Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio shares his wisdom about presenting food on TV. He would know — he's never had a major disaster!

on Dec 3, 2008

This is not to say that I haven't had my share of anxiety. My first time on television was the worst experience of my life. In '91, right after winning Best New Chef from Food and Wine magazine, I was asked to appear on Regis and Kathy Lee. I was doing a braised red snapper in a lemon rosemary vinaigrette with roasted red peppers and an eggplant caviar napoleon. I was told to be there at 8 a.m. and showed up prepped and ready to go ... only to be yelled at by the producer, who said I should've been there at 6, had missed rehearsal, and "was going to screw it all up." Nowadays, there is someone on the set to help you set it all up; back then, it was just me, setting up off-camera. And this producer kept coming by every five minutes to shout at me that I was going to screw it all up. To make matters worse, Regis made a few references to missing rehearsal that I thought were directed at me, too, until I realized that he himself had missed rehearsal and was actually busting on himself. The segment went off without a hitch and the producer who had been yelling at me beforehand was thrilled with me afterwards, offering to have me back any time I wanted ... while I was thinking "Are you kidding? I was so nervous, I'm NEVER doing live TV again."

Clearly, I got over it. TV's actually very easy to do. You can make things as complicated or as simple as you want. The best way to assure you finish on time is to have swap-outs, where food is already prepared. You can have as many swap-outs as you like, to use along the way, and you should always have a beauty plate done. Jamie was looking to do her entire dish in the two minutes allotted, which is why she came up short. Leah should have had a duck already cooked, should have had the relish already made, and should've had the whole thing already plated. You'll notice that Stefan didn't try to make his whole soup in two minutes - he had the ingredients ready to show us how to make it, but then had the soup finished for a swap-out. Jeff handled his segment perfectly: He had a beauty plate ready, and the food was really good. In that segment on Regis and Kathy Lee, I had swap-outs for every step of the process: I had the fish raw, plus in the oven, plus the beauty-dish already made. The various elements of the eggplant caviar napoleon were ready, as was the fully assembled dish, and I swapped at each step. It's the only way I could be sure to finish the segment successfully in the time allotted.

A lot of our contestants didn't make it on time.