Will blog for food: Chatting with Food Network's Adam Gertler
While chilling in posh restaurants with celebrity chefs Rachael Ray, Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay may come for “Will Work For Food” host Adam Gertler, he’s too focused on surviving a day’s grind to enjoy his newfound name recognition.
After all, this is a guy getting down and dirty on goat farms and cranberry bogs so he can get the real story before the food hits the plate. Sounds glamorous, eh?
Seven episodes into its 13 episode first season, “Will Work For Food” revels in the unappreciated, everyday grind that isn’t analyzed as thoroughly as food artistry or cooking philosophy.
To get the real scoop, Gertler hits the road while guiding viewers through the less exotic end of the food pyramid. Already, the Long Island native has adopted the lifestyle of a lobsterman in Maine, a beekeeper in the sweltering Southern California heat, and most memorably, broken bottles as a Tom Cruise “Cocktail”-style flair bartender.
An episode where he visits MacFarlane Pheasants in Janesville is set to air March 16.
Future projects for Gertler include a candy special, commentary on "Best Thing I Ever Ate" and a likely appearance on the upcoming season of "Next Food Network Star" -- the reality competition that introduced him to network viewers.
Here's a transcript of Gertler's recent phone chat with Channel Surfing.
So where are you at with filming for the show and what else is taking up your time in California?
Just trying to stay busy, man. We’re finishing up the show. Most of the shooting is done, there’s just some voice-over stuff to do.
I started a little catering business with my brother. We did a New Year’s party, a big Super Bowl party. I figured I’d do some cooking while I’m out here. Both my brothers happen to be out here for different reasons, so that’s been great. I lived out here for a couple years before I moved to Philly, so I’m a little bit familiar with the So-Cal area. It's sort of a return to that area for me.
What's unique about "Will Work For Food" is that -- as you'd expect from the title -- they actually put you to work. Do you ever think, 'Man, this is kind of rough. I wish they'd just let me cook and taste different dishes for viewers?'"
They really put me to work on the show, and yeah, I’ve thought about that a lot. (Laughs). I justify that by saying, ‘Well, at least I’m really earning it when I stuff my face with food.’
A part of me feels that at least I’m working. I’ve worked in so many kitchens, you know, I just want to step in and want to do a great job. Some of these jobs are so highly skilled, and so much is required that I try my best and the results are as they are.
Highly skilled as in trying a turn as a flair bartender ...
And I thought I really did well! There were a lot of great takes for that one. One awesome take was the first time I tried (twirling) a glass bottle, and the bottle shattered. The camera wasn’t rolling, otherwise I guarantee that would have been on. The only reason is the camera has to stop and reload tape, adjust for lighting, that sort of thing. So they try to get me to stop participating at that time. And I said, ‘Whoa, I’m never going to get this, no matter how many thousands of times I practice, so please, let me get a couple in.’ That’s how bad I was at that one. The (real flair bartenders) were like, ‘Yeah, he should practice.’ We still got a couple really good takes.
One of the more unique jobs you've done involved digging for geoduck (giant clams, pronounced gooey duck). That was just beyond strange to me.
That was really great. That’s the kind of thing I could probably do as a job, with a little bit of experience. It was pretty simple, pretty straightforward. And it was in an absolutely beautiful part of the country, the Pacific Northwest. That’s what struck me about that specific one. I had never been to that part of the country before, and it was so lush, so green.
How did you guys decide which jobs to pursue for the first season?
We came up with a lot of options. It has to go through the network. Producers have to approve the idea, basically, ‘This might be interesting, this visually might not be appealing, this one is too disgusting, this one is not disgusting enough.' Seriously, that kind of back and forth happens, and eventually you land in the middle somewhere.
And you really want to open it up to all parts of the country, right?
Yes. I definitely didn’t want this to become just a California show. I love to travel to all kinds of cool places.
I think the best part is that people are learning about things they've never really given much thought to. For instance, beekeeping. Everyone knows about the honey bear at the store, but how does it get there?
I would assume that most people don’t know about these processes. I certainly didn’t know about them before this show. So I feel like I have a chance to educate people on some really cool things.
Obviously, if people are learning, then that means the show is doing really well. If they’re not aware of the fact that they’re learning, that’s even better. The best kind of teaching is when it’s fun.
Do you gain a greater appreciation for the everyday workers you get to hang out with?
You always gain a greater appreciation. I don’t think there was a job I did where it was, ‘Oh really, that’s all there is to it?' I think every job had a little bit of a 'wow' factor for me. A couple jobs that stick out are working on the goat farm. Also, I had never really been that intimately involved in the cheese-making process, and who doesn’t love cheese?
Well, you're talking to a Wisconsin native here ...
Oh, of course! That’s something I'd want to learn more about if I had the chance. I would love to try and do that again.
Also, wine caving in Napa Valley was another great one. I thought that was really fascinating, digging in wine caves to store wine. It’s both environmentally friendly and energy efficient. And they’re in these awesome wine caves.
Another component to the show is that you're learning right on camera, so all the questions are authentic. You don't pretend to be an expert, I would guess, by design ...
Yes. There’s a great authenticity about it. I don’t have to come off seemingly all knowing, and really, it’s all bogus. I’m learning right now, you’re learning it with me, we’re moving forward.
Hopefully that’s one of the appeals to the show. I’m more of an everyman than a super expert on a lot of things. I know what I know in the world of food, but there’s a lot that I don’t know. It’s silly to think that anyone specialized in one area of food automatically is an expert on everything.
Are the workers you highlight on the show receptive to the cameras?
That’s kind of the tricky thing, to get them to be a little more expressive. They’re not used to being on camera, so they can be a bit surprised. To them, it’s more, ‘This is what I do, I’m in Wisconsin and I work on a pheasant farm, you know?’ A lot of people who see (the show), they’re getting to see this particular process for the first time. It’s fascinating to them. To the people who do it, that’s just a normal day's work.
I'd imagine they're still pretty excited, though.
It's definitely exciting to have the Food Network come. It's more of the exception when I say people are surprised. They’re more excited to show off to the world, yes. I think it makes them look at what they do and think, ‘Yeah, this is kind of cool, or not a lot of people can do this.’
Like people who work on the cranberry bogs in Massachusetts. We’re talking third and fourth generation who’ve grown up doing this. It’s in their family and it’s all they know. So it’s pretty wild to them to expose an outsider to it, work on a bog with them. Those small businesses, it’s all in the family. They’ve been doing it forever.
So how did you decide to link up with the Food Network via "Next Food Network Star?"
That was pretty funny. I was not cooking for some time. My restaurant that I had with my brother in Philly had closed, and I was working at a Spanish restaurant, waiting tables actually. A fellow waiter friend of mine had seen an ad on Craigslist, of all places, looking for chefs and people with big personalities in the culinary world. He wanted to know if I was interested.
I didn’t even realize it was for Food Network when I decided to go for it. It was an open call, about 100 people in a room in Philly. You did some interviews there, would come back and prepare a dish on camera, talk about your culinary background. Then I got a call to come to New York to the Food Network kitchens for the next round of callbacks. It was kind of like going to Hollywood on ‘American Idol.’
At what point did they approach you about "Will Work For Food?" Right after the competition ended?
They actually called me while the show was airing and said, ‘Hey, we have this idea for a show you might be really good for, more of a food job show. Would you be interested in hosting?’ I was still waiting tables at the time. What was I gonna say? ‘Uh, no, I got some tables to attend to … sorry.’
So really, finishing as runner-up (to Aaron McCargo Jr.) wasn't that big of a deal ...
People will still come up to me on the street and say, ‘Oh, sorry you didn’t win.’ That’s not how I see it. I feel like a winner. I’m doing OK. (Laughs.)
Did you think while you were on the show, I need to showcase myself in case I don't win. That if someone else beats me, I'll still have demonstrated to someone watching that I've got a lot to offer?
Absolutely. I was trying to stay in there to sort of audition to the world as much as possible. That’s exactly what I was thinking.
And sprinkling some comedy in there didn't hurt ...
That was clearly my advantage in the competition, and I played that strength from the beginning. And it worked out. It definitely worked out. I didn’t expect to hear so soon from the Food Network. I watch the Food Network and log onto the Web site to look for recipes. I have to sometimes stop and say, ‘Wait, is this weird that I’m logging onto the Web site of the network that I have a show on?’ What would people say if they saw me, ‘Oh come on, you company man!'
I imagine it's been a bit of a whirlwind to be at this point ...
It’s been pretty fast. Been a little over a year from where it all started.
So are you "in" at the Food Network. Is Bobby Flay on your speed dial?
(Laughs.) No, he’s not on my speed dial. Not yet anyway.
Does it take a certain amount of courage or confidence to think you can go on a reality competition and win? Did you always think you were meant for a bigger stage?
I’ve always lived my life by that philosophy. I was lucky to grow up in a nice suburban home, a good family environment where my parents really taught us that you can do anything you want. And we believed it. I know a lot of people think that’s a bunch of hooey, and you know, everybody tells themselves that, I guess. I was ignorant enough to believe it. (Laughs.)
And you know, I had my moment where I’m like, 'OK, I’m 30 years old, when is something gonna happen?' And something great came along at the right time.
Did you always see yourself on TV? (Gertler has a bachelor of fine arts in acting from Syracuse University.)
Yeah, something like this. I always wanted to be involved in entertainment, and I imagined having a TV show. I really did. But I didn’t know what kind of show it would be. I just loved being an entertainer, and always wanted to do it since forever.
Even when I was in California before, I was trying to act. But I’m not a straight-up performer, and I didn’t have a niche. I’m not the funniest guy and don’t have a great stand-up routine. I’m not the most beautiful guy. You really have to have something specific to offer to make it in that world.
So I left to open a restaurant, another thing I’m passionate about. And I always saw cooking as performing. I thought it could be great, and it all just happened in a strange sequence of events. I left L.A. where you go to be in the entertainment business to go to Philly, where you don’t. And I end up getting a show on Food Network. It still sounds weird to say.
It’s a strange sequence of events that got me a show on Food Network, for sure. It was just the universe working itself out, I guess. You know, it’s a cool story. And it happens to be mine.
"Will Work For Food" airs at 8:30 p.m., Mondays on Food Network.
-- Thomas Rozwadowski, email@example.com