Grilling on the TODAY show
It’s a good thing I like to travel; I live part-time in Boston and part-time in New Hampshire. Come summer, I try to escape on the weekends. Throw in an assignment or appearance and my life is a suitcase on wheels. Over the Fourth we were asked to be on the Today show, and who says no to that? I love being on the show — it’s a ball, and everyone there is super-helpful and supportive.
I arrived at Penn Station around 12:30 and met my friend Julie for lunch at Bar Americain, Bobby Flay’s French-meets-Southwestern-American foray. I love this place, and it’s super-close to Rockefeller Center, which keeps me calm. At lunch, we shared everything, starting with hand-cut potato chips with a blue-cheese fondue, which we recklessly ordered as “something to munch on while we waited for our shrimp cocktail.” Munch on them we did. Then the shrimp — big, perfectly poached and chilled, with a tart and refreshing pesto-type sauce that tasted of cilantro, lime, and perhaps fish sauce. Divine. Then we spilt a burger and a Cobb salad, both wonderful. The staff couldn’t have been nicer, and it was a gift to be able to hang out with my pal Julie — for years we were inseparable. We caught up on family business, gossip, and how we’re feeling about life.
Then off to 30 Rock for rehearsal. Before going to the studio (Studio 1A, that is) the talent (hah-hah, that’s me) has to check in at security. This is where all the guests for all the NBC shows pass through. In my four years of Today show appearances, I’ve seen just about every TV and film star I care about — except Alec Baldwin, who, ironically, is on the TV show 30 Rock. I try to pretend I’m a celebrity while rubbing elbows with Denis Leary or gardening guru P. Allen Smith, but I think they were on to my low-level status.
Next, off to the studio to work with the supremely talented and organized food stylist Deb and her super-calm and steady assistant Alli. Inside the studio, they have a rolling cart from which we’ll choose all the plates, platters, and serving pieces for a 4-minute grilling segment tomorrow morning outside. Deb and Alli have prepared all the food as much as possible to this point and will be at the studio by 5:30 a.m. tomorrow. We go through each step: first, butterflying the chicken (I’ll need chicken shears, cutting board, and rubber gloves — no running water outside on the plaza); then I explain and toast the spices for the dry rub (the spices on display, a small pan to place them in for toasting, the dry rub ground); the wet, marinated chicken… On and on it goes, finishing with the ingredients and tools for the Caesar salad. All the bowls and serving pieces are put on the rolling table, but any ingredients that can’t go out now are replaced with a Post-it note and stuck in place, so as not to forget them tomorrow.
We go through the recipes again; then Deb shows me all the prep work she’s done and shows me the ingredients for tomorrow.
Quick change of clothes and I’m in a cab to the Village to visit with former New York Times restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton and her fantastic husband, Dick Falcone. Sipping Prosecco in their rose-filled backyard, we catch up on some of the fun adventures we’ve had (someday I’ll write about the international escapades we’ve shared) and about the book Mimi’s working on, due in August. Then around the corner we go to the Waverly Inn for stunning chicken pot pie. Not like me, but I was in bed by 10:30.
First the hotel wake-up call, then my BlackBerry, then the hotel room alarm goes off in the pitch-black room. I’m not a morning person.
On set, outside in the plaza, a few people have gathered, but most of the show is still taking place inside. We run through the action, we go through the recipes. I butterfly and put the first “dry rub” chicken on the grill. There are three “special effects” crew — the nicest people — plus two more live wood grills going. As we go through the recipes again, I make a few changes and am filled with a slightly nervous giddiness.
I run upstairs for quick hair and makeup. Then it’s time for the first tease — they show a quick on-air snippet of me chopping something (can’t remember what). I pace. I go through the recipes again in my head. I think I need to use the restroom but decide its best to wait — but what if I can’t? More jokes.
We discuss whether the chicken is going to be ready in time. I’m confident it will, but the last thing Yankee Magazine needs is for me to cut into a raw chicken and serve it to Lester Holt — so we increase the heat with more live coals. I pace some more, I run through the recipes in my head. Are there enough side towels? What if I forget to use a towel or it’s wet and I reach for the cast-iron pan, which has been on the grill for the last hour? That’ll leave a mark.
Suddenly Lester and Amy Robach are standing next to me and the lights are on. Roars and hoots from the crowd. I know I’m speaking and going through the motions, but all I can hear is my heart pounding. It feels like a car crash: Just keep the car on the road. And before it has started it’s over. Everyone is smiling and laughing and eating.
Like a great roller coaster ride — I want to get on it again.
For the recipes, go to: YankeeMagazine.com.