Sunday, March 4, 2012

Check Please Kansas City, with a Top Chef Twist

2011 was the year I turned 50. No big deal, no big events but it did cause a wee session of "Life in Review" introspection. What I found was a woman fairly comfortable in her ample skin, a bit of a recluse, happy to be puttering in the kitchen and the digital darkroom. Still there was room for personal envelope pushing. Not exactly a bucket list mind you but more traveling down some avenues that might lead to whole new adventures. This is what I was thinking as I filled out the digital application for the Kansas City version of Check Please!


Check Please is a public television program that originated in Chicago in 2001. Ordinary folks visit three restaurants and then "chat" about their experiences in studio. Currently only four other cities host a version of Check Please and a fifth, Seattle, will start their version this year. Back in early 2011 I filled out the application and then promptly sent the link to my two of my most reliable dining buddies, hoping they would fill it out and we could all be on the show together, making the experience much like what we do already, eat, gossip and talk about fracking. However, my two buddies have much more detailed and busier lives than I do and the application link was soon lost in over-burdened piles of electronic noise. Months passed and no response was ever received to my submittal, leading me to believe that I had been rejected. That was until September when I received an email that I had indeed been selected and here's your three restaurants to visit. It was another Put Up or Shut Up moment. But really, was it that hard? Go eat food and then go talk about it on camera? For most people, probably not. For the lifelong behind the scenes, never in the limelight person, yeah, it was hard. But I did it anyway.

Big Shamu Check Please

I have to admit, it was kinda surreal. I did snap a couple of photos before we started the in studio segment.

no empty plate

This is my place at the table. The one thing that bugs me about this show is the empty plates. I know it's set dressing but damn it if you're going to set the table, you better be putting some food on those plates. So I brought my own food. That's a photo of one of the appetizers from one of the restaurants we reviewed. Overall it was a fun experience and I'm glad I didn't punk out. You can watch the episode here. But because it's food and tv and me, it couldn't be without a whiff of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. You see back when we were filming I happen to mention that one of the restaurants was for sale on Craig's List and said how bizarre to try and sell a restaurant that way. (News that R-Bar is up for sale on Craig's List.) Apparently that triggered a whole landslide of "what the hell do we do now?" from the producers. The way the show is set up, more than likely what happens is the producers send out a general letter to many restaurants saying that they are considering reviewing your restaurant, is that ok with you? For the most part, restaurants like publicity enough that they will take the chance that they won't get a bad review. I know this because I asked while we were waiting for the studio segment if any restaurants had refused to participate and only a couple had during the history of the Kansas City version. Once the restaurants respond, the reviewers are sent out anonymously to eat at their three assigned restaurants. They send in their reviews and wait to see if they will be chosen to review on camera. Once the studio segment is done, camera crews are sent out to the restaurants to do the "hero" segments. Nice shots of pretty people in the restaurant, closeups of the food and owners talking about their business. So when it came to the restaurant up for sale I'm guessing they weren't too interested in allowing cameras in to shoot food for a concept that might be revamped if sold. As it was they were barely operating at the time and only open 3 nights a week and running on a severely limited menu. So the producers scrambled to save the segment. But in a bizarre twist, they brought in three totally new reviewers and...

...had them go to the restaurant, order drinks and food and then filmed the review segment in the actual restaurant. The focus of this last piece was liquor because this particular joint, at that moment, was trying to promote itself as a bar first and gastro pub second. I say at that moment because in yet another twist they announced in February that they've hired a new chef, thought about opening an additional night a week and teased that they might, just might serve lunch. Now I think this particular restaurant came out smelling like a rose in the whole Check Please deal because folks, the food when I went there was absolutely horrid. I didn't use the word horrid in my on camera review but I was honest when it came to the food. I thought the decor was beautiful, the thought the service was good but I thought it was way overpriced for the quality and quantity of food I ate. Or tried to eat. I don't remember specifically how the other two reviewers rated their food so I won't put words into their mouths but I don't think it was as glowing as the subsequent three new reviewers. I have to say that makes me sad for a couple of reasons. One of the reasons I wanted to do this was because it seemed an honest representation of ordinary people reviewing their experience in a restaurant. No one told me what to say or what not to say. Just be myself. I've seen previous reviewers who had strong opinions about whether food is good or bad or overpriced so it's not always a total valentine for the restaurants. Who I feel really bad for is Jadh, the young woman who chose this restaurant as her favorite and had her segment totally removed from the show. She got punked which is sad because she was really good on camera.

So there you have it. Mostly good, some bad and I got a great t-shirt out of it.

TV T-shirt

13 comments:

MakingSpace said...

The show is lots of fun and I'm sad for y'all the reviewers that they took down that one review in favor of - something else.

You did great on camera, showing an articulate speaking style and engaged listening in the discussion.

After I watched I dreamed of sushi all night long. Haha

Congrats! I think you got more than a t-shirt, you got a new experience and found out you're good at it. Go you!

Also, your photochopping skills have been missed around these parts. Well done. Snort.

Big Shamu said...

Mmmmmm sushimmmmmmmmmmm.

MakingSpace said...

That was, essentially, my dream, yes.

froggy said...

Really this could be the beginning of a whole new career! Glad you took the chance and made the effort.

Big Shamu said...

I don't think so Froggy.

moi said...

Hey, ya! What a fun television concept and how cool that you got selected to participate. You spoke well and came off as relaxed and astute.

Mama Mia's sounds pretty par for the American, family-style Italian course, although I definitely need to try a Moscow Mule.

Domo sounds fabulous--"Ice cream cone of sushi." Yes! And tempura by the piece is a great idea.

Big Shamu said...

Thanks Moi, it was fun. Hey anything that comes in a copper cup has to be fun, right?

Dani said...

You are just the coolest in my book!

Big Shamu said...

Dani, someday I will get back to Florida and we will FEAST!!!

Susan said...

Steppin' out ! beyond one's comfort zone ! hooray !! I'm off to watch the show now xos

Big Shamu said...

Let's hope the KCPT website plays nice with the Canadian internet.

Melissa said...

Dude! That was fantastic! You were great. And I love that show, too. Thanks for the behind-the-scenes info. I didn't like the R-Bar segment...if I hadn't read your backstory before seeing the segment, I would have been REALLY confused and thought it was just weird and suspicious.

You are too cool for words!

Big Shamu said...

I don't know about cool Melissa but I did have fun. You can too, just fill out the application and we could be watching you on the next season of Check Please KC.