There are lots of cooking competition shows out there and they all seem so tempting. Get on one, make a name for yourself, and you’ve got it made. That’s what they want you to think. Now, I am sure that is the reality of some contestants on shows like this. I know others who have not had the same luck. First, remember that this is actually incredibly hard work. The talent pool for auditions is incredibly fierce, especially with popular shows like Top Chef and Next Food Network Star. And if you are selected for the show, you still have a lot of work to do—stressful and timed competitions, crazy challenges that have no application in your day-to-day life as a chef, and decisions potentially made based on ratings and not your cooking. Here are a couple of things you might want to think about before you send in that application.
Consider the amount of exposure you’re going to get. People will see you on TV every week. If you work for a chef or at a restaurant, there will be name dropping and references. Business may pick up. People are going to remember you. That can be good or bad. Have an off day for whatever reason (tough challenge, lack of sleep, irritating teammate, illness, friction with a judge)? Maybe at work, you would have gotten a few dishes sent back or you could have just gone home. Not so in a cooking competition. Your bad day is broadcast to millions of people. It’s like failing miserably at a service where every customer is a restaurant critic. You can’t guarantee that all the buzz about you will be good, even if you win every challenge and are crowned the winner at the end.If you screw up and make yourself look bad, you also make any chef you’ve ever worked with look bad. It can negatively impact any restaurant you’ve ever worked for as well. Do it right, and it is better than any bullet on a resume. You may land your dream job or get the capital needed to open your own place. However, if you aren’t a standout, it might be a waste of time for you.
How you carry yourself is going to matter. Having a personality will get you noticed but it may backfire if you don’t have the skills to back it up. Gordon Ramsay didn’t start out smashing plates of food and calling people donkeys; he already had the cred to back it up. If you are portrayed as difficult to work with, unskilled, or without leadership ability, it can cause some serious damage to your career as well.
While I understand that all of this may be very tempting, unless you are really comfortable in front of a camera, I suggest just working your way up. To me, being a chef is more about making good food than making good television, but I do see the allure in a competition show. If you do try out for one and make it, let me know. I’ll root for you!