Two questions I’m always asked
Sunday, March 31, 2019
In nearly 25 years of eating on camera for UNC-TV in all kinds of North Carolina restaurants, I’ve been asked the same two questions thousands of times.
The first is either, “How do I get your job?” or “How can I apply to be your assistant?” The second is, “How is it that you don’t weigh 500 pounds after eating all those plates of food they bring out?”
Both questions arise out of reasonable but mistaken impressions. The first is that if the only thing viewers ever see me doing is reviewing restaurants, that must be my full-time job (and what a glorious job is must be!) The second is that I actually consume all that food that appears on camera.
As to the first question, our viewers are absolutely right that it’s a great job, one that I’m extraordinarily grateful to have. I know how fortunate I am to be able to do work that I enjoy and that seems to bring some pleasure or entertainment to others.
However, most people don’t understand that my restaurant reviews are freelance, part-time and done almost entirely on weekends, when others are relaxing. Up until very recently, when I semi-retired, I have worked full-time at occupations off the UNC-TV payroll since 1997. My freelance writing for books and magazines has been a second job done on my own time outside the regular working hours devoted to my employers.
So when added to my other undertakings, the restaurant reviews — my third job — subtract from the weekend time I might otherwise have to attend grandkids’ activities, camp in the mountains, go to ball games or just stay home to cook for fun.
Nearly all the North Carolina Weekend features are shot on Saturdays and Sundays, since they introduce viewers to potential weekend activities, and my restaurant visits are no exception. Typically, I arrange a restaurant review shooting weekend every four or five weeks, during which we will tape three restaurant features in one contiguous area.
But again, don’t get me wrong: full or part-time, weekend or not, it’s a great gig.
As to the amount of food consumed, viewers may not realize that we photograph a great deal more food that I actually sample personally. I like to show many different dishes in order to give viewers a comprehensive review of a restaurant, so we may consult with the chef and decide to show a couple of appetizers, a salad, three or four entire entrees, and one or more desserts.
I often don’t sample all of them, and I certainly don’t eat more than a tiny bit of each dish that I try. Actually, eating a bite or two of several different dishes adds up quickly to what should be a normal-sized meal.
“So what happens to all that food?” you may ask, and I regret to say that most of it goes unconsumed. There are rare instances when I can persuade cameramen or crew members to dig into a particularly luscious dish, but most of them are too intent on photography or lighting or audio to be distracted by food, at least until the job is over.
Once in a while, if I’m shooting close to home, I’ll take along my wife or another family member to enjoy leftovers, or occasionally I will take excess food home from the last shoot of a weekend. All in all, though, a heck of a lot of food that’s prepared for the camera ends up being discarded, which is a real shame.
So while I don’t think I could ever coordinate such a thing, I guess I really could use an eating assistant.
Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker. Visit this column on reflector.com for his UNC-TV review of Persimmons Waterfront Restaurant in New Bern. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.