It was late August 2014, and I was still reeling from my layoff at the Asheville Citizen-Times. I was spending my days meeting with friends, posting to Ashvegas and generally wondering what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life when an email popped up from a casting agent for a Travel Channel pilot.
The reality TV cooking show would featured backyard grillers and a couple of celebrity chef judges. It would feature local food, as well as one local judge. Would I be interested?
A 15-minuted Skype chat with the casting guy and a couple of email exchanges later, I was signed on. The show was set to film in September in Pack Square Park in downtown Asheville. The date – Sept. 13. My birthday. Kismet, a friend noted. Indeed.
The day was one of those breezy, deep-Carolina-blue-sky kind of September days we enjoy here in Western North Carolina. I arrived on the makeshift set with four grillers from the region, all vying to take home a $10,000 grand prize. That’s some serious cake for these semi-amateur cooks.
I was joined by host David Guas, a cookbook author, TV personality and owner of the Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery. The second celebrity judge was Elizabeth Karmel, another cookbook author, restauranteur and food show personality known as an authority on grilling and her appearances on everything from Good Morning America to Chopped and Iron Chef America. Both were the kindest, most professional pair of food experts I’d ever spent time with.
David and Elizabeth put this rookie at ease the night before when we had dinner at Chestnut and met with show runner Neil DeGroot, known for his work on The Biggest Loser and other reality TV shows. The show we filmed was called Grilled at the time. It’s official name is American Grilled. The Asheville show was one of three shot in the hopes of the Travel Channel picking up a full run, which it did. The crew went on to shoot 10 other episodes across the U.S.
From there, it was a lot of intense cooking, tasting, filming and judging. Yes, it sucks to tell someone they didn’t make the cut. It’s also great to see someone win big money.
For me, the real star of the show was the local food. There was cheese from Looking Glass Creamery, meat from Carolina Bison, Hi-Wire beer, scuppernong grapes from a local market and much more. Alan Muskat, known as Asheville’s mushroom man, even stopped by with some foraged ‘shrooms that he wanted show producers to taste.
I can’t say much more about the show so as not to ruin the ending. It was a fantastic way to celebrate my birthday, and I can’t wait to see the show. You can watch American Grilled with me at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, July 2, at Hi-Wire Brewing in downtown Asheville. We’ll have a few brews and check it out.
Cheers to Asheville, it’s amazing local food and some fantastic backyard grillers just like you, and just in time for July Fourth.
You were laid off in the future? Is this article pure speculation on the part of your past self, anticipating a lay-off that is yet to come? Will Marty McFly feature heavily in your possible redemption as local food judge extraordinaire?
So how old were you on your birthday?