Fun in the kitchen turns into great television
"There is nothing interesting about cutting broccoli. Cut the onion instead.”
May 1, 2008
The expert in things culinary is communications arts and sciences (CAS) professor Brian Fuller, holding forth in the control room prior to the taping of Hey Mom! I Can’t Cook, the television show produced by his advanced media production class, CAS 351. Fuller’s approach to vegetable prep is that of a filmmaker—not a sous chef. He cares about how the food looks on camera.
"Onion cuts more interestingly than broccoli,” he re-emphasizes. “It just does.”
Students collaborate to produce show
Hunched over every control in the control room in DC065, the classroom on the subterranean level of DeVos Communications Center where Hey Mom! I Can’t Cook is filmed, is a student bringing a similar level of obsessive focus to some aspect of the cooking show. One runs through the show’s cartoon-y title sequence, another switches between camera views, another scrolls through the show’s script on the teleprompter. The bank of television screens keeps it all on display.
One screen catches junior Andy Allen, the host of the cooking show, as he hangs out on the show’s set with the week’s guest chefs. “How does it feel to be in my kitchen?” he asks Lori Gesink and daughters Kristy and Allie, who are poised to concoct the dish du jour, pesto chicken pasta. “A little daunting,” replies Gesink, Calvin associate director of service learning. Bowls containing the ingredients of the meal crowd the counter, and chicken pieces sizzle on the stovetop.
"How long does it take to cook the pasta?” asks floor manager Chuck Breiner. “We’re going live in 11 minutes.” Allen indulges in a little banter with Breiner about whether or not dolphins have teeth, (“Yeah, they’re mammals,” Breiner says.) then launches into the show opening: “Hello and welcome to Hey Mom! I Can’t Cook. I’m Andy Allen, and I’ll be your host today. If you’re like me, you really don’t have any idea how to cook whatsoever. Fortunately, we’ve created this show to help you with that problem.”
A television concept is born
It was Fuller and fellow CAS professor Daniel Garcia who chose a cooking show concept as a project for advanced media production class, and the students who brought it to life. “They said, ‘What if a Calvin student gets taught by a relative how to make a family dish?’ I got jazzed about that because I didn’t come up with it,” Fuller recalled. “They’re pitching to people who don’t cook or can’t cook or who might feel constrained by a dorm kitchen.”
Early on, the show became an ongoing parade of college talent as Calvin faculty, staff and friends visited the kitchen set to demonstrate to their children how whip up everything from hummus to ice cream desserts to “Dump Pasta.” Inserted into every show is the “package,” a pre-filmed segment that takes the viewer to the grocery store to shop for ingredients for the featured dish.
The show is filmed live from DeVos and uploaded —without postproduction tweaking—to Vimeo, a YouTube-like video-sharing Web site. “Vimeo allows us to upload larger files,” Fuller said, “and it tends to attract higher quality files.”
Experience all around
The CAS 351 students rotate through the various production roles weekly: switcher, floor manager, audio, teleprompter, director, camera operators, etc… “After they do this, they can work in a TV studio anywhere,” Fuller said. “They are prepared to shoot American Idol or the local TV news. Anything that requires multi-camera production, they can do it. That’s sitcoms. It’s talk shows. It’s stand-up comedy. And, frankly, it’s more and more churches.”
Allen’s role is to keep the talent relaxed and the show moving. “I’m a member of the Improv team, and they made the poor assumption that I’m witty,” he said. “So, I basically go on each week and prove that they’re wrong.”
The students are enjoying wearing the various production hats and all the training that goes with them. Junior Mike Rohlfing, who has so far served every function on Hey Mom! I Can’t Cook except director, said he most enjoys wrangling the camera.
He also likes the offbeat moments that are captured by the camera: “Andy went into this whole monologue about how he likes the movie Lilo and Stitch when they were cooking Hawaiian stir-fry, and Tim Katt started zooming in on his face in dramatic fashion,” Rohlfing said. “I was floor manager at the time, standing there watching, and I had to stop myself from laughing out loud.”
Fuller enjoys the camaraderie between students that has grown out of producing the show. “There is no competition. They are falling over each other to help out,” he said. “I am so proud of the New Testament fraternity in this class. It translates not only into a good feeling. It translates into good television.”
It also translates into good advertising for the media productions major. “I love to have prospective students visit that class because their eyeballs pop out,” Fuller said. “They get the idea, ‘Hey, I could really make a difference in this field.”
Hey Mom! I Can’t Cook is one of several shows Fuller and Garcia have conceived as learning laboratories for CAS 351. Next up in their five-year plan is a sports interview show. “What’s motivating the selection of these is looking at where the jobs might be,” he said.
His students have shown him they’re capable of running the show, Fuller said: “At this point in the semester, when I walk into the room on Monday and Wednesday, I can stand in the back of the room and do nothing.”
Allen, however, is still eager to prove his competence, in one area at least. “I say that I can’t cook, but in real life, check out my omelets,” he claimed, “’cause in real life, you’ve never had a better omelet than this guy’s."
~written by Communications & Marketing senior writer Myrna Anderson