Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Joy of making a public TV cooking show

Joy Bauer
I had the interesting, and tiring, experience of playing a tiny role in the making of a Public Broadcasting System program Saturday in the WMHT studios in North Greenbush.

It was, or will be when it is released to public TV stations nationwide in March, "From Junk Food To Joy Food." Not coincidentally, that's the name of the new cookbook from Joy Bauer, nutritonist and author who appears regularly on NBC's "Today" show to discuss healthy eating practices.

I was asked to be one of the on-camera tasters of dishes that Bauer -- or, rather, her behind-the-scenes kitchen staff -- created using her healthier substitutions for the usual mouthwatering fats, salts, sugars and so on that make up the average American diet. And, as she and so many other health professionals regularly remind us, those -- and our propensity for huge servings -- contribute greatly to what they refer to as our obesity epidemic.

Bauer's thing isn't necessarily dieting. "Restrictive diets do not work in the long run," she says. Rather, she makes a practice of serving reduced portion sizes and doing a lot of substituting -- avocados for mayonnaise, oats for white flour in creating pancakes, plain yogurt and a few seasonings for sour cream, black beans for the bulk of a chocolate cake ... . "Black beans?" you say. Sorry, you'll have to watch the show or buy the cookbook.

My brief role was to be one of the tasters of breakfast items, followed by other trios trying the lunches, the entrees, the desserts. Through the magic of television, our fleeting moments with Bauer on camera began playing out at 3:30 in the afternoon. They presumably will be cut into the final show in the editing process. But, they weren't the only non-spontaneous moments. A series of "oohs," "ahhs," fevered applause, knowing nods, broad smiles, standing ovations, and other antics was orchestrated by the director after the full studio audience was herded into place. Those, too, will be used as needed in the editing room.

By the time all that was done, it was getting on to 7:15. A technical glitch delayed Bauer's grand entrance for a while longer, and by the time the entire session ended the clock was chiming 10. But, the audience stayed enthusiastic right to the very end.

The big question, of course, is, how was Bauer's food? The easy answer is, very clever and fairly good. Truth be told, I am not much of a breakfast eater, and I actually dislike some of the typical staples such as pancakes, waffles, and other doughy delights slathered with (yechh) sickeningly-sweet syrup. But, to be equally candid, her silver dollar pancakes with low-calorie creme fraiche and toasted walnuts was quite tasty.

While the cooking and eating practices Bauer espouses may take some getting used to, getting into the habit of making modified dishes unquestionably will lead to healthier eating.

Bauer has an interesting background. She entered college on a gymnastics scholarship -- and at age 51 still maintains a svelte, petite figure -- but during a lengthy hospitalization for repair of foot damage became interested in medical topics. She switched from, in her words, being a "sports geek to a science geek."

That led to a strong academic and nutrition resume -- a bachelor's degree in kinesiology from the University of Maryland; a master's in nutrition from New York University; five years as director of nutrition and fitness for a program for underprivileged children that she developed for The Mount Sinai Medical Center’s pediatric cardiology department in New York; nutrition consultant for Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center; clinical nutritionist with the neurosurgical team at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, and an instructor in anatomy and physiology and sports nutrition at NYU's School of Continuing Education.

She also is a New York Times best-selling author of 11 books on cooking, fitness, and nutrition, a wife (husband Ian is on the production crew for her TV work), the mother of three, and has won numerous awards from professional organizations.

This is her second PBS special -- her first was "Joy Bauer’s Food Remedies" -- and will be shown during various stations' fundraising drives.

And, by the way, PBS productions are nothing new for her director, the energetic and entertaining Bob Marty who also does the pre-show audience warmup. The founder of the whimsically named production company Inky Dink Worldwide that has created programming for NBC, CBS, A&E, Discovery Health Network, BBC, and the Hallmark Channel, also creates such programs as the "Downton Abbey" behind-the-scenes specials,  and is credited with helping raise more than $350 million for public broadcasting.

Here are a few images from Saturday's event:

Joy Bauer's set in the WMHT studios before the action.
A table full of items Bauer used to illustrate typical poor eating habits.
A few healthy items prepped by the backroom staff.
Some of Bauer's stock-in-trade substitution items.
And, some of her eye-appealing finished products.

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