together before our friends arrive.   

I'm all about making things ahead, or buying prepared items you can serve up quickly.  So, with Easter coming up - when we'll have about 10 dinner guests in our small New York apartment - I was excited when Sam's Club asked me to do this segment for them on the "Sonoran Living" show in Phoenix.

I chose menu items that make Easter dinner a breeze, from a fully-cooked spiraled ham (just heat and eat!) to prepared deli sides like gooey, cheesy scalloped potatoes and the freshest-tasting asparagus pomodori. They also have the most amazing ready-to-serve desserts.  Seriously - if you told me the coconut tea cakes on here would be my only dessert option for a long time - I would be perfectly happy with that. 

You can check out the full segment below!

On-the-Air: "Daytime"

My husband and I love to entertain year-round, but we especially look forward to Thanksgiving. This year, we are hosting dinner for 10 in our Manhattan apartment.  The turkey and ham have already been ordered, which frees me up to make veggies, other side dishes and homemade bread.  We also happily accept offers from guests to bring their favorite desserts!

A bit of planning can help you avoid the stress of organizing a large gathering.  Here are a few tips I shared for several companies on the "Daytime" show and "Good Day Chicago" to help simplify your holiday. 

  • Take inventory of your dishes, stemware, serving pieces and table linens.  Borrow or purchase any needed items now, instead of scrambling the night before Thanksgiving.
  • No need to buy and store multiple sets of dishes for each holiday.  Start with a basic set of white dishes such as open-stock Everyday White Rim Dinnerware from Bed Bath & Beyond, and accessorize the table with seasonal touches for each occasion.
  • Welcome guests with a savory assortment of limited-edition Daily Chef appetizers from Sam's Club.  No prep work is needed - just pop them in the oven while you prepare other dishes or greet your guests!  From bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin bites to caramelized onion and bacon pastry puffs, these appetizers look elegant and taste delicious.
  • For your own table or a hostess gift, Teleflora has gorgeous floral arrangements nestled into food-safe "vases" that can be used year-round.  The autumn blooms and elegant taper candles of the Bounty of Beauty Centerpiece are displayed in a beautiful hand-glazed stoneware bowl.
  • Don't stress about pairing a different wine with each course.  Simply choose one red and one white that go with everything.  Yellow Tail Big Bold Red has spicy flavors that complement the fall flavors on traditional holiday menus.  For a crisp white wine, Barone Fini Pinot Grigio is a food-friendly wine that pairs well with everything from appetizers through dessert.
  • Half an hour before guests arrive, take a bit of time to chill out.  Read a magazine, watch a holiday show or listen to music.  If you relax and enjoy the party, your guests will, too!  

On-the-Air: FOX News

It was great to be back at "FOX & Friends" this morning to share Labor Day deals on big-ticket items!  Check out the clip below to find great deals on Kenmore appliances, Dyson vacuums, a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, mattresses from MattressFirm, a 55" Ultra HD TV from Sam's Club and a Char-Broil Grill at Lowe's.  All of the deals run through at least September 12.  Happy shopping!

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