By now, it's a safe bet that everyone knows someone who's been on a reality show. I know three people, one of whom works in this office. Yes, our own ad exec extraordinaire Allison Davis allowed the long lens of reality TV to creep, or rather barge, into her life a couple years back. Our Allison was featured on the not-quite-hit show "I Can't Believe I'm Still Single," on which F-list actor/director and part-time Vermont resident Eric Schaeffer went off in search of a wife. (Allison's the one in the clip talking about phone sex.)
Well, come September 15, everyone in tiny Alburgh will know a reality-show star. That's when "Top Chef"'s newest franchise — "Top Chef Just Desserts" — premieres on Bravo. Then, the world will be introduced to Tim Nugent (don't call him the Nuge), a pastry chef from the Champlain Islands who currently works at Scala's Bistro in San Francisco.
Nugent (all I can think of when I write this name is camouflage and dead deer), a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, is one of a handful of grads of the Vermont school who has landed gigs on food television: Alton Brown, star of the Food Network's "Good Eats"; Gavin Kaysen, Bocuse D'Or competitor and contestant on "The Next Iron Chef"; and Manuel Trevino, a cheftestant on "Top Chef Season 4," to name a few.
Nugent landed on the show thanks to the executive chef at his restaurant, Jen Biesty, who was also a cheftestant on "Top Chef Season 4 Chicago." Biesty forwarded Nugent's name to the show's producers when she heard they were scouting for pastry talent.
I know this because I was recently in San Francisco and ate at Scala's. Since I never miss an episode of the show, I recognized Biesty immediately when she popped into the banquet room briefly before dinner. Who could miss her slightly askew fauxhawk and the expression of perpetual half-terror on her face? Apparently, Biesty is shy, which completely explains why she would go on the show in the first place.
After a three-course dinner replete with figs the size of goose eggs and a gianduja mousse with nifty hazelnut swizzle sticks, I felt I needed to meet the chef. I needed to tell her that I am a part of a small group of "Top Chef "devotees called Bravo Club (yes, I'm 32 years old and, yes, I'm part of a club. That watches TV.) I needed to ask her how they picked the contestants. I needed to find out if Canadian ball-buster Gail Simmons, one of the original show's judges, wears a hearing aid.
Can you read the print on Biesty's chef jacket? It reads, "I'm with stupid."
Thankfully, I have a fearless friend who would think nothing of walking into a kitchen in a top-flight restaurant and summoning the chef. While it was deeply embarrassing that Biesty was dragged from her safe space on account of me and my needs, it was fun to talk to her. Here's what I learned:
*She likes Vermont, but not necessarily reporters from Vermont who pull her from her work.
*Gail does not, in fact, wear a hearing aid. All the judges wear ear pieces that the producers use to tell them what to say.
*To wit, the exquisite and voluptuously maternal Padma Lakshmi, host of the show, does not have an original thought in her head. Everything she says with her silky bedroom voice comes from the producers. Bless her heart. She is just a pretty face and a good line deliverer.
*Work days on the set are 12-14 hours long. I'm not sure how that's possible when they only get between 30 minutes and two hours to cook everything from a child's breakfast to canapés for 300. What is taking that long? But Biesty said it's "heavily edited." Naturally. That's code for "Richard Blais wasn't as big of a dick as he seemed on the show."
*Cheftestants do not audition; they are hand selected. Biesty was chosen for the show, along with her girlfriend at the time (Yikes! Cat fight!), after a producer saw an article written about her in a local publication. See, print still matters. It can get you on a reality TV show.
Nugent didn't need to be written up in the paper to get him on the new dessert show; he just needed Biesty to give him the in. Based on his swizzle sticks alone — hazelnuts covered in hardened, caramelized sugar that looked like little meteors with blazing tails — Nugent deserves a spot on the show. Let's hope the notoriously critical Simmons, who hosts the new show, thinks so, too.
"Top Chef Just Desserts" debuts its delectable delights (ugh) on September 15 at 11 p.m.
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