What happens when people stop being polite ... and become culinary masters?
Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue like a certain catchphrase of another MTV show, but it seems to be the concept of new reality show “House of Food,” where Lawrence native Jake Weber was selected from thousands of applicants to live with other aspiring chefs in competition for the apprenticeship of a lifetime.
Weber came across the call for applicants while surfing the Web (under the pretense of studying for finals). Having learned to cook in second grade with his mom, and growing up watching the Food Network religiously, he decided to apply. One charming YouTube video and a Skype interview later, Weber was flown to Los Angeles for the three-month taping and a worthwhile experience of conceptualizing what his dream dining business plan would look like.
“I’ve always been a big eater, and I’m kind of a big guy, so food has always been my top interest,” Weber says. “Through this opportunity I got to realize all the different facets and categories of food. I’ve always been interested in cooking in restaurants, but there is such a broad spectrum of restaurants, so I realized that fast, casual dining is where my heart lies.”
In this “The Real World” meets “MasterChef” docu-series, eight students with no formal culinary training learn cooking skills from three of the country’s best chefs while sharing a pressurized living situation under the same roof. Judging by the show's trailer, it looks like the quintessential reality show elements are in play: drinking, fighting, crying (despite numerous “don’t cry” requests from what seems like an intimidating mentor), lude behavior and at least one chair thrown.
The majority of the cooking lessons took place in their shared home; every once in a while they left to visit a fish market, or Weber’s favorite lesson at the meat purveyor, where they learned where the beef came from, and different techniques to cut and prepare it. Self-described as the easiest-going cast member in the house, Weber pointed out how the challenge of the two angles — competitive cooking and living together — worked against each other.
Spending just about every minute of the experience together, it was a bit of an oversaturated social experiment.
“The hardest thing about the whole show is not only do you have to cook with these people — depending on the challenge you might work in a restaurant with them — but then you have to go home and still be with that person,” he says. “Maybe someone on your team might have messed up or something. That drama leads back to the house. It’s never quiet in the house.”
And, like any marketable reality TV show, the outbursts were often volatile.
“Maybe everyone gets along on this day; the next day we go out to a bar and get drunk and a fight breaks out,” Weber says. “It’s ever-changing, and it’s interesting because it started out as ‘everyone is so cool and different,’ and the next thing you know, everyone hates each other and the house is split. It’s always crazy.
“We would have to be professional in the workplace, and we’d be doing a lot of teamwork stuff, but the second we came home, maybe somebody’s having a bad day, maybe someone misses home. It’s always a toss-up how people are feeling in the house.”
Weber's chill attitude wasn’t the only thing that set him apart from his cast mates. With almost everyone else from one coast or the other, Weber got some flack for being from the exact middle of the country. He wears a cowboy hat in the show's promotional photos, after all, and would consider himself more country than the others, but nothing in comparison to some in Kansas.
“I don’t know if they had a lot of people apply from Kansas, so maybe it was a fresh change for MTV,” Weber says of being selected. “I got a lot of ‘Wizard of Oz’ references and, ‘Do they have that in Kansas?’ because everybody thinks that Kansas is just wheat fields and farms and whatnot.”
Tune in for the show premiere at 9 p.m. March 31 on MTV, and continue to watch the weekly hour-long episodes to see whether Weber the underdog takes the whole prize. As of now, he’s lying low in Lawrence to see what kind of opportunities come his way after the show airs.
His dream is to open a casual dining restaurant modeled after Chipotle or Panera Bread.
“Being able to see people eating their food in front of me, seeing that instant gratification on their faces is something that has always been cool to me,” he says.
Let’s hope that means Lawrence will be get a tasty addition soon enough.