This is the third in a series of interviews with former reality show contestants, an idea inspired by my new reality show-themed mystery novel Sink or Swim, Where Reality TV Turns to Murder.
Today, I’ve enjoyed learning more about Chef Betty Fraser from Top Chef Season 2. Betty is the owner of the award-winning Hollywood, CA restaurant Grub, (pictured below) the long-established catering company As You Like It Catering, and also runs the caf-style commissary at Hollywood’s Red Studios. Betty’s exposure on Top Chef has opened the door to a great many opportunities. She has become a frequent guest chef at food and wine events throughout the nation, has appeared on numerous local L.A. TV shows, and just recently appeared as a guest panelist at the first reality show convention, Reality Rocks.
Betty, if you could boil down your experience on Top Chef to one paragraph, what was your overall feeling about being on this show?
The Top Chef experience was two parts excitement mixed with a big serving of stress. While I think most people understand that the ‘reality’ in reality show can mean a lot of things, on Top Chef those competitions are real. And what was a big eye-opener for me was that I was actually a competitive person. I went in to it thinking it was just going to be a lot of fun, but all it took was to hear the word “Go” on the first challenge and I turned in to Kobe Bryant!
What was the best part about being on the show?
Having the chance to meet so many great chefs and watch them work was something I really enjoyed. I still stay in touch with a lot of them. I think we’re all pulling for each other because of the shared experience we have. But the most fun came afterwards. I’ve had the chance to travel and make a lot of guest appearances at food events around the country which I love doing. And when I’m out and someone comes up to me with, “Aren’t you...?” that’s a wild feeling that reminds me of the reach of television and how many people enjoy the show.
What were your favorite challenges on the show? Least favorite?
Considering that my restaurant Grub serves California Comfort Food, it’s pretty easy to put the “Comfort Food Challenge” at the top of the list. And then winning it and having a chance to cook with Al Roker on the Today Show and having the recipe served at TGIF’s was amazing. My least favorite challenge was a “Sushi Challenge.” Not because of the challenge itself, but because they got us up at 3:00 in the morning to go to a fish market. I like fish...but not before the sun comes up.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering applying for a reality show?
First thing I’d suggest is to learn about Pandora’s Box. Because once you reach people in their living rooms, that box is opened and there’s no going back. Reality shows are entertainment so big personalities have become a prerequisite. But what a lot of people don’t think about is the criticism you are opening yourself up for. I think people watch reality TV as much for who they like as who they don’t like. And people aren’t shy about sharing their feelings on chat boards. When the comments are nice, you feel great. But when they lay in to you, especially when they have no idea of the kind of person you really are, it can really hurt. If you don’t have a thick skin, then being on a reality show might not be the best decision.
Tell us about Grub and what else you have been up to lately?
Thanks for asking and Grub is doing great! It’s going on ten years now and it’s still a joy to go to work. Grub is set in a 1920’s converted bungalow in Hollywood so everything we do is to create a sense of “home.” And that means we see our guests more like family than just customers walking in off the street. It’s a high-energy place, and can get a little crazy, but at the center of it all is a lot of fun and some great food. We’re all really proud of what we’ve been able to create and hope to continue riding the wave.
What are a few of your favorite dishes to cook?
The most fun for me as a chef is taking a classic dish and updating it to create something new. And the concept is something I love sharing with home chefs when I’m teaching a class. My favorite right now is braised short ribs. I also run a catering company and it was requested by a client about a month ago. It has set me off on trying all types of new ways to serve it. My thinking is that food should be fun and serve as a platform for individual creativity. We play a game in the restaurant called “Add Three” where we’ll take a classic recipe, say a Mac & Cheese, and then add three ingredients you wouldn’t expect. Sometimes it’s a big miss but those times when it works it feels like you’ve created something special. So don’t be afraid to experiment in the kitchen. It’s like they say, “Try and fail but don’t fail to try.”
Where can fans find you online?
We update our Grub website at www.grub-la.com with some of the new things we have going on. I try to get in to my Facebook page as much as I can and update. That runs the gambit between an appearance I may be making or something special we’re doing at Grub to the fact that one of my dogs got “skunked!”