09 Apr PART 2, From Zeina’s Kitchen to Television.
About three weeks later, I was at a supplier’s store when my phone buzzed. A soft voice answered my hello. I knew that voice! I would recognize it anywhere!! He spoke with that wonderful Parisien accent. “I know who you are!” I blurted out. He laughed and then said to me in French: “Félicitations Madame Zeina, vous avez été sélectionnée comme participante pour l’émission, Je Suis Chef.” I let out a shout in the store, then asked the startled cashier to put my order aside until I was done with my call. It was a short conversation. Maxence, the young boy I remembered very well from my interview a few weeks back gave me the date when my episode would be recorded and the details about the three dishes I would be preparing. All the other information would be sent by email. I quickly paid for my order and ran out to call Robert and give him my incredible news.
Finally, the much-anticipated day arrived. My son A.J. drove me that afternoon to the culinary school on St-Laurent Boulevard. He planned to spend the day downtown until I called him to pick me up. I had been given specific instructions to follow, arrive alone, at 1:30 p.m. with all the special ingredients I needed to cook my three dishes. I felt so nervous- overwhelmed- during the drive. AJ gave me words of encouragement as I tried to calm down, steady my breath. After nearly 45 minutes of driving, he found a parking spot around the corner in front of his favorite coffee shop. With a few minutes to spare, we decide to pick up a cappuccino for me and a tea for him. Thinking back now, I should have probably had a cup of tea as well. I did not need the coffee’s extra caffeine. We walked over to the culinary school’s front door, I took one last deep breath, I looked at AJ as he said to me: You got this Mom, I love you,” And he kissed me on the cheek. I would have hugged him if I could, God knows I needed a hug! With groceries in one hand and caffeine in the other, I felt like Maria in The Sound of Music when she first arrives at the Von Trapp mansion. It was hard to keep my cool.
Maxence, once again took care of me as soon as I entered the building. I sensed he had a soft spot for me. He helped me with the stuff I was carrying and showed me where I needed to go. Down the hall, the cafeteria had been converted into a waiting area and make up room. The next thing I know, I’m sitting on a metal and plastic chair, making small talk with the other contestant complete strangers to me. We were not allowed to talk about ourselves much because some of the judges were in the room. We had orders not to reveal our day jobs. The identities of the three professional chefs and three home cooks were to remain a secret to all, until the reveal at the show’s end. We were all mostly quiet, afraid to say too much. I was really out of my comfort zone but proud to be one of the very few chosen to be on the show.
All six of us took turns climbing on to a slim fake leather stool where a flamboyant but gentle make-up artist painted our faces pretty for the cameras. From that point onward, everything moved fast. An apron with a clipped microphone was fitted to each body. We took turns standing in front of a wall for a quick mugshot and then were escorted as a group to the recording studio, the last door at the end of a long narrow corridor. With a little jig of excitement to my step, I was still trying to breath steadily and keep it together before entering the recording space.
It was like I was walking into someone else’s life. The room was dark. Six cooking stations, two by two in three rows, were all set up with the ingredient each of us would need for the first dish. Cameras were everywhere. There was about a dozen people hanging around eating or working on lights and sound check. Some made eye contact and smiled: others were too busy. It was almost time.
TO BE CONTINUED…