San Antonio fans of Food Network's "Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell" might recognize a familiar face or two — besides the shock-haired host, that is — this Thursday night when a new episode airs.
Chris Cook from Oro in the Emily Morgan Hotel, 705 E. Houston St., will be seen competing against three other chefs on the cooking challenge show. The theme for the episode is "Texas Sized Operation" and was filmed last October at Austin's Abel's on the Lake.
This is the first national TV exposure for the chef, who has otherwise only demonstrated his culinary skills on a few local shows.
It wasn’t his first choice of shows. "I tried out for 'Hell's Kitchen,' " he says, referring to Gordon Ramsey’s show. But he didn’t make the cut.
So, when he saw a random advertisement on craigslist.org for chefs to appear on an unnamed TV show, he decided to give it a try. But he did have one prerequisite before he would agree to appear: “I wanted a real-deal challenge. I didn’t want anything staged — and I made sure of that from the very beginning.”
The show turned out to be “Chef Wanted,” and it fit the bill. Except for a few promo shots at the beginning, the filming was entirely part of the competition, Cook says.
That doesn’t mean it was easy work. “It’s not too fun having a camera constantly in your face,” he says, explaining that if the cameramen missed a shot, they would need to get something they could use, all while the clock is ticking and Burrell is waiting.
The need for footage is paramount. It is television, after all. “You have to make the time to get it done,” he says.
That meant three long days of filming, but the self-effacing chef didn't seem to mind: "I'm not a stranger to hard work."
Cook hasn’t seen the episode yet, but he says he felt comfortable in front of the camera. “I didn’t hold anything back,” he says. “What you see is who I actually am.”
He can’t mention any of the details of the show, even to disclose what the competition consists of, “unless you have $100,000 to give me,” he says, referring to the confidentiality agreement he signed as part of his appearance.
But a listing on Food Network’s website offers this description: "Chef Anne Burrell brings in four candidates for the executive chef job at Abel's on the Lake, a 10,000 square foot restaurant in Austin, Texas. The chefs are tested of their use of local ingredients, as well as their ability to handle quantity and consistency. The final two chefs will not only handle dinner service, but also a special party in the restaurant's event space: One chef must re-work an entire dish at the last minute, while the other must overcome poor communication with the staff."
Cook also didn’t identify the other chefs competing against him, though he did say that one of the three was also from San Antonio, while the other two were from Austin and Los Angeles.
What does the chef hope to gain from appearing on the show?
“I want to put my hotel back on the map,” he says. He has worked for the last two years, trying to rebuild Oro’s kitchen, its staff and its reputation. A renovation and a recent rebranding of the Emily Morgan as a Doubletree Hotel will also help.
“I wear a lot of hats,” he says of his job as executive chef. Marketing, hiring, firing and working on issues from cleanliness to consistency have all been a part of the picture.
He’s started to see his numbers grow, as word has begun to spread about everything from his roast chicken
to his tea program. If history is any indication, they should only continue to climb thanks to his appearance on “Chef Wanted.” Other local restaurants featured on Food Network or cooking shows, from “Top Chef” to “Man vs. Food,” can testify how even the shortest feature can increase business.
Cook will likely take off work a little early Thursday so he can go home to watch the episode with his wife, Christabel, and their 3-year-old daughter, Copper.
Cooper might not quite understand what appearing on national TV means for her father, but she does know that “I cook for a living,” he says.
“Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell: Texas Sized Operation” will premiere Thursday at 9 p.m. CT on Food Network. It will repeat at midnight. A third airing is set for 10 p.m. March 3. Click here for more information.