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We Go Behind the Scenes of a TLC Cooking Show

JJ from TLC's 'Wok With Us' gives us the deets about what really happens to leftovers.

We Go Behind the Scenes of a TLC Cooking Show
Image: Rojak Daily
We all love our food shows. Being Malaysians, we just love to torture ourselves by salivating in front of the silver screen watching chefs and TV hosts alike cooking and tasting these delicious and colourful dishes. Whether it is reality cooking competitions or a show that tells you about the best street food around the world, even if you’ve watched every single episode of every food show out there, there is a whole archive of edited clips and unseen footage that may actually be more intriguing.

To gather some scoop on what REALLY happens behind the cameras, we spoke to JJ, a chef from TLC’s Wok With Us, who shared some pretty interesting insights about what it is like to film an outdoor cooking show.

Fighting with weather

Image: Giphy
The number one challenge that probably every outdoor film crew experiences is the weather. As much as you can put your full trust in weather forecasts and plan your production schedule around them, you just can’t control the wrath of God. When it pours, it POURS. And the funny thing is, as we Malaysians are very familiar with, sometimes there isn’t even a warning sign. The winds and dark clouds would just arrive unannounced and within the blink of an eye, bam, a heavy downpour.
This was exactly what the Wok With Us crew experienced in Ho Chi Minh when they were filming on a bridge above the river. A sudden heavy downpour came just as they completed their final shot. The crew had to scramble to pack up all the equipment and cooking utensils, and run under the bridge for shelter to avoid damaging anything. You can say that they were very lucky it didn’t happen while they were still cooking!

Chasing time

Image: TLC
The production schedule is very tight, especially when it involves travelling. Besides the weather, you are also wrestling with a lot of external elements, like day light as well as permission to film. In some locations, you are only allowed to film during a certain period of time. And within a day, there are only a certain number of hours that you can get perfect lighting for the camera. You are chasing to fit within that bracket most of the time, so it is always a hustle. And if you think about it, the crew practically travels with an entire kitchen with them!

Eating beforehand

Image: TLC
Before the start of production, the producer or director would normally travel to the locations first to help them visualise the place better. Some chefs would also fly to these countries to taste the local food and get a better idea of the local taste. “You can’t just sit behind a desk and read a few recipes to find out how the dish should taste,” JJ said. He once flew to Manila and tasted 20 different items at one go! “It’s purely for research, really,” he said with a laugh. We wonder how their fitness routine is like...

Cook. And pause. And cook. And pause

Image: Rojak Daily
Of course, cooking for the camera is very different from cooking in the comfort of your own kitchen. When it comes to the ingredients, you have to select the ones that look the nicest and prettiest. When you are cooking, you also need to know at which point you should pause for the director to capture the ‘money shots’ that will make you drool. In other words, it is like how you choose your best Insta-worthy food shots. Don’t deny it, we’re all guilty of those #foodporn photos!

Most chefs are very cautious when cooking in this setting because they are concerned about how it will look on camera. The hardest thing for chefs is when you tell them to cook naturally in front of the camera. They tend to hesitate after each step. So it is important for the chef to communicate with the director to capture the most drool-worthy moment. “It’s interesting because it’s a bit like acting,” JJ said.

What happens to leftovers?

Image: Rojak Daily
When you film a food show at home or in a controlled environment, no doubt you would try to finish the leftover food or feed the crew. But when you are outdoors, food safety is a concern. After having the food exposed to all the weather elements, smoke emitted from vehicles on the road and such, the crew has had fans and spectators come up to them asking for a taste after shooting. But since they were outdoors, they try not to let people eat them. “As much as we don’t want to waste food, it is probably a safer choice to not consume the food,” JJ said.
Now that you’ve got a bit of scoop on what it’s like behind the cameras, catch the delicious dishes from the streets of Singapore, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Manila and Kuala Lumpur ON camera on Wok With Us. In collaboration with online cooking channel The MeatMen, Wok With Us is TLC’s brand new series that shows you how to whip up your favourite local dishes at home.
Wok With Us premieres online at 6pm today on TLC’s Facebook and YouTube pages. You can also catch the episodes on TV one week after the online premiere. So go feast your eyes with these fun and delicious dishes and pick up some quick recipes!