It’s been a whirlwind of a week that started with me crying in a parking lot in Atlanta last Tuesday night and ended with a burned (melted, actually) thumb last night. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Allow me to start from the beginning…
Last Tuesday, G-Man and I were getting ready for an overnight trip to Atlanta. I was auditioning for season 9 of Next Food Network Star and I’d decided on going to the ATL the night before, so I would:
1: Not have to be bright eyed, bushy tailed and culinarily cohesive after an early morning 4 hour drive
2: Get there early, so as not to wait for hours.
I actually auditioned in Atlanta for NFNS about 3 years ago. I got up, got ready and left the house a little before 6am to get there for the start of the 10am open call. When I arrived at the W Hotel in Midtown, I was stunned to find literally hundreds of people already waiting in line to be seen. I waited for six hours before I was seen and by that time, I was feeling like a limp piece of burnt toast. Needless to say, I did not get a callback.
So this time, I was prepared! As soon as the date and location were announced, I hopped on it. I went to Priceline, and “named my own price” on the swanky 4.5 star Renaissance Hotel right in Midtown for under $100 bucks. I printed 8×10 color photos of some of my best “food porn” and assembled it into a binder with my logo on the front. I had the homemade ricotta episode cued up on Gary’s Kindle. I had food, supplies and my handy-dandy two burner porta-stove packed in case they wanted to see some real food. I even be-dazzled a t-shirt with the word “badass” in Swarovsky crystals. I wasn’t just “ready” I was “READY!”
Ah, the best laid plans and all…
The trip to Atlanta was great. Nice weather, good music and high hopes for the audition on Wednesday. We rolled into town at about 7:30pm, eager to check into the hotel, freshen up and enjoy a nice relaxing dinner before turning in early. The valet takes our luggage and loads it onto a cart and waits for us to finish checking in. Anne, the very lovely girl, at the check in asked for my name. We made some small talk as she searched for my reservation. Suddenly, a confused look crosses her face and she very nicely tells me, “Oh, I have you checking in for tomorrow night…”
At this point, I’m looking around for Ashton Kutcher and the hidden camera, because surely someone was Punking me.
Nothing but me, frantically speaking. “No, there must be a mistake. I booked this through Priceline for tonight.” Poor Anne looked as if she wanted to come around and give me a hug. “I’m sorry Miss Gatto, if I had a room I’d gladly give it to you, but we are booked solid.”
Then the real bombshell.
“Everyone in town is.”
Apparently every major corporation (including Coca Cola) decided to have trainings and meetings and conventions that week. And they took every freakin’ room in the city. Every one, that is, except the $10 buck an hour flea-bag motels and the $400 a night suites at the Ritz-Carlton. Neither of which was a viable option.
The next 20 minutes were spent with me in alternately in tears and fury, on the phone with Priceline, while Gary tried to keep me from having a nervous breakdown. The rep decided to be “generous” and refund my money. How sweet. They screwed up and we had nowhere to stay. The rep did offer to put us up in a lovely 2 star hotel in a shady area for $80 bucks. Yeah, right. I told him I’d be contacting the State Attorney General’s office regarding the matter and hung up. Fan-frickin-tastic. Poor Anne felt so bad she started looking for a room for us. She ended up finding one, at a hotel that was a few blocks away. “I’ve never stayed there, but at least they have something.” She helped me book the room and wished me good luck for the next day. I have to say, I was so impressed and touched by the level of service and care that this woman took in trying to help us out. If only Priceline was that accommodating…
So we thank Anne and the valet and head off the the next hotel. Right away I was a little leery, because the area looked kinda deserted and shady. I opened the car door and was greeted by a cloud of cigarette smoke coming from the businessman at the end of the sidewalk. The valet get the luggage loaded up and we checked in to the room on the 10th floor of the Melia’. The minute the elevator opened, I knew we were in trouble. The smell of mildew wafted in and almost choked me. I gave Gary a look as we trudged on to the room, behind the valet. We opened the door to the room and my stomach sank. The room didn’t smell any better than the hallway and the comforter on the bed and the chaise were stained with, ahem, “bodily fluids”. The CSI team would’ve had a freakin’ field day with their little blue lights in that room. I looked at Gary and said, “I cannot do this. I cannot stay here. I’d rather sleep in the car.” I turned and walked out of the room, with Gary right behind me. The folks at the front desk were nice enough and offered to put us in a different room, but I’d seen enough and they didn’t charge my credit card. It was now almost 9pm and we still had no room and the idea of a relaxing dinner was pretty much a thing of the past, too. We found a parking lot on the edge of Buckhead and called every hotel that didn’t have chalk outlines on the pavement outside. Nothing. Every room in town was booked. At this point, tired, hungry, frustrated and stressed out, I said, through tears, to Gary, “I just wanna go home! Maybe it’s not meant for me to get there tomorrow, since it seems like everything is preventing it from happening.” My husband, who had kept a level head throughout the ordeal said sharply, “Fine you wanna go home, we’ll go home. I’ll drive right back to Charlotte now. But you think about it first. Do you really want to give up?” I sniffled meekly. “No.” “Well then put your Badass panties on and let’s figure out a solution.” I took a deep breath, put on my “war face” and said, “You’re right. I am a badass and I’m gonna find us a good hotel that’s not gonna put us in the poor house.” It was now around 10pm. I spent the next 30 minutes looking for hotels in outlying areas. I came up with the Marriott at the Century Center. I wasn’t able to book the hotel online and the national 1-800 number phone reps could not confirm what was available at the property, so we decided to take a drive. We got there at about 10:45pm and I went in to check on a room while Gary waited in the car. I was greeted by MJ, a very nice young man. When I told him what happened, he not only found us a nice room, but he gave me a great rate, too. Plus he was just so nice and empathetic, which is what I needed, maybe even more than the room. I burst into tears and told him that if anything came of the audition and I got my show on the air, I’d do something really nice for him. And I will. Funny that with all the crappy customer service from damn Priceline, I also found the polar opposite with both the Marriott and the Renaissance. It’s nice to see that there are folks out there that really care about customer service and just being kind to folks. Made my heart feel lighter.
We checked in, ordered food and I took a hot shower. The food came up (delicious club sammies) and about 10 minutes after they arrived, MJ called to see if everything was ok and if we were enjoying the food. He also wished me luck for the next day. What an absolute sweetheart. I’m telling you, if I get rich and famous from this, I’m gonna pay the kindness forward to both him and Anne.
The next morning we were up, refreshed and ready to go by 5am and out the door by 6:15am. I wanted to be first in line (or at least close to it) so I didn’t have to wait hours before I was seen. We got the W and found an empty lobby. Gary checked with the concierge and found out that the holding room was on the 27th floor and that we wouldn’t be able to access it until 8am. It was 6:30am and one thing was for sure. I’d managed to be the first one there. As we waited, we watched all of the business folk-you know, the ones that had filled up all the rooms-checking out, getting coffee, meeting colleagues etc. We chatted about the interview and what we thought it would be like. At about 7:30am, another hopeful, a sweetheart of a chef named Marietta, showed up and we started chatting.
Finally it was time! We boarded the elevator for the short ride to the 27th floor. The doors opened to a ballroom with an amazing view of midtown. Rows and rows of chairs were set up along with a water station and there were two people talking at the far end of the room. Now, the three of us assumed that these two were from the casting agency. We found out that they were also there hoping to be the Next Food Network Star. The guy, handed us a business card (he did that to everyone that walked in the room) and the woman immediately asked what our cooking point of view was. It turned out that they had gotten there about 5 minutes before I had and hitched a ride up with a hotel guest. So we all waited. And waited. And waited. 9am came and I started to get a little concerned that maybe we were in the wrong room. After all, last time I’d gotten there at 10am and still had to wait for 6 hours. So we all went down to the studio, which was also reserved for the casting team. Nothing. I remembered that this was the same kind of room that I was interviewed in last time, so back up to the 27th floor we went, but not before business card guy left several of his cards on the casting table. Gary and I just kinda looked at each other and shook our heads. At about 9:30am, two of the gals from casting came into the room and gave us an information sheet to fill out and told us how the interviews would work. Basically they’d be taking groups of 5-7 folks at a time downstairs to the studio and we’d go in two by two. When one person went out, the next person went in, to keep things moving. I was the third person they saw. The casting agent I saw was very nice and asked me about my life, work, experience with food and culinary point of view. The interview lasted about 3-4 minutes and then it was over. They couldn’t say anything about callbacks except she asked where I came in from and that “we’ll let you know”. That was it. Now since I’ve been on several casting calls like this, I know that usually if you don’t get a callback before you leave the room, you’re not getting one. I left and went back up to the 27th floor to collect Gary and leave. On the way out, I ran into Marietta, and we said our goodbyes and exchanged information to keep in touch. On the way out, the hubs asked how I thought things went. I said, “No callback. Guess I’m not getting one.” I was disappointed, but Gary said, “I don’t know. I have a good feeling about this one.” I shrugged and started looking for a place to eat. We were starving, since the idea having breakfast that early and before an audition was just not that appealing. We decided that since we were in Atlanta, we’d make a day out of it and have a nice lunch and go to the Georgia Aquarium.
We started out little adventure in the ATL at a cute little place called South City Kitchen. Comfort food, done right. Really right. We shared the fried green tomatoes with goat cheese and red pepper coulis appetizer:
I had the BLT with Heirloom Tomatoes (which we all know I am obsessed with):
Gary had the Pimento Cheeseburger:
The place is adorable (an old house that’s been converted) everything is so fresh and amazing and the prices were really reasonable. If you are in Atlanta, check ’em out. You won’t be sorry!
Next stop was the Georgia Aquarium! Did you know that it is the largest aquarium in the world? Me neither! This place was so cool that words cannot describe, so here are some pictures:
After a fun afternoon at the aquarium, it was time to head home. I was ok with not getting a callback and didn’t regret going to the audition. The way I saw it, it was another chance to get The Domestic Badass out there and we had a great day out. Now, my phone died at the aquarium (I took a lot of pictures and video) so jokingly I said to Gary as we were leaving the parking deck: “Let me plug my phone in-who knows maybe I got a callback and we’ll have to stay.”
There were four messages on my phone.
Two from my Mom.
One from my adopted little brother, Mike.
And one from the casting department, telling me that they wanted to see me for an on camera interview that Friday. I looked at Gary as I listened and mouthed the words: “I got a callback!!” which was followed by a louder: “Holy crap! Holy crap!! I got a callback! I got a freakin’ callback!!!!” I returned the call, set up my time and got all the information I needed for my 2:30pm appointment on Friday. Then I started calling my family to share the good news.
Thursday was spent getting ready, working on my demo and my signature dish. I chose my Asian Glazed Salmon (recipe is here)
and got everything prepped and ready for the trip the next morning.
We arrived in plenty of time and I was greeted warmly by one of the casting gals I’d met on Wednesday. I went in to the interview room, got wired for sound and started my interview. I can’t say much about the process, but I can say that it went really, really well. I can honestly say that I “left it all in the casting room” and couldn’t have asked for a better interview. The next step is to send additional materials in, then all of my stuff gets sent to the producers and if I’m moving on, I’ll hear something in November or December. I’m super excited about the possibilities and will keep you guys posted!
So last week was pretty much a whirlwind of excitement around DBA HQ. Yesterday, I got an email from a local paper who found out about all of this and they are interested in doing a special feature on me! Crazy, huh? I still can’t believe all of this, but I’m really happy, excited and grateful for all the support and love you guys have shown me. Last night, to celebrate, I decided to create my take on Steak Frites, a dish that is a staple of the Brasseries throughout France. Sounds super duper fancy, huh? Yeah, the French do have a way of making even simple food sound very posh. Steak frites is basically well seasoned steak, typically cooked rare and served with a pan jus or reduction and, well, French Fries. Yep, good old meat and potatoes, given the gourmet treatment. My take on it uses flat iron steak, a flavorful marinade and rich jus. I cut my “frites” thin, so they cook up tender on the inside and crisp on the outside. It’s really a yummy dish that is surprisingly simple to create:
Now I love my steak done to a nice medium rare, but you can cook it to your own taste. Here’s what you need to serve 2 people:
1 1/4 lbs Flat Iron Steak
4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Herbs de Provence
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
For the Jus:
1/2 cup red wine
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1 TBS butter
pinch of salt
Put the steak, vinegar, herbs and garlic in a zipper bag and let marinate for at least 2 hours.
Remove the steak from the bag and season both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a teaspoon or two of oil (I use a light olive oil) in a pan on high. Cook steak for 2 minutes on each side to create a nice sear, then an additional 3 minutes on each side for a nice medium rare. Remove steak and let rest on a board for 15-20 minutes. To the pan, add the wine and the beef stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to get those yummy steak bits up. Let the liquid cook on high for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, add a pinch of salt and the butter and whisk until the butter is incorporated into the sauce. Slice the meat against the grain for optimal tenderness. To serve, ladle some of the jus in a plate and top with slices of steak and frites.
For the Frites you’ll need:
2 Medium potatoes
A bowl of ice water
Salt (truffle salt is really good with this dish)
Dish towels or paper towels
Wash the potatoes and dry then cut them into 1/8 inch slices then cut the slices into 1/8 inch strips (this technique is known as a julienne cut) Soak the cut potatoes in ice water for 30 minutes. Remove and dry thoroughly with the towels (this is very important-if the potatoes are wet, the oil will jump at you) In a deep fryer add the oil and heat to temperature (350 degrees) and carefully add the potatoes in small batches. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until fries are golden. Remove and drain on paper towels in a single layer so the frites stay crisp. Salt to taste. Repeat until they are all cooked.
Now I stress the importance of using a deep fryer for a good reason. Yes, kiddies, it’s time for the DBA Safety Tip of the Week! I chose to cook my fries in a pot, since the deep fryer was a bit out of reach (up on the fridge to be more specific-hey, I am a tiny woman and most things are out of reach for me). I was extremely careful, monitoring the oil temp, cooking small batches, etc. But sometimes weird crap happens and so do weird accidents. When I added the last (and smallest) batch to the oil, it bubbled up and out of the pot.
Right onto the hot cook top.
Now, all I could see at that point was our home going up in a blaze of glory, but I stayed calm and did what any other self-respecting badass would do in such a situation. I carefully slid the pot to a cool burner, grabbed the damp towels that I used to dry the potatoes and kind of squeegied the oil off the hot stove. This plan would have worked flawlessly, if I’d only realized just how much oil had spilled over. When I pushed the oil out of the hot zone, a miniature tidal wave of screaming hot oil swelled over the towels and right onto the thumb of my right hand.
I did not scream. I said “Aw, dammit all to hell!” which prompted my hubby to come running in to see what the hell I’d done. Poor thing. When he got a look at my melted thumb, he got deathly silent and very pale. “I’m OK, I’m OK” I said to calm him down. Nothing. He stood there transfixed by the sight of my thumb which was looking eerily like a candle left in the attic on a 120 degree day. “Are you ok?” he finally managed to croak out. “Yeah I’m fine but I’m really pissed because I can’t finish cooking the frites! Crap! I have to get this steak off the heat so it doesn’t over cook!” Gary stood there, mouth agape, staring at me in disbelief. “You’ve gotta be kidding me. You just melted your thumb and all you’re worried about is dinner???” I looked at him quizzically and said, “Well, yeah..” Silly boy. You can the girl out of the chef’s coat, but you can’t take the chef’s coat out of the girl…
I cleaned up, bandaged up and went back to work. And I’m happy to say that it was delicious! Do give this recipe a try-it’s really simple and flavorful and if you use the deep fryer, relatively danger-free.
Well, that’s all for now, kids. I’ve got to re-wrap my thumb and get some shut eye. I’ll keep you all posted on all the flurry about Next Food Network Star. Keep your fingers crossed, send good thoughts and prayers and we’ll see what happens!
Until next time…
Have fun and be Fearless (and safe!)