It was the shortest 3.36 minutes of my life so far! That’s the time it took me to sprint anchor Matt Lauer through my Sausage, Tomato and Olive Pissaladiere recipe on the top-rating US breakfast show Today last week. Such a whirlwind but so much fun!
I’d been invited onto the show to share some recipes from my TV series The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures, which is now screening on Public Television (PBS) in the USA. Two segments, one with Matt and one with co-hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, each about four minutes long – broadcast live to a viewership of millions.
The show was scheduled for a few days before Super Bowl Sunday, the biggest sporting and entertainment event in the US calendar, so I was invited to make some delicious but reasonably healthy snacks for folks to whip up at the Super Bowl parties that are held across the country. What a fabulous opportunity to bring a breath of fresh New Zealand air to American audiences!
Having produced and hosted three series of my TV show and demonstrated recipes on live TV countless times in New Zealand, the UK, the Netherlands and elsewhere, I wasn't exactly a newbie to show business. But I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the scale of enterprise that is the Today show.
The logistics of managing a daily four-hour live show that goes out to about five million people require almost military precision.
First there was the endless stream of emails to pin down everything from the correct pronunciation of my surname (Langbein, rhymes with fine) to the address of my hotel for the car they were sending to pick me up. Then a rehearsal the day before at NBC’s glamorous headquarters on Rockefeller Plaza in New York, followed by an early start to be back at the studio in time to have my hair and make-up done before the 8am broadcast.
I've gotta confess it was a bit of a sleepless night as I ran through the recipes over and over again in my head, knowing I'd have just minutes to demonstrate them. But I needn't have worried. Inside the studio and beyond banks of security personnel, four food stylists had been up for hours, weighing, measuring and cooking in preparation for my demo. They’d baked four finished ‘beauty’ pies – one for the control room to taste, one for me to garnish and two sitting as heroes on the bench – as well as several other batches of pastry and fillings to show the various stages of preparation of my "French-Style Pizzas" as they called them. So all I had to do was show up and walk and talk Matt through the steps – and as soon as I stepped behind the kitchen bench I felt relaxed and in my element.
It was the same for the next segment – the stylists had whipped up multiple finished bowls of chipotle mayo and crunchy homemade fries, chunky guacamole and homemade tortilla chips and my spicy chocolate microwave popcorn, plus all the ingredients were laid out over and over again, making it so easy for me to show the process as seamlessly as possible while chatting and giggling with the riotously funny Kathie and Hoda.
And the food team weren’t just helping with my demo, that morning they also had to prep healthy breakfast bread faces for the nutritionist on before me (brown bread spread with nut butter, piped fruit puree eyebrows, banana and blueberry eyes and noses…) and make a whole lot of Valentine’s Day food. So much work! They were running the whole time.
Everything is unionised so on set only certain people are allowed to do different jobs, such as moving props and cutlery. You can see some of the backstage crew buzzing around helping me get set up in this news story put together by TVNZ’s US correspondent Jack Tame.
It's a far cry from the DIY attitude that prevails back home in New Zealand. When I appear on the Good Morning show back home I prep all the food at home the night before and take it with me to the studio in a cardboard box in the boot of my car. And in a showcase of Kiwi ingenuity and adaptability, Jack Tame from TVNZ was a one-man crew when he interviewed me on the Today set, ably multi-tasking the roles of researcher, presenter, cameraman and sound and lighting technicians that would be filled by a cast of thousands on an American news show or movie set.
You can’t imagine how fast the time went when I had so much to get through in each four-minute segment, but ever-professional Matt Lauer, who anchors the 8am slot, and the effervescent and very funny Hoda and Kathie Lee who host the fourth hour, knew how to get me there, kind of nudging me down the bench to reach the finish line bang on the last second. So slick – and so much fun!
Here’s the video of me making a French version of pizza with Matt Lauer:
And here’s me making crunchy fries and chipotle mayo then paper bag popcorn with Hoda and Kathie – such a riot!
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience – or maybe not! They've invited me to come back so watch this space for more...