Cooking shows being all the rage with a new one replacing another each new season on any number of channels, and embarrassingly I’m a super-fan. Sure there is Gordon Ramsey, Bobby Flay, Bordain, Dean, (and that fuzzy Ewok, Emeril) in the television world, but they reach a point of stardom where they feel more like hosts to me than chefs. Who knew that there was a professional cooking show featuring outstanding Louisville chefs filmed right here locally?
Sullivan University is home to Kitchen Theater - and pun intended, the secret is out about “Secrets of Louisville Chefs Live!”
When I think of local television programming my mind immediately parks itself somewhere between infomercials, telethons, and Wayne’s World, and having only heard of “Secrets” in passing a few times I was admittedly skeptical. In my defense I am fairly new to Louisville, but am constantly surprised at the culinary passion and history found right under my nose in the place I now call home.
So I placed a call to Dan Davidsaver (Associate Producer of BMB Productions) and was surprised to discover that not only was the show not taped in a basement, the taping in Kitchen Theater at Sullivan was sold out and had been airing for nine seasons. I may be a newbie to the area, but I felt as if I had missed a class and was so eager to discover why “Secrets” was perhaps secret only to me, he graciously provided me the last four tickets for the show.
Prepared for low expectation theatre, I invited my partner in life and crime and in turn we invited her parents. Most people would think having the in-laws present at an event that may be questionable would be inviting disaster, but I wanted to be entertained regardless of the show. We arrived at 10:00 for a taping which was to begin at 11:00 and traversed the labyrinth of hallways within Sullivan that lead to a large classroom-turned television studio. The setting was very casual, and other than the first couple of rows labeled ‘reserved’, it was a relaxed seat-yourself-and-wait atmosphere.
I have one true love in my life followed by many passions. I’m all for great food, discovering Louisville, great local bourbons, and I watch more television than any three people you know – especially my wife’s favorite to fall asleep to including cooking shows, news, and the weather. It was about to be the perfect storm.
Having not done any research about the show I was surprised when the first host arrived and my wife recognized him immediately, the Chief Entertainment Officer (CEO) for Brown-Forman, Tim Laird. As the amazing crew from BMB Productions finalized last minute pre production, Tim cracked jokes with the audience with an aura and personality only befitting his title. He wasn’t just the warm-up act, turns out he’s one of the hosts. A connoisseur of fine wines, spirits, and champagnes, Tim is also a gourmet chef and a master at entertaining and execution. Tim is a veteran of television and radio having appeared on both approximately 100 times in the past year including: "The Tonight Show", CNN, FOX News Network and CNBC. You don’t need a cocktail to light up a room, you just need Tim…who just happens to usually accompany a cocktail.
The next host came in and mama-pajama it was Chief Meteorologist for WAVE 3 (NBC) here in Louisville, Kevin Harned! I have joked for years that if I ever met Kevin I’d throw something at him for the times he told me from the television in my living room that it was supposed to rain, and didn’t because of the unexpected blizzard that for which I wasn’t appropriately dressed. However not only was Kevin very funny, we learned during the production that on top of being a consummate professional and storm chaser, he was a great guy I found myself wanting to hang out with. I reconsidered my position on local weathercasters - they are after all the only ones on television who have to actually predict the news. After meeting Harned I simply blame the changing Kentucky weather and reserve my angst now toward seismologists.
The show began with an explanation of the process of being a live studio audience to include when to clap – which was ultimately unnecessary as in a very short amount of time and we were all laughing, clapping and enjoying ourselves as if in a comedy club. There are two shows to be taped back to back by two local chefs and in between Tim would create and explain an original cocktail to accompany the meal.
Skepticism, turned into anticipation and evolved into sheer excitement – this was really unexpected and FUN! What a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Formalities concluded and after a few more practice claps for the b-roll, they introduced the first chef: Dominic Serratore of “Ditto's Grill.”
Ditto’s Grill, located at 1114 Bardstown Road, is a Highland’s institution and Chef Serratore walks softly but carries a big spatula. He began by regaling us with the virtues of fresh local produce which he finely cut and tossed with perfectly cooked pasta. It could have been the perfect pasta salad, but I learned that each chef on the show creates two dishes, and next was to be the protein portion. Chef took great looking chicken breasts and coated them in panko bread crumbs and then sautéed them until golden brown. He took great care to explain pastas, cooking oils, and smell alone was magical. It was all I could do to watch as audience members cooed, clapped, laughed, and salivated in their seats.
The first intermission came and they invited an audience member to have a taste and gave us a much-needed break of fresh air and reality. The room smelled like fried Heaven, but as only one person got a taste, it felt little closer to Dante’s Easy Bake. During the end of intermission Tim Laird gave a recipe on camera of the perfect cocktail to accompany the meal. After wiping the drool from (only) my lips, we began the second episode and the introduced Chef Michael Ton of “Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar. More clapping followed by more laugher and salivation.
I recently reviewed Doc Crow’s, (127 West Main Street), and loved it so much that I took my in-law’s back the next night just to enjoy the ribs and crab cakes. The irony was not lost on any of us as we found ourselves looking at the very same dishes weeks later we’ve been raving about ever since. Chef Ton is originally from Texas, so he knows ribs. A somewhat quiet chef who joked “This is why I work in the kitchen,” he espoused on how Doc Crow’s only uses the freshest ingredients while Tim and Kevin assisted him with whole fresh crab meat and dry rubs in a very Laurel & Hardy kind of way. He explained how to remove the membrane off the back of ribs so they fall apart, where each ingredient came from so it was only the freshest possible, and the parts of their menu I missed on my last visit that made me want to go back for more.
Tim came back out and created another signature cocktail with Woodford Reserve that was a tropical mint jubilee complete with fresh blueberries, when they announced they we would all be welcome to sample each of the dishes prepared for us (sans drinks due to liquor laws) from a separate room.
To prevent a stampede the audience filed out by row, and buffet style, were given samples of some of the best food Louisville had to offer with the knowledge of its creation in our back pockets. The samplings were as good on our plates as it looked in the pans, and I could easily recommend either of these Louisville restaurants for dinner, brunch, first dates, anniversaries, etc. Very rarely however are you allowed behind the curtain to see exactly how much expertise and in some cases simplicity, or what it takes to make our good local food great. But this about the show “The Secrets of Louisville Chefs Live!”, so a final word about the show.
BMB Productions does a fantastic job through a variety of sponsors promoting local chefs and venues, and not only do they give, they give back. Their motto of course is, “All Local-All Positive-Local Entertainment”. The first two rows of the audience I mentioned were reserved for local charities, granted many of the seats were auctioned off at various functions, but none-the-less they made sure those fine local folks had the best seats in the house. They have won the “Esteemed Service Award” from the Kentucky Beef Council in 2009, and Executive Producer Michael Lattin is an Emmy Award and Eclipse Award winner from his stint with WAVE 3 in Louisville – take that “Wayne’s World!
Their company is only getting bigger and better with shows such as “Secrets of Louisville Chefs”, “Secrets of Louisville Chefs LIVE!”, “Secrets of Bluegrass Chefs”, and a few others that for now, and lack of a better term, will remain ‘secret’.
SPECIAL THANKS AND FOR MORE INFORMATION:
BMB Productions and "Secrets of Louisville Chefs LIVE!":
All shows may be seen on The ION Network (channel 21, locally). The “SECRETS” TV series air M-F at 6:00 pm and Sunday at 4:00pm via BMB Productions on the ION Network Channel 21 in Louisville. For information on attending the next FREE taping on 5/21/11, go to NEWLOCALTV.COM
Sullivan University: 3101 Bardstown Road, (502) 456-6504
Ditto’s Grill: 1114 Bardstown Road, (502) 581-9129
Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse and Raw Bar: 127 W. Main St., (502) 257-7132
Photo: by Lori Low Laird (Pictured: Kevin Harned, Hope Helton, Kit Helton, Tim Laird)