The Gentleman Gourmand

sharing the best food around

The Hungry Detective

This summer I worked as a production assistant (PA) for O’Malley Productions on the new FoodNetwork show, The Hungry Detective with Chris Cognac.  I met Chris on eGullet, and knew him as the Culinary Detective.  I found out about the show and the schedule, and asked if I could show up and observe.  They ended up asking me to help them out, and I was delighted to do so.  I worked with them in Boston, and hope to do more work with them in the future.  After they left town,  I went to Denver and while relaxing in the mountains, had a chance to ponder long and hard about what I had just gone through.


much deliberation, I came to the conclusion that the best thing I can compare to
filming a TV show would be to a catered gala with chefs from different
restaurants. Each chef comes into a kitchen they’ve probably never seen
before, using equipment they are generally, but not specifically
familiar with. This parallel was evident from the first day at JP
Licks. While the cameramen certainly had used the same type (and
perhaps even the same model) cameras before, one of them had a bad
audio input — potentially as disastrous as an oven without a pilot
light.  An easy problem to fix, but one that unaddressed could lead to catastrophic failure.


Television-making mercenaries that they are, however, the
problem was quickly noticed and solved. As other minor nuisances arose
(like the door chime going off during filming, or people walking in
front of the camera, or any of a plethora of other issues), they too were
quickly identified and dealt with.

Now, this may lead you to
believe that their expertise makes their jobs easy — far from it. In
addition to being responsible for taking care of obscenely expensive and fragile pieces of equipment, they have to lug it around on their person. The day
we shot the Boston Common, it was 104 degrees, and each cameraman was
carrying a forty five pound camera on their shoulder. Even in such outrageous
conditions, every single crew member continued to do their job with
professionalism and determination.  There was a newscrew there, covering the ice-rink-turned-kiddie-pool, and they refused to leave their air conditioned van to use their tripod-mounted camera that they didn’t even have to lug around.

The producers (Sean O’Malley and Jason Levine), bless them,
have one of the toughest logistical jobs I have ever witnessed. I would
compare it to walking into a different kitchen every night, with a
different menu (but the same staff), and having to expedite. Not only
do they have to do research for every location, but they have to make
calls to get waivers, they have to get permits, make sure they aren’t
repeating themselves with locations, keep the crew fed, watered and
clued in as well as making sure every shot fits in with the theme of
the show. In addition, they have to worry about things like Chris
wearing the right shirt for continuity, keeping the production
assistants in line and active and making sure the crew acts both within
the law and abides by the networks wishes.

Chris was doing a
great job, as he had a tough position as well. He needed to stay both
cool and ready at all times, and often had to do multiple retakes of
the same shot to get it just right. Now, I know when I repeat myself
more than a few times it gets exponentially more difficult to get it
right, as the words quickly lose meaning in my head. Doing this with
half a dozen people standing around you, and two cameras in your face
is a whole nother ballpark altogether.

As for my experience with
the whole thing – the hardest thing I found was not looking directly at
the camera. When there is a lens anywhere near my frontal arc of
vision, I have a very difficult time not looking at it, even if
momentarily. This, however, causes a large problem, as no one other
than the host is allowed to look directly at the lens. Finally I came
up with a strategy; act like the camera is someone you’re furious at,
and refuse to make eye contact with. This way, a natural and automatic
feature of your brain is in play, and you don’t have to constantly
think about not looking at the camera. At least it worked for me.

the shows keep going as well as Boston did (and I’m sure they will,
with the dedication and willpower this team has), this is going to be
the freshest, most well-shot and thought out show on the Food Network.
I am sincerely glad to have been a part of it, and hope to have the
opportunity to work with such an outstanding team in the future.

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1 Comment

  1. Martin Parets

    I actually caught this show for the first time earlier today; it was the Atlanta episode, so I had to watch it. Aside from the one I obviously already knew about (Mary Mac’s) I discovered some new places I’m definitely going to have to check out. Can’t wait to see the Boston version!

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