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Chef on a Shoestring: More Than 120 Inexpensive Recipes for Great Meals from America's Best Known Chefs
In the hours before sunrise on Saturday mornings, midtown Manhattan is a dark and desolate place. If you walked the streets at 5 A.M., you might wonder whether New York really deserved the nickname "the city that never sleeps." But there are signs of life even in these wee hours — a few errant cab drivers, deli-counter people, regally attired doormen, and the crew of the CBS News program that I've been producing since 1997.
All television shows evolve over the years and ours is no exception; we've even changed the title from the original CBS News Saturday Morning to The Saturday Early Show. But there's one component of the program that's been a constant since the first morning we took to the airwaves — the weekly segment called "Chef on a Shoestring" on which we invite a well-known restaurant chef or food personality to prepare a three-course meal for four on a budget of just $20.
The concept for Chef on a Shoestring grew organically from our formative days of a show on a shoestring; when the broadcast was first conceived, we were short on money, personnel, and time. It seems amazing in hindsight, but we had just two and one-half months to pull the whole thing together.
Cooking segments are an unofficial prerequisite for weekend morning shows, and when it came time to devise ours, I found myself taking a self-pitying view of my own understaffed and time-starved circumstances. But then a delicious idea hit me — put a chef in similar straits and see what happens. "Chef on a Shoestring," I whispered to myself, and the segment was on its way.
Of course, I didn't want just any chefs. I wanted the best chefs the city — and the country — had to offer. And their response was gratifying. Most of the chefs have appeared on other shows and in numerous print articles and, of course, they create food in the country's best restaurants. But this was a new challenge for them — one as it turned out they were eager to meet.
At our next staff meeting, I ran the "Chef on a Shoestring" concept by the staff hoping that a producer would want to take it on. A young associate named Kelly Buzby modestly offered to "give it a shot." Well, her first shot ended up setting the tone for what today, three years later, remains the model every Saturday segment. For our fast-approaching first week, Kelly lined up Michael Lomonaco, who ran the kitchen at the '21' Club and now has a show (Epicurious) on the Discovery Channel and is at Windows on the World. This was the first real test. We gave Michael just $20 and sent him to the Union Square Greenmarket to purchase the ingredients as our camera watched. This shopping trip became the signature opening of "Chef on a Shoestring." (I have to point out that the segment is currently produced by the equally talented Jee Park.)
For our debut on September 13, 1997, Michael demonstrated how to make Tomato and Basil Salad and Chicken Fricassee; he served apples and cheese for dessert. At the end of the show, our cohost Russ Mitchell invited viewers to write in for the recipe. The following week, we got our first inkling of how popular this segment would be as bag after bag of mail came pouring in. Our staff and interns gradually worked their way through the piles, sending printed recipes to viewers around the country. It was a phenomenon that grew every week, and continues to grow today. Eventually we began posting the recipes on our Web site, but — even though we get 20,000 hits per week — the letters continue to pour in. And we love it.
The "Chef on a Shoestring" TV segment reflects the times in which we live and, by extension, the times in which we cook. Though the economy (at least at the time of this writing) is booming, I still think that people generally feel on the losing end of things. We all seem to have less and less free time, and sometimes we feel we're getting less for our money, whether it's in diminished service or the quantity and quality of the goods we buy. When the chef of an upscale restaurant shows up on our program, shopping in a regular supermarket or grocery store and then preparing uncommonly accessible recipes, it offers a very comforting and affordable view of the world and delivers something that is too often lacking in our lives today: value.
Thanks to this segment, we've been privileged to meet and work with some of the most respected chefs in the country. They have graciously donated their time, creativity, and personality to our show. The budget may be on a shoestring, but our chefs have done everything to ensure that the recipes in this book are rich in every other way.
Copyright © 2001 by CBS Worldwide
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