In the age of Paula Deen, Ina Garten, and Rachael Ray, Food Network audiences might feel overwhelmed with so many cooks in the kitchen. On The Emerson Channel, however, there is only one: Matthew Ricciardi is the host of College Kitchen — Emerson’s own instructional and informational cooking show.
Ricciardi said he spent eight years working at a mom-and-pop-style Italian restaurant in Leominster, MA, but the senior writing, literature, and publishing major is the first to admit that he’s “not a chef, or anything.”
And College Kitchen doesn’t expect its viewers to be chefs, either. “Our goal is to use materials that are available to college students and to make dishes they might not think they could do in a college setting,” said Ricciardi. The series has a clear vision and lively format that are certain to empower students who find cooking on campus to be intimidating or impossible.
Each full episode features two components: one on-location shoot at a local Boston restaurant, and an in-kitchen segment where Ricciardi teaches viewers how to replicate one of that restaurant’s best dishes. The charismatic host has recently taught viewers how to prepare steak tips with rosemary potatoes and green beans, falafel wraps, and eggs Benedict.
“We get to show viewers how to make foods that are available in their city,” said Ricciardi. These budget-friendly recipes are largely “translated” from their restaurant versions by executive producer Kati Davenport, a junior TV post-production major. “I’m a big foodie so I look at recipes all the time. I don’t come up with recipes, per se, but we try to put our own spin on things,” she said.
The show uses kitchens in the Colonial Building, although the spaces are not ideal from a production standpoint. “Our biggest issue is the setup of the kitchens, which have all the burners against the wall,” said Davenport. “Most TV cooking shows film with an island that has burners.” Ricciardi must be careful, Davenport explained, not to cook with his back to the camera.
For on-location shoots, selection is key. “Kati usually takes care of choosing the restaurants, but I know she always has the student in mind,” said assistant producer Gemma Simko, a sophomore marketing major. “She usually chooses somewhere that is budget-friendly, but still exciting cuisine-wise.”
Locations that have been featured this semester have been brunch at restaurant Church of Boston in Fenway, smoothies at Trident Cafe on Newbury St., and dessert at Vittoria Caffe in the North End. As host, Ricciardi has the arduous task of sampling delicious dishes like tiramisu and Spanish-inspired tapas.
For the tapas episode, Ricciardi arranged an impromptu celebrity guest on College Kitchen: “Boston Tweet” himself, Tom O’Keefe. The local social networking guru has gained notoriety for promoting Boston events and deals around town. When a friend recognized O’Keefe (who has made appearances in some marketing classes at Emerson) in the Piano Row lobby, Ricciardi knew asking him to appear on College Kitchen was worth a shot.
“It was funny because in a meeting just the night before, we were brainstorming about how to get ‘local celebrities’ to appear on our show, and ‘Boston Tweet’ was at the top of our list,” said Ricciardi. That very next day, the College Kitchen team had O’Keefe on camera slicing tomatoes in a Colonial kitchen.
Inaugurated as its own 15-minute series this semester, the show had previously been a shorter segment on Good Morning Emerson. After serving as segment producer on GME last spring, Davenport pitched it as a standalone series. Filming began in fall of 2010, and the production team is currently shooting the fall 2011 season.
Davenport’s enthusiasm drives the series. “From the beginning it was something I was passionate about,” she said. “It’s definitely been my baby, but we’re a family.” That family has more than doubled in the past semester — from ten crew members to more than 25, including individual segment teams. The group effort involves on-camera assistants, writers, producers, and directors of photography.
In addition to six full episodes, the crew shot five independent segments for the current season. They are part of the College Kitchen brand, Davenport explained, but air independently on The Emerson Channel and online. These include interviews with local bloggers and chefs, instructions on technique, and profiles of specialty food stores around Boston.
“We were really ambitious in filming last semester,” explained Davenport. In the future, she hopes the show’s rapid evolution continues. “I really want College Kitchen to become more than just a show — I want it to be a hub for all things food-related on campus.”
College Kitchen airs Tuesdays at 6 p.m. on The Emerson Channel (channel 57 on campus televisions). Video is also available online at www.median.emerson.edu.