Since winning MasterChef U.S. Season 3 in 2012, I’ve gone on to co-host my own cooking show. Our studio shoot is in Toronto, which gives me the chance to visit with Jenna at least once a year.
Something of which a lot of people may not be aware is that a TV show’s shoot schedule is often highly intense and squeezed in to a short amount of time. One season of Four Senses, for example, is thirteen 30-minute episodes. We shoot two episodes a day (each one taking about 4 hours to shoot), and we film them all in seven days straight. The reason for this is it’s often very expensive to rent studio space and film equipment, plus everyone on cast and crew are contractors that have other work projects scheduled, so a producer can only snag people for X amount of time.
Many people I meet assume we are shooting each episode the day before it airs, or sometimes, people even think it’s live television (like in the case of MasterChef, people would meet me in the street while it was airing and be confused why I wasn’t in the kitchen that day).
There’s a whole different world called “television.”
I can’t believe it’s been five years since my season of MasterChef shot and aired, and four years since I started Four Senses, a cooking show with an accessible twist. Season 4 is currently airing on AMI TV in Canada on Thursdays at 7:30 PM ET/PT, but if you miss an episode or don’t live in Canada, you can catch the episodes online at AMI’s Four Senses website.
Happy watching and cooking!
Two weeks ago I had an Appointment with Dr. Michael Levy at John Hopkins. Since Eric and I were traveling all the way from Colorado we decided to Make a long weekend trip and see some of the Monuments in Washington D.C. It was my first time to the east coast and it has been over 10 years since Eric was there. We decided it would be best to leave the kids at home and enjoy a couple’s getaway.
Our flight left late Wednesday night and we flew into Dulles we arrived at 11:30 p.m. Time we got the rental car and drove to the hotel which was in Old town Alexandria in Virginia. It was 1:00 a.m. so we were exhausted. Thursday morning we slept in little and woke up and explored Old town for a while and had breakfast before heading into D.C. We decided to take the metro train into D.C so we didn’t have to worry about parking and traffic. We got off the train at the National Archives and walked through the National Mall heading to the Washington Monument. I couldn’t believe all the museums at the National Mall. You could spend weeks going through all the Smithsonian Malls and other museums. As we approached the Washington Memorial it was just incredible how tall it was and all the different people from around the world was just staring up to the top of it.
Next we walked down to the World War II monument that was very beautiful to see and peaceful. As we headed to the Lincoln memorial we walked right along the reflecting pool. Which is way bigger in person then what you see on TV. When we were at the bottom of the Lincoln memorial I was thinking how am I going to climb all these steps since my NMO Symptoms are starting to hurt from walking so much? I have been walking a ton and I didn’t want to burn myself out since we still want to go see the Vietnam Wall and the White House. When I slowly climbed the stairs to the Lincoln monument and reached the top it was just gorgeous to see! It was remarkable to see how big it is and seeing it on T.V is just not the same. The Lincoln memorial was my favorite memorial to see by far. Once we were done looking at it and reading all the stuff from Lincoln we sat on top of the steps and people watched. I just could not get over how many foreigners where there looking at our American History. The sad part that there were not very many Americans there looking at our history. I had to rest for little bit before we started to walk down all the steps.
The next memorial we looked at was the Vietnam wall that was very humbling to see. Just seeing all the names and all the flowers and gifts people leave there at the wall. After that we caught a cab to head over to the White house since I was getting worn down. It was kind of crazy getting out of the cab and having to walk to get close to the White House. Since you can longer drive on the street in front of the white house and the back of the white house. The have barricades up so you can’t even get close to the fence that surrounds the house. The secret Service guys are very on point and can be a little rude and kind of jumpy with people. We simply just walked all around the White house then I had to take a rest on the Southside of the lawn. So we could walk even more to get back to the train station and head back to Old Town. When we arrived back to Old Town we ate at a great Oyster bar called Hank’s Oyster’s I highly recommend checking it out if you are ever in that area. By time dinner was over we were wiped out and ready for bed since we had a 45-minute drive to Johns Hopkins in the morning and I needed to be there at 9:30 a.m.
Friday morning bright and early with a Starbucks in my hand we headed off to Baltimore to John Hopkins to see Dr. Levy. Eric was worried that traffic would be very bad and would take awhile to get there. We made good timing arriving at 9:00a.m. I have always enjoyed Dr.Levy I have seen and listen to him speak at Guthy Jackson Patient Day for seven years. I have always wanted to fly out and go see him and I was thrilled I got that opportunity, Dr. Levy and I spent a over an hour going through my NMO history and what issues I would like to address. He would like to switch some medications around and do some blood tests and follow up in a few weeks. Since I have been diagnosed for 8 years there was a lot of information that needs to be talked about. Plus he wants to look at my MRI’s when I was first diagnosed to my latest MRI’S to see how my lesions are doing.
After leaving the Hospital we drove around Baltimore a little bit then we went to a crab place that had really good reviews for crab. Eric wanted crabs right out of the bucket. Like when he lived in Virginia Beach. So that was a nice lunch. We decided to take a scenic route back to D.C I wanted to check out Georgetown. LOL it seemed like a good idea but it kind of a pain but we made it to Georgetown the next tricky part was finding parking. It took us awhile but Eric got it done. I wanted to go shopping and stop at my favorite cupcake store Sprinkles! If anyone really knows me I am very addictive to these cupcakes. If I am visiting a city and they have Sprinkle store I will be most defiantly will be stopping by and buying cupcakes. After shopping for a while we headed back to the hotel and rested for a bit and went to a late dinner at a fabulous Southern food restaurant called Hen’s Quarters. It was the best-fried chicken I have had in a long time. We took a nice stroll down King Street after dinner and headed back to hotel cause we were pretty beat.
Saturday was a very special day we decided to spend the day at Arlington Cemetery. I wanted to see the tomb of the unknown solider and the changing of the guard. But also were the Kennedy’s are buried. Also I wanted to spend our last day at a place that was not going to be too crowded with people and was going to be not so noisy and just spend a quite day getting ready to go back to reality. I loved watching the changing of the guard and over all seeing the cemetery and seeing where JFK is buried. We spent about 4 hours walking around the cemetery. We headed back to hotel around 3 and went to a local bar and had a few drinks and went shopping a little bit then off to Hank Oyster Bar again because they had the best crab cake we found during our vacation. We enjoyed our last romantic dinner. Since we had an early flight on Sunday Morning.
Now that I am back home I am still waiting to hear back about the blood tests and on Friday I have an Appointment with my neurologist about what Dr.Levy said and the new medications I Need to try. So I will keep you all posted!
Happy autumn everyone! Here in Canada, we’re on the last day of our Thanksgiving weekend. Mine started out Friday morning with an early morning field trip to the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology (MOA). Visiting this particular museum has been on my life list for ages and I finally had the opportunity to see it thanks to an amazing local group I belong to called Creative Mornings Vancouver. This month, they arranged for members to attend one of two tours before the museum opened for the day. One was about the tools the MOA uses to preserve and treat the pieces in their collection and the other was learning about the stories behind some of the pieces that were created to provoke social change. The day began with a lovely breakfast of pastries and tea and coffee and after the guided tours, we were able to enjoy the rest of the museum at our leisure.
MOA is home to an impressive collection of Canada’s First Nations’ art, but also exhibits indigenous art from other parts of the world. The size and diversity of what’s on display is almost too much to take in in a single visit. My favourite part of the museum is the great hall. The totems and other large scale pieces housed there are incredible. The outer wall of the hall is floor to ceiling glass, giving the illusion of being outdoors. The natural light in the hall really shows off the beauty of the wood and the colours used in the totems. It’s been 3 days since I was there and I am STILL absorbing everything I saw. As an artist, it was incredibly inspiring.
Sunday, we had friends and family over for turkey dinner. I always do our Thanksgiving on the Sunday so Monday we can coast on leftovers and relax before everyone has to go back to work. I was a bit apprehensive about hosting the dinner this year because I have really been struggling with my heath and especially with pain from RA. I don’t know what I was worried about though-every time I asked someone for help with something, they were great about jumping in. My son set the table, my best friend carved the bird, my husband and son took care of all the dishes afterwards (we don’t have a dishwasher) and somehow managed to get all the leftovers to fit in our fridge. (It’s like Tetris in there, but hey, whatever works!)
Today, I am relaxing and feeling grateful for such a great weekend. It’s good to be reminded that there is beauty in the world and to be surrounded by the people I adore.
Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians! I hope your weekend was full of good memories, great food and time with those you love.
I was in Canada the second half of September filming the fourth season of my accessible cooking show, Four Senses. TV is much less glamorous than one would think: I get picked up around 6:45 AM every morning. We film two episodes a day, which has me on my feet for most of it, while trying to be energetic, making conversation with our guests, cooking, and then throwing scripted lines to camera. Because I’m vision impaired, I have to memorize my throws and try to find the camera with my eyes at the same time. This was what I did for seven days straight, as we filmed our entire 13-episode season in 7 days. Then after we wrap each day, I have a meeting with our director, producer, and my co-host to go over the next day’s scripts. Then I grab a quick bite and then study the next day’s scripts and guest bios until I finally get to bed around 11 or midnight. Then I wake up before sunrise and do it all over again.
All that said, being part of the industry has given me a new appreciation for the efforts that go into making a TV show. production is definitely labor intensive, and it takes a strong, hardworking team with everyone doing their job to pull it off. A production is only as strong as its weakest link. This season, our team consisted of 23 cast and crew.
What I like about television is the challenges it’s posed. TV really forced me out of my comfort zone—I’m an introvert and not naturally great on camera—and it’s gratifying to work hard together and know we’re doing something that helps others. In our case, it’s making educational entertainment that challenges those who are vision impaired to regain independence by returning to the kitchen.
I had a few days off in between my field shoots and studio run, so I got to see Jenna, her husband Mike, and their daughter Sophie. It was a rainy day, but we managed to grab lunch and some drinks at Mill St. Brewing before I attempted to hit hockey pucks in the downpour. (It was the hockey World Cup, and Toronto’s Distillery District had been transformed into a cocky village complete with carnival stations..)
The rest of our afternoon was spent traversing the mall downtown. My hubs, John, bought a Blue Jays hat, and Jenna and I combed Aritzia while our men discussed with disbelief about how long women can take in a single store.
As always, Jenna and I talked about the goings-on in our lives, how we’re doing with the Neuromyelitis Optica/NMO, and then made sarcastic remarks about everything else. It’s nice to hang out with people who get our illness but whom don’t make it the center of conversation. We may have NMO, but NMO doesn’t always need to have us.
Overall, I had a good experience in Canada (with the exception of some piss-pour service from Air Canada, but I’ll save that for another time). I’ll end this recap with a few notable observations which, I hope, you’ll find amusing more than anything.
What I learned about Canada, Canadians, and Toronto in 2016
- Bears are a common sighting during the fall season. Apparently they’re searching for food to fatten themselves up before winter hibernation.
- People who live in Toronto are called Torontonians. Despite what I, a Houstonian, might have thought, Torontonians do not eat poutin every day. In fact, they only ingest it late at night after many drinks.
- Torontonians really love their Blue Jays. Unfortunately, I was told Toronto now holds the record for North American city with the longest streak without any sports championships. (The former record holder was Cleveland, but the Cavaliers had changed that.)
- Three Canadian snacks you should try are ketchup chips, all dressed chips, and coffee crisps.
- Many Canadians are wary of Texans. (Believe me when I say not all Texans open-carry guns and support Trump.)
- Whenever they find out I’m American, almost every Canadian without fail brings up Trump. Please know I’d much rather talk about Netflix shows, dogs, and poutin.
- September is a great time to be in Toronto because the weather is amazing. Get your breezy, sunny days now before the harsh winter sets in.
- Toronto has great food. You can get fine dining, French, Caribbean, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, and American all within a few city blocks.
Till next time, Canada…xoxo!
P.S. Here’s an interview I did with CBC Toronto’s Dwight Drummond about Four Senses.
Next week, I’ll fly to Toronto, Canada, to begin production of season 4 of Four Senses, a cooking show geared towards the vision impaired and novice cook. The show airs on Accessible Media, Inc or AMI, but even if you aren’t Canadian and don’t get this channel, you can catch the show on AMI’s website, complete with a fully accessible media player.
If you asked me a couple of years ago if I’d ever thought I’d have a cooking show going for four seasons, I would’ve shrugged and said, “Who knows?” If you would’ve asked me five years ago if I thought I’d ever be on TV, I would’ve laughed in your face. It goes to show you just never know with life—both good and bad things happen to us during the course of our lifetimes, and all we can do is make the most of them.
Every season has gotten better and better, and I attribute it to more support; growing funding; and, perhaps most of all, a stronger and more experienced team of cast and crew. I think you’ll be able to tell the difference in caliber if you watch our first season versus our third and most recent.
I’m looking forward to yet another season. People often don’t realize how much hard work goes into producing a television series—one 30-minute episode takes at least four hours of filming (and that’s not including the out-of-studio field pieces we shoot on a different day, plus the hours of post-production editing). Being in the entertainment industry is not as glamorous as one may think, but I love what I do—it’s the best feeling to wrap a shoot and know that all the hard work everyone put in together will result in something great. It’s an exemplary example of how teamwork is essential to success.
I won’t get too much time off—we shoot our in-studio portions of the season seven days straight (which is how most television production schedules go)—but when I do have a little downtime, I’ll be vlogging and visiting with Jenna.
Canada, here I come!
**This entry was originally published on Christine’s blog.
Last April, I was invited to teach a cooking workshop at the W Ross MacDonald School in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. A little background on WRMS: founded in 1872, the school teaches blind and blind-deaf students from grades K through 12. There are currently around 200 enrolled students.
With a grant received from the Ministry of Education in Ontario, WRMS created a Healthier Eating Program with the purpose of teaching students the importance of health and nutrition. As part of the program, I was asked to lead a one-day workshop and teach some of the cooking students how to independently prepare a nutritious meal. Many of the students were going to graduate and begin university soon, so as in the spirit of education, there was an emphasis on fostering independent thought and action.
So what should we cook together as a class?
There’s a careful process for curating a menu, whether it be for a fancy gala, an intimate dinner, a festive party, or (in this case) a student workshop. You have to consider your audience; understand the event; and know what’s available in terms of ingredients, equipment, and abilities of the cooks. For this workshop, my audience was high school students with no or limited vision. Soon they will be living on modest college students’ income, so the ingredients and equipment required couldn’t be expensive. I wanted the recipes to be easy so as to not intimidate, yet delicious enough for them to enjoy and want to revisit in their own kitchens. I also needed to encompass the different food groups to provide an array of nutrition. In considering all of these parameters, I decided to teach them how to make Peruvian-style baked chicken with green chile sauce, roasted vegetables, and rice pudding with orange zest for dessert.
Here’s a little known fact about me: I love chicken on the bone. I love gnawing all the meat and cartilage off chicken. The hubs makes fun of me because in the time I take to eat one chicken wing, he’s eaten four. My favorite part of the chicken are the leg quarters, because dark meat is juicy and delicious. It also is more forgiving during cooking, which means it’s harder to overcook. I requested the students cook with chicken leg quarters, but their teacher informed me she’s had trouble getting them to eat unfamiliar things like beans (yes, beans!), so bone-in meat may not go over well with the kids.
“They may get squeamish about it,” she said.
After I thought about it, I decided to refuse the substitution for boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I explained that people need to know where their food comes from: that meat comes from animals that were once living and not from a rectangular styrofoam container at the supermarket.
I said, “I want the students to respect their food.”
The teacher agreed and said hopefully since the “words of wisdom” would be coming from me and not her, maybe they’ll listen.
On the day of the workshop, I actually didn’t get any squeamish vibes from the students when they had to touch the raw bone-in chicken legs. I told them why it’s best to use whole chicken or at least chicken parts most intact and closest to resembling a whole chicken. Since it wasn’t a butchering class (and honestly, I’m not the greatest butcher), we settled on chicken leg quarters.
After the food finished, we all sat down to eat, and everyone enjoyed the mealtime together.
“Best of all,” I said, “you cooked it yourselves!”
The teacher and some of the students were so touched by my inspiring presence, that when they told me how much my time there meant to them, I felt in turn incredibly blessed. It’s always nice to be reminded why I’ve been given the position to advocate for the blind.
This experience of teaching the students at W Ross MacDonald School convinced me I want to open a cooking school one day for both children and adults. Maybe
That’ll be my mission after opening a restaurant and publishing my memoir. I never thought of myself as a teacher, but since my philosophy is to always try new things in life, perhaps opening a cooking school is in my destiny.
Last October was the first ever Dining for NMO Day during which restaurants donate a portion of their proceeds to the Guthy Jackson Foundation for NMO research. This year, the second Dining for NMO day will be held Monday, October 17th.
Watch this video and visit the Dining for NMO site to learn how to support the cause. Together, we can find a cure.
I missed this year’s NMO patient day but absolutely loved seeing all the posts and photos of past and new attendees connecting with each other. It’s what has inspired this week’s post that only NMO patients might appreciate.
1. (Upon seeing you in person) “I’m so glad you’re feeling better”
NMO patients always sympathize with the inevitable prednisone use, which causes weight gain including the dreaded “moon face”. Those who aren’t familiar might assume the weight loss or return to normal weight means you’re healed from the disease, but that’s just not the case. Prednisone is used to treat flare ups or as a precautionary measure.
2. “But you were walking yesterday. What’s wrong with you today?”
NMO symptoms can flare up and cause different mobility from day to day or even from hour to hour. This is tough for others to understand who don’t realize how symptoms work.
3. Having to cancel on your friends and family…again
This is related to #2 and the unpredictable nature of NMO. If you’re like me, you’ve probably had to make excuses that seem easier to understand like “my kid is sick” or “I’m stuck working late”. It can be heartbreaking for patients when the invitations stop coming because they assume you’ll probably have to cancel anyways.
4. The stubbed toe syndrome
Right now 3 of my 10 toes are badly bruised. That’s because my mobility gets thrown off, I walk into things because of the numbness and vertigo is sometimes a problem.
5. Healthcare is expensive
Even if you have extended health coverage, having a medical condition is very expensive. The medication alone can cost a fortune and that’s before any additional maintenance care like massage therapy, acupuncture or doctor appointments. And most patients can only work limited hours or survive on disability earnings.
6. We know how to navigate the medical system
This is a broad statement that might include best time to call for an MRI, the nicest nurse for blood work or even best time to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy. Most of us are even on a first name basis with our neurologist!
7. Food is our friend (and our enemy)
Eat what makes you feel good but that usually means really restrictive diets. Eating with others fuels our sense of belonging but people can get weird about our food limitations.
Once or twice a year, I fly up to Jenna’s neck of the continent and shoot my cooking show in Ontario. Together with Carl Heinrich, winner of “Top Chef” Canada season 2 and chef and owner of acclaimed Richmond Station, I host Four Senses, a cooking show on AMI TV for the blind.
I’m excited to announce the third season premieres this Thursday, January 14th, at 7:30 PM EST/PST!
After three seasons together, Carl and I are like old siblings, as you can tell from the above and below promo clips. In all jest, we fully respect each other and, more importantly, have fun together. You can witness the camaraderie growing between us over the seasons.
For the first time ever, I’ll also be doing a live Q&A on AMI’s Facebook page alongside the premiere, so tune in this Thursday at 7:30 PM on AMI TV and/or AMI’s Facebook and ask me anything! Tune in, and chat soon!