Last year, Rover’s restaurant (now closed) in Madison Valley hosted a series of talented home chefs cooking for a dining room of 45, in the new, local reality cooking show, “Kitchen Circus.”
Kellie Eickmeyer, from Madison Valley-based Mad Valley Productions, was the producer, director, editor and casting director for the show, along with Rover’s chef/owner Thierry Rautureau.
The show filmed in November and was released on-line via YouTube this July.
Rautureau came up with the idea after constantly hearing people say, “I’d love to come cook in your kitchen.”
Eickmeyer and Rautureau posted audition notices in August 2012 and chose nine contestants. During the auditions, they asked participants to chop a shallot and separate an egg while they were interviewed. Rautureau was looking for basic cooking skills, while Eickmeyer was looking for personality. The contestants, all from the Seattle area, were home chefs with no professional experience.
The participants were split into three groups. In each episode, they all created an amuse bouche (a bite-size appetizer) and one of the meal’s courses. During the audition process, Rautureau tried “to find where each person was going to shine in their dish and give them that.”
“I decided that one course was great, [but] the reality of life is that nothing is that [easy] in the kitchen,” he said. “The amuse bouche showed a little more craftsmanship; it showcased another angle.”
The diners — including local celebrities like restaurateur Tom Douglas — voted for their favorite course. The celebrity diners were all placed at a table that was filmed for commentary for the show.
The meals all took place at Rover’s, Rautureau’s four-star restaurant that closed in June.
“It’s kind of a Seattle institution known for haute cuisine,” Eickmeyer said. “Everybody was so excited yet anxious and a little scared about cooking in that kind of restaurant because the expectations from people are so high.”
In many reality shows, the audience smirks in voyeuristic glee to see a person fail. But Rautureau didn’t want that, especially because the diners had paid for tickets to be there.
“I was not about to let them burn anything or fall down,” he said. “Everyone was going to be successful at what they do — we still had to serve food.”
Contestant Erina Malarkey, a consultant by day and food blogger by night, tried out for the show after a coworker slammed down the ad for auditions on her desk and told her, “You only live once.”
Malarkey has gotten into cooking over the last seven years; before that, she had many “kitchen disasters.” In 2012, she decided to devote time to her blog, theattainablegourmet.com and focus on cooking.
Malarkey was shocked by the amount of time it took to prepare food for 45 people and the pressure of the show.
“[There were] microphones popped in your face, and they’re catching every little mistake,” she said, saying the foreign environment was like a “culminating pressure cooker.”
Rautureau’s goal was to have everyone win and have a great experience in the kitchen. The thing that shocked him most was that some contestants didn’t do their homework and prepare for the show.
The winners from the first three rounds were put together to compete in the final bout. Malarkey, the ultimate winner, won a gift certificate, cookware, bakeware and a dinner for four at Rover’s.
Eickmeyer calls “Kitchen Circus” “real TV,” not reality TV.
“We kept it very positive and educational,” she said. “We also didn’t pre-create any situations, trying to make them fail.”
Eickmeyer was worried during the filming process that there wouldn’t be enough drama to keep people entertained.
“Cooking for that many people…the drama came out,” she said.
Natural reactions are worth a million times more, Rautureau said. He has been on “Top Chef Masters” twice and is still running his restaurant Luc (2800 E. Madison St.). He is trying to use his contacts to set up pitch meetings.
“The main goal is we think this is a really great concept,” Eickmeyer said. “We want to get picked up, and we want to be on TV.”
Feedback has been positive, Eickmeyer said, noting she hasn’t seen a negative comment yet. People have been asking her about the second season, and while she wants to make another, she hopes to partner with a network to “create a new season in partnership with them.”
“I’m very excited to see the movement,” Rautureau said. “I think this TV show, the way it’s done, is very simple to watch. It’s very fun show to watch — not exhausting.”
Malarkey is excited about what “Kitchen Circus” could mean for the future of food TV. She feels the show brought some “humanity” back into a genre where it was lacking.
“Food has become inherently this sort of glamorous spectator sport,” she said. “People who don’t even cook spend hours watching cooking shows. I think what ‘Kitchen Circus’ did really well was there was this level of realness to it that I don’t think the other shows have touched on.”
To watch “Kitchen Circus,” visit www.youtube.com/KitchenCircus.
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