If you’ve ever watched an episode of Chopped (and if you haven’t, then you need to watch – stat), you’ve probably wondered who is behind the mystery ingredients in those baskets. That would be Sara Nahas-Hormi. The culinary producer on Chopped. When the show is taping, it is the responsibility of Sara and her team to come up with challenging baskets – three baskets per episode – and since the show is currently on a three month run – that’s 117 baskets per run. And the job doesn’t end with coming up with ingredients (or even with stocking the pantry). For every one of those three baskets, Sara and her team produce a five-page document for the judges, producers and host Ted Allen with background information on all the ingredients – flavor profile, typical usage, complementary flavors and foods and history. And she does all of this within a budget. When you watch the show, you might be lulled into thinking that the baskets are random but Sarah is working within a specific challenge or theme, and she always has a perfect dish in mind when she creates a basket. For example, if she wants to create a basket with duck and she knows that vanilla goes well with duck, she’ll pick the strangest form of vanilla she can find – vanilla ice cream, for example. So even though it seems like ice cream and duck don’t go together – their flavor profiles work. Ted Allen said that each season Sara manages to find ingredients that even serious food people like Alex and Marcus have never heard of, “and that” said Ted, “is an accomplishment.” –Amy
(If you missed our initial column in this series, check out We Want Your Job: Furniture Buyer)
Images from Food Network’s Tour of the Chopped set
What did you study in college?
Sara: The food and hospitality industry is in my blood – my mother and aunts passed their love of food and feeding people on to me at a young age. I worked in restaurants my whole life and found my passion. That led me to the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan and I haven’t looked back since.
More about the life of a culinary producer after the jump!
Can you describe a typical day?
Sara: My team and I arrive to Chelsea Market at 6:30 a.m. every day. My Assistant Producer Tracy works hard on styling the ingredients that go in the basket that day, and every day. I am generally meeting with the team of producers to discuss the day’s ingredients and what I would actually make out of them. I then run on to set to make sure every single item is in place, and the set looks great. I then check though the pantry and fridges with another one of our culinary assistants Theresa, it is her job to make sure everything is wash, and ready to go. I then meet with Carolyn our Food Stylist who with our Director of Photography shoots out the basket ingredients for insert shots. At some point I grab a coffee and sit down with the most amazing person ever, our shopper Brook, she shops for EVERY SINGLE ingredient you see on the show. I feel her job could possible be the most tough, of all but she is amazing! The entire culinary crew is! Every single ingredient is researched and a document is made and given to the judges.
Best part of your job?
Sara: The people. I get to work with amazing crews who work in both the food and entertainment industries. We are a big family – each department brings their own unique talents to the table. I learn something new every day.
What have you learned about life from yours as a culinary producer?
Sara: Being the culinary producer on multiple food shows, the pressure is on my team constant. Rising to the challenges of time sensitive shows has taught me that I am strong and I can embrace constant change.
What advice would you give someone who would love to be a culinary producer?
Sara: Be prepared to start from the bottom. Do every job you can on set so that as your career grows you understand and more importantly respect what others do. Do what you have to get the job done – basically don’t be afraid to wash a dish no matter where you are in your career.
Do you know other culinary producers? Do you think there are common characteristics amongst you all?
Sara: The Food Network culinary producers are fantastic and I have learned so much from them. I would say a love of food; drive and hard work are common traits I have seen in myself and other culinary producers.
What else would you love to do in this field?
Sara: I would love to be a food buyer for a high-end department store or open my own boutique market.
What’s the holy grail in your field – what’s your Oscar?
Sara: Having one of the shows I have culinary produced win an Emmy. Getting to attend the Emmy’s in a fabulous dress would be the best!
How do you stay inspired? (And where do you get your ideas from?!)
Sara: Travel. I love attending cooking classes and going into grocery stores and markets in other countries. It gives me new ideas and is so inspiring!
Do you have a favorite basket? Or one that you are most proud of?
Sara: I was traveling for work last May and my husband, who is Moroccan, called to tell me that Cronuts had hit NY. He was so excited about it and was dying to try one. I was inspired to create a Chopped basket which contained a lamb tagine, miso paste, zucchini blossoms and cronuts!
And finally, what food trends do you see?
Sara: Honestly, I’m not that in to food trends. I think it is all about what you like, getting out there and getting inspired and trying everything.