I can check one thing off my bucket list: Appear on the Food Network.
This is how it all came to pass. When we moved to NYC in 2014 for my husband Chris to go to business school, I felt lost. Up in Boston, I was a part-time hospital dietitian and part-time entrepreneur with my own nutrition practice. After Chris got into NYU, I had only a couple of months to sell our home, our car, and otherwise wrap up our life there before moving. There was little time to figure out what I would be doing.
I spent the first couple of months in Manhattan researching opportunities and feeling anxious about how I would ever “make it” in New York. My daily distraction was to escape to Chelsea Market, a food lover’s heaven just a few steps away from our tiny one bedroom on 23rd street, to decide what to make for dinner. I could happily occupy myself there for hours perusing wares at the incredible kitchen store Bowery Kitchen Supply, choosing between every variety of produce I could imagine at Manhattan Fruit Exchange, ohhhing and awwwing at the fish displays at Lobster Place and taking my pick of local meats at Dicksons Farmstand. But the most exciting thing to me about Chelsea Market was the fact that it houses the Food Network, the channel I had faithfully watched for as long as I can remember. I learned a lot about cooking from my parents but I credit the Food Network for truly opening me up to the world of food. Some may snicker about that but it’s true.
I was awestruck. Were my favorite shows being filmed that very minute above my head? If I hung around long enough, would I catch a glimpse of my favorite stars? (Answer: Yes. Mario Batali really does where orange clogs all the time.) What did I have to do to gain entry to the employees-only elevator? I was so close.
Here was my train of thought: It’s my dream to get on the Food Network. I’m in New York and in closer proximity to where it all happens than I’ll ever be again. I don’t want to be the type of person who says “what if.” No one is going to discover me. Everything in my life I’ve achieved, I’ve had to work for. If I wanted it, I was going to have to go after it.
From that realization to appearing on Cooks vs Cons was a lesson in patience and persistence. Here’s the abbreviated version. Looking at FoodNetwork.com for audition opportunities. Filling out the longest application of my life for Next Food Network Star in November 2014. Getting called in for a filmed interview. Extreme excitement that this could happen followed by radio silence from the casting company for over a year. Needless to say I wasn’t chosen. In December 2015, a random call from a producer who happened to see my NFNS audition tape and wondered whether I was interested in doing a mock shoot of a different show called Cooks versus Cons. Yes! Auditioning and thinking this could happen again. Radio silence for another 8 or so months. Wasn’t chosen. In September 2016, a random call again from another producer who said CvC was being picked up for another season and was I available in two weeks to shoot it barring I passed through another round of phone interviews? Yes!
And from there, it actually happened. While I had been less focused on getting onto the Food Network because I was too busy trying to grow What We Eat, I jumped at every opportunity.
I have zero regrets. We shot that episode on October 18, 2016 at CakeHouse Media’s studios, located at Carlo’s Bakery’s warehouse in Jersey City. The day was long–7:30 am call to 11 pm wrap and “performing” pretty much the entire time. It’s definitely me you see, but as the producers would say, me “turned up to an 11.” Apparently my personality, which I’ve always thought of as pretty strong, is “more like a 6 or 7.” The two thirty-minute competitions are as intense as they look. A few things were cut (I actually burned a second pan of pine nuts…I can’t believe they edited that one out) but overall they unfold as you see. The interviews that are peppered throughout were shot at 9 pm after we all knew the outcome. I was done at this point, so tired that I hardly could string a sentence together. One of the producers kindly got me a beer because I said maybe that would help. It did. Little parts, like the opener where I said, “I’m Laura Geraty from Marblehead, Massachusetts, and I’m a chef” were shot no less than 30 times. “That one was great, Laura, but now say it with New York attitude.” “Okay, good job, but this time try not to hop up and down so much.” “Okay, this time say it like you mean it.” (What does that even mean?) This was in front of a crew of maybe 50 producers, camera people, lighting people, etc. So embarrassing.
The judges, in my case Alex Guarnaschelli and Jeff Mauro, were thoughtful, articulate, witty and kind, even in delivering criticism. The host, Geoffrey Zakarian, was debonair and immediately put all of us contestants at ease. All three were authentic. What you see on camera is just them “turned up to an 11,” and I’d say most of their personalities would read a 9 or 10 without the extra pizzaz.
And really, that was that. From the shoot in October until “Tarts and Hearts” aired this past Wednesday, I heard nary a peep from anyone on the production team. I watched the episode for the first time surrounded by my What We Eat dream team, friends and family, at the same time as everyone else in America. I had no idea how I’d be portrayed, no idea whether the other contestants said anything mean about me (one of them apologized as we were leaving, confessing he was encouraged to talk smack…I absolutely was not), no idea of how sweaty I would look (pretty sweaty), and certainly no idea what I said during that end-of-day interview. It was so fun.
Here are my takeaways. 1) I want more for media for our team. 2) We’re going to continue to plug away with every aspect of What We Eat’s work–from TV, to private cheffing, to markets, to products–doing the best we can every day because time and again I’ve learned that passion, persistence and patience is my winning formula. 3) I’m proud to be the type of person who puts herself in the arena and is open to both success and failure . Yes, I lost but if this is what losing feels like, bring it on.
Thank you to all of you for tuning in and reaching out both before and after. My heart felt like it was going to explode this past week. While every part of this was a dream, by far the most rewarding part was hearing from you.
With love always, xo Laura
If you want to taste what I made during the two rounds, here are the recipes. I made them both for our viewing party on Wednesday. Even now, five months later, I wouldn’t change a thing.
SPINACH AND ARTICHOKE HEART TART WITH LEMONY GREENS
1 package puff pastry, thawed overnight in the fridge (preferably Dufour)
1 egg whisked for egg wash
8ish-oz can artichoke hearts in water, drained and thinly sliced or chopped
1 10-oz package frozen spinach, thawed and tightly wrung to get rid of water, and chopped
mayo to bind (~1 cup)
Greek yogurt to bind (~1 cup)
parmesan to taste (~1 cup finely grated)
feta cheese to taste (~1/2-1 cup crumbled)
zest of 1 lemon, plus a little juice
garlic to taste (2 cloves minced)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
parsley to taste (2 T+ chopped)
juice of 1 lemon, reserve a little zest
~1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
3 heads romaine or little gem lettuce
1/3 cup each torn parsley, basil and mint
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
Roll out cold puff pastry dough, cut in individual portions or make one or two large portions and place on parchment lined baking sheet. Gently slice around crust to create an edge, prick inside with fork, brush with egg wash and season with salt and freshly cracked pepper and place on 425-degree oven to par-bake for ~10 minutes. Scoring the edges and docking the inside allows the outside edges of the crust to rise and the inside of the tart to stay slightly flatter. The inside will rise a little bit too but can easily be pushed back down after par-baking.
Meanwhile mix spinach artichoke filling by combining all ingredients from artichoke hearts to parsley on list above. Taste and correct seasoning. Reserve a little extra parm and feta to place atop filling before baking.
Remove par-baked tart and fill inside with spinach artichoke mixture. Top with reserved cheese. Return tart to oven to heat filling through and color cheese, about 15-20 minutes. The puff pastry should be deeply golden and the filling bubbly and crisp in spots.
While tart and filling bake, make salad. First make vinaigrette by combining lemon juice to salt and pepper on list above (give the shallot a little time to soak with just the lemon juice before adding other ingredients). Remove romaine leaves until you get to the heart; sliced lengthwise so each person gets one side of the romaine heart or just tear it all to make a salad. Add to mixing bowl with arugula and herbs. Toast pine nuts on stove top. Wait until the last minute to lightly dress greens.
To serve: Place tart/tart slices on each of three plates. Serve delicately dressed greens alongside.
CACAO RUBBED PORK TENDERLOIN OVER WARM BITTERSWEET SALAD
serves 2-4 depending on appetite
1 pork tenderloin
2 T cacao nibs
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 T brown sugar
1 tsp cocoa powder
pinch of cinnamon
1 fennel bulb
several handfuls of arugula
1 radicchio bulb
small handful parsley
small handful mint
½-1 cup pomegranate seeds
½ cup walnuts
¼ cup cocoa nibs
4 oz fresh goat cheese
juice and zest of 1 orange
warm vinaigrette of – 1 minced shallot, 4 T balsamic vinegar, small drizzle of pomegranate molasses, 2 T butter
salt and freshly cracked pepper
Preheat oven to 425. Preheat cast iron skillet over medium high heat.
Make spice rub for pork by placing fennel seed, cocoa nibs and black pepper into mortar and pestle and pound until it’s a rough grind that will adhere to pork and leave a little texture. Mix in brown sugar, cocoa powder, cayenne, cinnamon and a three finger pinch of salt.
Remove any silver skin from pork, rub it with 1 T olive oil, season it with salt and roll in spice rub massaging it into cracks. Sear in oiled pan on all sides for 5-10 minutes. Finish in 425-degree oven for ~10 minutes until medium. Rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.
While pork is in oven, prep salad components. Toast walnuts gently on stovetop in dry pan until fragrant and lightly browned; add cocoa nibs for the last minute to release their essential oils. Thinly slice fennel bulb and separate radicchio leaves. Add to large mixing bowl with a few handfuls of arugula. Tear in a fresh mint and parsley leaves. Seed and add pomegranate seeds to salad reserving some to the side. Crumble and add goat cheese reserving some to the side. Add walnuts and cocoa nibs to the greens reserving some to the side. Zest in orange.
Make warm vinaigrette in pork skillet while pork is resting. Add a little oil if necessary and saute one minced shallot for a minute or two. “Deglaze” with balsamic vinegar and a juice of half an orange and whisk well. Reduce over high heat. Add a drizzle of pomegranate molasses and 2 tablespoons butter. Whisk to emulsify. Season to taste with salt and pepper if needed.
To Plate! Toss greens with a little olive oil, fresh orange juice from the remaining half-orange, salt and pepper. Place on plate and finish with reserved cocoa nibs, toasted walnuts, crumbled goat cheese and pomegranate. Top with sliced tenderloin and then drizzle judiciously with warm orange-balsamic-pomegranate reduction.