Cooking under pressure
Published Thursday, 09-Oct-2003 in issue 824
Ever wonder what it takes to land a gig on the Food Network? Or better yet, what it’s like to cook an entire meal live on the air in only 30 minutes?
Chef Jason Knibb, who this week joined La Jolla’s Nine-Ten restaurant as its executive chef, says he had little time to prepare for his first-ever live appearance on the network’s “Cooking Live” show, hosted by the not-so-easygoing Sara Moulton.
Sitting in the greenroom of the Manhattan studio, he recalls Moulton showing up only five minutes before airtime, and then working quickly with her on the set to cook up a whole roasted trout with baby vegetables and roasted shallot vinaigrette.
“It was challenging because you’re trying to talk and cook at the same time. And there’s a lot of pressure on you to be smooth.”
Knibb was invited onto the show in 2000 while working at the famed Tree Room Restaurant in Sundance, Utah. The producers asked him to submit three recipes common to the region, choosing the trout entry just days before he flew to New York City. And though he clicked favorably with Moulton, (who food critics have deemed a scattered and pushy host), Knibb admits that a more recent spot he did for “Food Nation” with Bobby Flay was much easier simply because it was taped outside of a studio.
“Editing allows you to catch up when preparing the next item,” he says, referring to the Buffalo tenderloin and other fixings he prepared in a “mountain cottage kitchen” for the segment, which airs later this month.
It was challenging because you’re trying to talk and cook at the same time. And there’s a lot of pressure on you to be smooth.
But Knibb’s appearance on “Cooking Live” concluded with only a couple of minor flubs. For instance, when reaching for the cooked trout at the end of the show, he opened the oven containing the uncooked fish instead of the one that had been cooked ahead of time. “The cue person kept pointing to the other oven,” he quips.
And when Moulton asked him where he purchases vegetables and other ingredients when working in Utah, he inadvertently responded, “I have a guy who grows lamb for me.” Knibb recalls that Moulton paused briefly over his thought-provoking answer before continuing with more questions. “I couldn’t believe I said that,” he laughed.
Knibb commends the show, however, for laying out all the ingredients he needed to pull off his recipe, which, like the kitchen equipment used in the studio, were of “very good quality.” He also adds that he wasn’t paid for his appearances, even though the network initially contacted him each time.
Though a rookie on television, the Jamaican-born chef is no stranger to professional kitchens. At age 33, he has already worked under the tutelage of well-known chefs such as Wolfgang Puck in West Los Angeles and Roy Yahmagucci in Maui. “I saw back then what cooking was really about – and the level of intensity and creativity that goes into it,” he says. “I realized when I was 18 years old that that it could be a profession for me.”
Yet perhaps his most unique career adventure came when he helped a Beverly Hills surgeon open a California-style restaurant in Warsaw, Poland, during the mid-1990s. The eatery, called Malibu, was intended to serve the arrival of capitalists to the country with dishes such as Thai Pork Salad and Salmon with Parsnip Purée. Knibb often shopped for produce on the black market during his four-month stint, buying items such as baby carrots, colored bell peppers and squash – “things we take for granted here,” he says. “It was a great experience.”
When asked what he will bring to Nine-Ten, Knibb replies, “I will maintain the menu’s market-fresh, seasonal concept by creating light, flavorful and straightforward cuisine. “When it comes to cooking,” he adds, “I always take my cue from the land around me.”