The whole thing began when my son Jon’s manager sent me an email. “I have a project that I think you’d be perfect for.”
I took a moment and said in my best Dr. McCoy voice from Star Trek, “Dammit! I’m a blogger, not an actor!” Okay, maybe I didn’t really say that. In fact, what I did say, was, in the vernacular of the kids today: “YOLO!*” (*You Only Live Once)
And the next thing I know I’ve got an audition scheduled at Buzzfeed in LA. I know. Shut up.
[Warning: From this point on there will be lots of photos of me. It’s part of the story. Just roll with it, please. Thank you.]
Let me be perfectly clear, I really only wanted the bragging rights to be able to say, “Well, I had an audition at Buzzfeed once…” Because truly, I’m not an actress. At least not a professional one, but I am Cuban, so there’s that. The audition was for a show called “Abuela Vs Chef” and they needed an abuela who could cook and speak Spanish. (That pretty much describes me, right?)
So, I headed on up to LA with Jon as my carpool buddy. Jon is my son, the actor. The one who’s been doing this thing for a few years now. He’s the one with the professional head shots and a manager and an agent. I’m usually the one who rides along with him just for hero support and says encouragingly, “You’ve got this, Jon!”
“YOU NEED A HEAD SHOT”
Anyway, I asked Jon’s manager what I needed. “Well, you’ll need a head shot and a resume.” Hmm. Okay. An acting resume. I have a YouTube channel and I’ve done some video, so I cobbled together a resume on the fly. But a head shot?
*she pulls out her phone and aims at herself*
Also, I’m a graphic designer. *designs an 8×10 head shot*
Voila! Head shot.
Picture Jon rolling his eyes at me. Hard. “You did not just do that, mom.”
Off we go to LA. Look at me! I’m going to audition for Buzzfeed! Woo-hoo! Bragging rights and a cool Instagram selfie, here I come!
The audition consisted of me sitting in front of a camera while the lovely ladies who were interviewing me were backlit and it was difficult for me to make out their faces. So I answered their questions into the void and looked into the camera or to the side, as instructed. Let me just insert here that as much as I’ve gotten used to being in front of a camera, this is not my comfort zone.
My face is oh-so-very round. But it’s pleasant enough.
In other words, I had fun at the audition, because I figured I had nothing to lose. YOLO, remember?
The other thing about this audition was that the show they were casting for was for YouTube for the Buzzfeed En Español channel. So it would be in Spanish. Of course, you know that Spanish is my first language, but if you’ve been following my life recently you know that my mom had passed away in January and I had not spoken any Spanish since then.
Got that? My Spanish is super rusty. Perfect.
Before we even got home, Jon’s manager, Kirsten called: “You booked it!” WHAT?
“Shooting starts next week.” WAIT. WHAT?
Hmm… unexpected. I let Jon rant a little about how hilarious it was that I booked my very first audition with my ridiculous “YOLO-Selfie Head Shot.” But he was proud of me, nonetheless. Now I had to arrange for the shooting day up in LA at the Buzzfeed Studios and a day for them to come down here to my house to shoot B-roll. <–That’s Hollywood-speak for background filler while I tell my story.
ABUELA VS CHEF
The show is a parody of the popular Food Network Show, Chopped. In this version, a regular abuela (that would be me) goes head to head in a cooking competition against a real chef, as they both try to come up with the best way to cook something with the secret ingredient. The judges are youngsters who taste the food and decide who has the better tasting dish – the Abuela or the Chef.
I had the enormously good fortune to go up against the lovely and talented plant-based chef Jocelyn Ramirez. With the hilarious Brenda Blanco acting as facilitator for the cook-off.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune to get to visit the Buzzfeed Tasty studios. I’m sure you’ve seen their fabulous videos on Facebook and YouTube where they make every delicious thing ever. It was such a treat to be in this highly creative space.
“Abuela Vs Chef” was going to be a longer format venture so we had our own studio set up. I seriously felt sooo accidentally cool walking into this space. Everything was very surreal to me. The episodes will air on Buzzfeed en Español on YouTube and on Bien Tasty on Facebook.
The judges would sit at the table with the giant chalk illustration in the background. The kitchen set up was directly facing them.
From my vantage point I could see the judges and hear them as Jocelyn and I cooked side-by-side. It was a tight set but we had everything we needed and plenty of room to move.
THE SECRET INGREDIENT
Because Jocelyn is a plant-based chef (that’s code for vegan), the secret ingredient had to be a vegetable. *kneels down and gives thanks to God for dodging the weird-food-maybe-beef-liver bullet*
Our secret ingredient was – drum roll, please – CAULIFLOWER.
I have made roasted cauliflower. I have made pureed cauliflower. I like cauliflower. But I wanted to remain true to my Cuban roots and make something more a lo Cubano. So I opted for picadillo (which I can practically make in my sleep – is that cheating? – with cauliflower “rice.”
I had intended to use a food processor to chop up the cauliflower – easy-peasy, but the power strips on our kitchen island couldn’t handle much more than the hot plates we were cooking on. So, plan B: I grated a head of cauliflower. I was so not happy with this turn of events. If you look closely at my station, you can see the unholy mess I was making, as cauliflower was flying everywhere.
Picture this: You’re cooking your little heart out with cameras pointed at you. You’re aware that your hair is frizzing because you’re hot and sweating – maybe glowing a little – under the bright lights and all of this will probably be super obvious on camera.
Also, you don’t have your recipe in front of you, so you’re cooking “de oido” (by ear, so to speak).
You have made the cauliflower dish maybe once in your life, but that’s not important right now.
The power has conked out as you’re trying to get this whole thing done in under 30 minutes. And by “done” they mean “beautifully plated,” like the pros do.
You can see the countdown clock out of the corner of your eye. No pressure.
And you’re doing this all in Spanish, which yes, it is your first language, thankyouverymuch, but you haven’t used it much in a few months and you feel like you’re stumbling over your words a little.
But you keep cooking and smiling, cooking and smiling because you have a bunch of cameras pointed at you the whole time. Don’t be nervous.
The picadillo ingredients include OLIVE oil. And pimiento-stuffed OLIVES. And half-way through the cooking, you’re being interviewed by an adorable 11 year old who doesn’t have the word for OLIVES in Spanish which you have known your whole life but at this particular moment completely escapes you.
So you parrot him when he says “OLIVOS.” Which is nobody’s word for OLIVES anywhere in the world, and you know that, but your lizard brain is still distracted by how your hair is frizzing and oh, wow, did you just call the ACEITUNAS “OLIVOS???”
The more astute viewers among you caught that and rolled your eyes and laughed at me, because it’s hilarious. There were others of you that went, “Wait. Is that another way to say aceitunas?”
But then, you let it go. It’s supposed to be entertainment, after all. *heavy embarrassed sigh*
And just like that, the long day of shooting ends with you plating your dish just as the clock – and your ability to keep it together because ACEITUNAS!! – is running out. In this case, I chose long plates for my Picadillo Cubano with Cauliflower Rice and sliced avocado. Because Cuban.
After the cooking we were interviewed in a separate room where Jocelyn and I did a post-mortem on what we thought went well and what we were worried about during the cooking. You know, like they do in those real cooking competitions.
BUZZFEED AT THE DARBYS
The next day, the Buzzfeed camera crew was at my house bright and early to shoot some B-roll to help tell the story.
I had already spent the day before with this crew and I fell in love with them immediately. I also happen to be a stress-baker, so I made a batch of my homemade pastelitos de guayaba for them.
Again, I had a camera pointed at me and I was baking and answering questions about my family. Not for the feint of heart.
They were asking to be adopted by the end of the day.
Thanks, guys. You were awesome! (Please appreciate my husband in the background documenting the magic. LOL.)
Once again, pastelitos for the win.
So that’s the whole story of when I did a cooking competition show on Buzzfeed. I was quite proud of the way I represented us Cuban Abuelas. And I promise I will never forget the word, ACEITUNAS ever again. *crosses herself*
Here’s a link to the blow-by-blow description of the action in the show along with the recipes:
And here’s the video of the 11 minute show: Abuela Vs. Chef – ¡Coliflor!
I’m so grateful to Buzzfeed and their amazing crew for giving me the BEST. DAY. EVER.
And I’m also kind of proud of myself for fearlessly putting myself out there. (Thanks, Kirsten, for thinking I’d be good for this!)
In the end, it doesn’t matter that my Spanish was not perfect or that I forgot how to say “aceitunas” – *slams head on desk again a few times* – I did it.
Also, I will forever have an awesome story to tell: “Did I ever tell you about the time I did a Buzzfeed show and forgot the word for olives in Spanish?”
The critics can say what they like, I showed up and I actually did the thing. After all, You Only Live Once.