The following is an advanced view of my monthly column I wrote for Food Service News. I was gladly accept any feedback you may have.
THE ART OF PERFORMING THE PERFECT FOOD DEMO
“I’ve seen a million faces, and I rocked them all” - Jon Bon Jovi
That’s right; now days pretty much everybody wants to be a rock star, or at least the next Food Network host.
Without putting too much thought into it, I’ll bet 10% of the e-mails or Face book messages I receive are questions asking about how to put together a successful food demo.
Industry professionals, media personalities, personal chefs, cook book authors…..everybody is trying to get a little piece of the limelight.
Nobody believes in the value of specialized presentations more than I do. Over the years I have witnessed this unique platform serve as stepping stones for many people’s careers.
However, this forum is becoming more crowded than ever, so if you’re going to jump into the pool….you better bring your “A” game.
I can’t tell you how many times I have worked forums where a notable chef will take the podium and think that their amassed wisdom alone is going to be enough to win over an audience.
Sure, people might appreciate it, but just watch how chef’s life experiences will pale in comparison when the following act is a circus monkey that has been trained to decorate cupcakes.
There is a right way and a wrong way to do a cooking demonstration. Listed below are some helpful tips, and if you adhere to them, I guarantee that not only will your demo flourish, but you’ll be certain to get an invite back.
Rule #1 – SHOW UP 30 MINUTES BEFORE SHOW TIME
It doesn’t matter if you are demoing waffles at a cooking school or making borscht on the channel 4 news. Somebody other than you is responsible for the success of this event. The last thing a host wants to worry about is if their talent is going to arrive.
I’ve been stiffed by “NO SHOWS” over the years, and although I’m not vindictive by nature, I really do end up being more than annoyed with them and almost never give them another invite.
Rule #2 – KNOW YOUR SPACE
If I am going to do a demo in an area I have never worked before, I always try to do some recon before the day of the gig. There is nothing worse than letting somebody’s perception determine your fate. Nine out of 10 times the person hosting your platform won’t know what your needs are, or what techniques you will employee throughout your show.
If the venue is in town, drop in and survey the kitchen. If there are appliances, test them out. You’d be amazed how many glitches can be worked out beforehand. You really want to minimize your mistakes.
Audiences simply will not accept ignorance as an excuse. In their minds, if you are credible enough to anchor that slot, you better execute flawlessly.
Rule #3 – PICK A GENERIC TOPIC
Basically, there are two camps of Demo Chefs. The first camp is the exotic artist that just gets so thrilled to show you some Albanian, or Bulgarian recipe. So much so that when doing this, they almost brag about how cool they are because only they know how to resource the special ingredients that are required to make that particular item.
These people never succeed.
Trust me, very few people are intrigued with presentations that they cannot relate to. A presenter should always remember to design their shows for their audience, not their ego.
The second camp is the thoughtful technician. This chef will demonstrate a timeless recipe that will always be en vogue.
Pie Crusts, Croissants, Soups, Stew or Chili are just some of the classic standards that just scratch the surface of pertinent topics .
With that said, you can always add some sexy ingredients to these if you like.
But the bottom line is, if you are a professional, it’s easy to intimidate your audience.
A good orator always makes certain that their medium is wanted and assessable.
Rule #4 – PICK A TOPIC YOU ARE FAMILIAR WITH
Whether it is fair or not, crowds will anoint you as an expert just as long as you don’t get in the way of your topic .
You don’t have to make the expert claim; they will define you this way whether you want them to or not. Let’s face it, what you are doing is entertainment, and people love to set alliances with different types of entertainment camps….even culinary.
To date, I can’t remember ever hearing somebody saying…….
“I just saw the 12th best cheesecake baker in the world giving a raspberry swirl demo and it was great.”
There is no middle ground people, you will be the best or the worst. They will either worship you or want your head on a platter.
Rule #5 – ALWAYS GO UNDER YOUR TIME
Without a doubt, this is where the newbie messes up the most often.
When people get a little taste of attention, often times they are not willing to relinquish the stage.
If the crowd is led to believe that you are going to give them 30 minutes, give them 25.
Audiences have internal clocks and when they realize that your show is coming to an end, they get distracted. Most of the time around the 27 minute mark, your fan base will mentally unplug and start thinking about what’s next on their agenda.
The seasoned vet will pull the plug before the audience even knows it. Don’t forget the oldest adage in show biz…..
“Leave the crowd wanting more!”
That’s right, there can be powering in retreating.
I remember several years back, I was asked to do 40 minutes at a Chocolate Expo. The event center had a built in crowd, and when each presenter started their demo there would be 300-400 people in the audience.
Some speakers droned on for their entire time allotment, but ended up with less than a dozen people left in attendance at their shows conclusion.
This defeats the purpose friends. The purpose of doing demos is to send the masses back into the world with a buzz in their ears that continues to whisper our concepts to them.
I on the other hand opened my presentation by saying…….
“Hi my name is Klecko, and I’m not sure why I am here. I pretty much hate chocolate. Ya know….I should probably do my demo at the salt convention (people laughed at that) but since I am here, I’m going to show you a simple scone recipe, and after that I have 3 grocery bags of free stuff to give you guys.”
I’m laughing as I write this, because 90% of the people in attendance were not only smarter than me, but wealthier as well.
The scone demo only took around 15 minutes, but to be honest, nobody cared. They were sitting on the edge of their chairs like vultures hanging over a carcass.
When you say “Free-Free-Free”, this is the quickest way to form bonds and make friendships.
The bags contents had nothing to do with chocolate. I had sugar free Jello, cup cake liners, salt and pepper shakers, Trident gum and who knows what else.
You’d have thought I was handing over the key to the city the way these people mobbed the stage.
From the time I was announced, to the time I exited……I’ll bet I did 28 minutes tops.
If you want to measure the branding impact that experience had, just ask my wife how many times we’ve been stopped in public over the last few years by somebody who was proud to declare…..
“Hey Klecko, do you remember me? You gave me that free bag of Kitty Litter at the Chocolate show.”
I swear to Caesar, you can’t make stuff like that up.
In closing one other thing you can do that is invaluable is watch people who are tremendous speakers.
Listed below are just a few people in the Twin Cities that I have learned boatloads from watching.
Lee Svitak Dean
Good luck, and don’t forget to drop me a line if you are about to do a demo.