Table XI and Tinseltown are one degree closer. Our own Chef Aram Reed, who cooks us lunch everyday, will be appearing as one of the contestants on The Taste, ABC’s new cooking competition that premiers tonight at 8/7 pm Central. Though Aram can’t divulge too much about the show without risking the wrath of the ABC legal department, he did give us a little scoop about the wonders of reality television.
Give us a taste of The Taste. What’s this show all about?
The Taste is like a food version of The Voice, featuring four celebrity chef judges—Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre, and Brian Malarkey—who pick teams from the contestants based on blind taste tests of their dishes.
How’d you get discovered?
A good friend of mine works in the industry, and she wanted to try out for the show at a Chicago audition, but she didn’t want to do it alone, so she asked me to go with her. So we went, and I got picked and she didn’t, which was hilarious.
So you launched your television career screwing someone over right off the bat. You learn fast!
Yep, right off the bat. That’s how we do it in “The Biz.”
Speaking of which, did you go into filming with your reality TV persona all planned out? “Brooding chef with an edge,” perhaps?
I was going for the asshole, of course. No, really I’m just honest, I don’t blow smoke, and that sometimes makes me the asshole. Really, I have no idea how I’ll be portrayed. I could be the asshole, the sweetheart... how about the heartthrob? I could go for that one, too.
Will we get a soundbite of you voicing that reality show classic: “I’m here to cook, not to make friends”?
You know, I think I heard someone say that at the airport when we first got there.
What was it like getting your food judged by these renowned chefs?
[For one of the challenges] everyone did seafood, except for me. I did a very Chicago dish with pork, because that’s what we eat here, and I wanted to showcase who I was and who I cook for. Bourdain and Ludo both understood my dish, which was very gratifying. They were the two I most wanted to impress. Ludo was very complimentary on my sauce—he recognized that it was French technique and said he really enjoyed it. And then Bourdain knew it was pork with bourbon and that it was Midwestern—he was just calling it. And remember, this is blind tasting, so he didn’t know me or where I’m from. First they discuss the dish, then they open the door and see the person who made it. So Bourdain was really cool and got my dish and that it was from Chicago.
What about the other contestants?
There were some really amazing professional chefs from across the country, and a lot of chefs from Chicago. Ina Pinkney from Ina’s, she’s been the “Breakfast Queen of Chicago” for over 30 years. She was there with me. Chef Brian Jupiter, Executive Chef at Frontier, he was also there. One of the sous chefs from Nellcôte. Then there were nonprofessionals, food bloggers and home chefs. For me it was like a fantasy camp for chefs, an all-expense paid trip to LA, to go hang out with a bunch of industry people, so that was really cool for me.
Can you take us behind the reality TV curtain?
It was really interesting walking onto a TV set. When we watch shows at home, there’s music, there are all these lights, there are graphics. When you go onto a TV set, none of this exists. It’s all CGI’d after the fact. Our set was in a giant airplane hangar, five football fields long. It’s where they built the Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes’ plane. So in the middle of this gigantic hangar, which just goes on and on and on, there’s this little set with black curtains. And you walk in, and there are all these crappy robotics, and the kitchens weren’t developed properly because it’s the middle of the desert. People’s ovens would turn off randomly, equipment wasn’t set up properly. You could hear hammers banging in the background.
So, not too glamorous, then?
Ha, no, not glamorous at all. It wasn’t set up through the mind of a chef, it was set up through the mind of a TV producer. That to me was the most eye-opening, seeing how things were done, so I’m excited to see the finished product on television, once the magic has happened. And because it’s season 1, they were kind of working out the kinks, so I’m really interested to see what season 2 is going to look like down the road.
How are you going to capitalize on what will surely be household name status once this show airs? Celebrity fragrance? Your own reality show? Product placement in the TXI kitchen?
That’s all in the 5-year plan, definitely. My goal is to be on the CTA, and see someone reading the Red Eye with my picture on the back, you know, in the gossip section. And they’ll look at it, then at me, and recognize me. That’s how I’ll know I’ve made it.
That’s the big time, for sure. But until then, what’s next?
By the end of this year, I’m going to be opening a local grocery in Logan Square called The Tortoise and the Hare. It’s in the vein of Olivia’s or Goddess and the Grocer. We don’t have a place like this in Logan Square. We’ll offer prepared foods, maybe do some cooking demonstrations. And there’s Roam, which is a roaming underground dinner party that my friend Leslie Friebert and I put together. Every month we put on a dinner at a different location around Chicago. It’s for 30 people with five or six courses—the idea is to create an underground society of cool dining. We feature special guest chefs, craft cocktails, bands—it’s been a fun project. If people want to find out about the next Roam or get tickets, they should email email@example.com.
Well, congrats on the show, Aram, and good luck with everything else. We can’t wait to see you in HD.
Thanks. The coolest thing has been hearing from people I haven’t talked to in years, who’ve seen The Taste trailer. Everyone's been very supportive.