If former Glendale resident Michelle Karam has learned anything on the road to achieving her dream job as a celebrity chef, it’s that when one door closes; another one opens soon after.
“It’s so exciting when you get that phone call from a network producer. You think, ‘wow, someone is finally noticing me.’ You go there and feel like you’re giving them everything they want, but then it doesn’t go the way you thought. It’s all in their hands and it’s really hard,” Karam said.
Karam was rebooting over the summer. She was rejected after four months of auditioning for the reality TV show, “Next Food Network Star,” then was the first chef eliminated on an episode she taped for Bravo’s “Rocco’s Dinner Party,” with a 30-minute dish she felt was a winner, crawfish etouffee.
In 2009, Karam, the married mother of three and owner of a catering company called Dishes By Michelle, feels cooking is in her blood and is confident, made several cuts out of thousands of wannabe chefs for “Next Food Network Star” in hopes of winning her own cooking show, like former winner Guy Fieri.
“I practically dropped to my knees when I entered the Food Network building. I had found my mecca and as I looked around at that beautiful building, I knew this is where I’m supposed to be. But when I tell you I bombed there — I really bombed,” Karam said.
Karam described the audition process as “terrifying.” She said she was peppered with what seemed like 7,000 personal and professional questions in a small room, on camera. Producers then took her up to a fully lit demo kitchen with multiple broadcast cameras, put a microphone on her and gave her a few ingredients including tilapia, wood ear mushrooms and canned fava beans. A producer continued to grill her with questions as several network executives sat silently in the dark, watching her scramble to find everything she needed to cook a winning dish in an unfamiliar kitchen.
“I cooked a good dish but I knew I hadn’t done well with the questions while I was doing it. By the time I was in the cab after the audition, I called my family, bawling, telling them I failed. The door was definitely closed,” Karam said.
She received the thanks-but-no-thanks email two weeks later. However, a new job emerged at eHow.com and let Karam show off her skills as a food expert. She taped 84 segments and one video, picked up on Target’s online Holiday Solutions page last Christmas, had 165,000 views.
Demand Media Studios’ Remi Guyton called Karam “a trusted cooking advice resource for thousands.”
“She has explained everything [on eHow.com] from making the perfect stuffing to how to make meals that your kids will enjoy,” Guyton said.
Karam said her confidence was up last year when she returned to her ethnic roots and submitted a mezze platter for an audition on “Rocco’s Dinner Party,” another reality-style contestant show where three skilled chefs compete to prepare a meal for Chef Rocco DiSpirito and his high-profile guests, and a shot to win $20,000.
“This time I had a different attitude. I was calm, knew what to expect and thought, ‘There’s more than one-way to be a celebrity chef, I’m going to nail this,” Karam said.
Sure enough, the producers called and told her she got the show. But DiSpirito cut Karam and her crawfish etouffee in the first round, questioning her judgment because he felt it was a 4-hour dish and not an appropriate choice for the 30-minute time limit. DiSpirito did say on the episode, the dish “tasted much better than he expected and was cooked with a lot of love.”
“Of course I was disappointed and didn’t agree with Rocco’s decision, but I know that when one door closes, another one opens. It’s not the end of the road for me,” Karam said.
Karam was correct, and after hosting “Nipper’s Table Talk” for Santa Barbara News Talk Radio several times, she said the producers are now creating a hidden gems style show just for Karam called, “It’s So Santa Barbara.” And last April “Dancing With The Stars” cohost Brooke Burke’s online magazine, “Modern Mom,” selected Karam to be its featured expert chef.
“She’s a great addition to our magazine. Her recipes and food tips generate a lot of buzz with our moms, like when she did a healthy mac and cheese but snuck vegetables into it,” said Dani Morgan, project manager and editor at Modern Mom.
Karam said she feels cooking is in her blood. Karam’s earliest food memories were when she was a little girl hanging out in the kitched with her Armenian family instead of playing outside with the other kids. Both her grandfathers were accomplished chefs.
Karam said she attended the prestigious California Culinary Academy in San Francisco but dropped out just before completing the 18-month course.
“I just missed my family and I was only 19 ½ years old, so I left. Do I regret it? The technical expertise I received was irreplaceable but I believe good cooking comes from the heart, so I’m a culinary school dropout with a lot of heart,” Karam said, as she chased her young twins around her mom’s hilltop Encino home.
Karam is confident more doors will open for her. She is even going to audition for “Next Food Network Star” again.
“I might be 90 and wrinkled, but I’ll keep auditioning till somebody tells me I can’t do it anymore,” Karam said.
CASSANDRA M. BELLANTONI is a freelance reporter and producer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Pound of Large Shrimp Raw
½ Pound Calamari Cleaned and Sliced into rings
1 Pound Black Mussels
1 Pound Clams (Butter, Little Neck, Cockle)
1 Can of Plain Tomato Sauce
¼ Cup Dry White Wine
2 TBS. Olive Oil
1 Shallot Minced
1 clove of garlic minced
Salt & Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
2 tbs Fresh Basil, Parsley or Cilantro (any ONE)
1 Lb. Linguini
In a large sauté pan that has a lid add oil, shallot & garlic and sweat for a minute or two. Then add the tomato sauce, wine & salt & pepper to taste- allow to come to a simmer
Then add the clams & mussels- cover and let it cook until they open (5-7 minutes)
Add all the remaining seafood and cover for 3-5 more minutes. You’ll know it’s ready once the shrimp are bright pink and the clams & mussels have opened.
Cook Linguini or pasta al dente.
Place pasta in a large bowl and spoon the seafood and sauce over it. Top with a chiffonade of your favorite herb... mine is basil.
Make sure you soak your clams in some cold salt water. This will allow them to open and remove any excess sand that may be inside.
Also, do not consume any of the shell fish, i.e. clams or mussels that do not open. Don’t pry them open. Think of it this way: this just means they weren’t meant to be eaten!