Bar Rescue – Behind the Scenes @ J.A. Murphys

August 5th, 2012

On Location with Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue:” J.A. Murphy’s in Fells Point, Maryland.

As “Bar Rescue’s” culinary producer, I’m fortunate to have a unique perspective on the behind-the-scenes process of making the television show AND the bar a success. I work very closely with Jon Taffer and our experts to resuscitate the bar and food programs, including menu development, design, and installation of equipment. Now in our second season, I’m thrilled to continue as part of Jon’s elite team and eager to share the exclusive inside scoop with you!

“People are eating mouse s#@t!”- Chef Brian Duffy during kitchen walkthrough

J.A. Murphy’s is located in the heart of historic Fells Point MD, a fun and thriving area on the water with loads of foot traffic. In 2009, college frat buddies Keith Murphy and Joel Gallant carried out an impulse to partner in opening a bar— after pulling a drunken all- nighter.
Despite having no experience, J.A. Murphy’s was oddly successful at first, raking in $12,000 weekly sales. The ironic achievement was attributed to Murphy’s manager Marka, who facilitated the constant flow of regulars and profitable margins. To add to the drama, partner Joel butts heads with everyone and his abrasive attitude forced manager Marka to quit. In retaliation, the smart-cookie launched her own competitive bar right around the corner. This overture is a sore spot with Joel, to be sure.
With fewer customers, mounting business costs, and money lost on cheap shots, J.A. Murphy’s is now losing $5,000 each week and Keith and Joel are deep in debt.

Only two months away from closing Murphy’s doors for good, Keith and Joel have made a call for help to Jon Taffer, host and executive producer of “Bar Rescue” and NCB Media Group President.

J.A. Murphy’s was the most dilapidated, vile bar we ever encountered–-—raw chicken being mishandled, severe water damage, sewage, and toxic mold are just the highlights! Honestly, it’s a miracle this space was not condemned.
Facing a filthy bar and an inexperienced staff, Jon calls in reinforcements. He brings in award-winning flair mixologist Chris Cardone and chef Brian Duffy to overhaul the grody kitchen and create an approachable menu.
Chef Duffy goes through the kitchen and finds way more neglect than he bargained for: a ton of grease under the range hood, a dead rat behind a water heater, and rodent droppings in food containers. Jon brings Keith and Joel in and takes them to task for allowing these unsanitary conditions.
Meanwhile, Chris Cardone evaluates the cleanliness of the bar and discovers dead maggots residing under the bar mats. He reams the staff for being lazy on shifts and not doing general cleanup.

Chris then takes the bartenders to the keg cooler. He finds the fridge temperature is a good 20-degrees above what it should be! Upon cutting open one of the tap lines, Chris discovers grimy sentiment settling at the bottom of the disgustingly warm beer. This place is gross at every turn.
Jon, Chris, and Duffy decide that J.A Murphy’s is so incredibly filthy, they can’t even conduct training until the staff does a deep clean. They show the staff how to sanitize and where, setting them up for a big day of training and then the RELAUNCH!
I can’t give away much more than that, but tune into Spike TV this summer to see the drama of turning around a failing bar business… in 72 hours and how Jon Taffer’s rescue panned out. Be sure to check out for exclusive coverage of each episode.

Bar Rescue Behind the Scenes @ Piratz Tavern

July 30th, 2012

On Location with Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue:” Piratz Tavern in Silver Spring, MD

As “Bar Rescue’s” culinary producer, I’m fortunate to have a unique perspective on the behind-the-scenes process of making the television show AND the bar a success. I work very closely with Jon Taffer and our experts to resuscitate the bar and food programs, including menu development, design, and installation of equipment. Now in our second season, I’m thrilled to continue as part of Jon’s elite team and eager to share the exclusive inside scoop with you!

“You’re not surviving, you’re sinking!” – Jon Taffer to Piratz Tavern owner Tracy.


After a long career in corporate communications, Tracy Rebelo went out on a limb and opened Piratz Tavern in Silver Spring, Maryland. After hosting a successful pirate-themed Halloween party in 2007, she wanted to bring the pirate-fantasy concept to every day life. But from the beginning, Piratz only attracted a select customer base of Renaissance Fair performers and Saturday afternoon children’s parties.

Tracy’s troubles first surfaced when she foolishly hired the performers as her staff. Once the pirate-gang took over, they made their own rules, having the time of their lives—with a yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! The tight-knit crew treats the workplace as their own Private Idaho and Tracy has been the enabler…and financier.

Her next digression was to entrust her husband, Juciano, to run the kitchen… though he lacks a cooking pedigree. Tracy is a caring, credible woman with a big heart, but often makes all-important business decisions based on emotion. As a result, Piratz is just a few months from going under. Tracy is drowning in $900,000 in debt; forced to sell her house and move her, her husband, and 17-year-old daughter into her parents’ basement.

Rescuing this bar was like no other we had worked with. Piratz is not dinner theater; this is an underground community defending their lifestyle choice with vigor. The safe-haven only caters to the regular swashbuckling crowd, whose philosophy is to escape from the ordinary, not embrace it. The pirate staff has open distain for “regular” people and mock any outsider who is not clad in pirate attire. Trouble is, this kitschy concept doesn’t draw the masses, while proudly alienating them at the same time.

With the bar barely staying afloat, Tracy reaches out to Jon Taffer for help, host and executive producer of “Bar Rescue” and NCB Media Group President. Jon’s first order of business is to disband the costumed sub-culture of outcasts. He asks Tracy a tough, heartfelt question: “Do you want to play pirate, or do you want to send your daughter to college?” Jon reveals his plan: to completely rebrand Piratz into a corporate hotspot where downtown business people can network over lunch and happy hour.

The bustling downtown area boasts about 240,000 people during the day, a combination of locals and workers who toil at “Discovery Communications”, the “National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration”, and other office towers. The population sinks to about 70,000 people once those offices clear out. Taffer points out, “The obvious solution is to cater to those professionals during lunch, happy hour, and the early evening, before they head for home.”

Jon gathers the staff and tells them, “Fixing bars is easy, fixing people is hard. This bar is a business, not a playground.” Jon makes it clear that the employees will need to shape up or ship out.

To help save Piratz from Davy Jones’s locker, Jon brings in experts: Diageo master mixologist Elayne Duke to revive the drowning bar program, and executive chef Josh Capon to assess the kitchen. At the bar, Elayne discovers it’s ill-equipped and almost every drink is the same variation: sugary-sweet mixer, juice concentrate, and about 4 ounces! of rum; all poured in an oversized pint glass.

Chef Capon jokes that the menu more closely resembles an encyclopedia – over 18 pages long with 150 dishes described in “pirate-speak”. The back-of-the-house problems are enflamed by hot-tempered husband, Juciano. His lack of kitchen chops is magnified by a belligerent attitude and lack of respect for chef Capon, who’s genuinely invested to help.

I can’t give away much more than that, but tune into Spike TV all summer to see the drama of turning around a failing bar business… in 72 hours and how Jon Taffer’s rescue panned out. Be sure to check out for exclusive coverage of each episode.


Pretty in Pink?

April 11th, 2012

I heart me some Mark Bittman! He knows how to stir the pot in all the best ways and questions me to think about where food comes from.

Who doesn’t love a good burger? Hamburgers are one of the most popular foods in America–studies show each of us eats about 150 burgers per year.

Unfortunately, not all hamburgers, or even turkey or veggie burgers, are created equal. Cooking method, portion size, and choice of bread and toppings can mean the difference between a relatively harmless lunch and a day’s worth of calories, fat, and sodium.

Before you take a bite out of that hamburger you’ve been craving, you might want to know whether it contains “pink slime” — the phrase that has become shorthand for the filler also called “lean finely textured beef.”

Add to that the knowledge the so-called pink slime is composed of mechanically-separated beef trimmings — parts of the cow that once were only used for dog food, not human consumption. And those trimmings are whipped together in a centrifuge and then treated with ammonium hydroxide (ammonia combined with water) to eliminate possible pathogens, particularly E. coli and salmonella, and you have cooked up a perfect stew of controversy.


If you examine a label at the grocery store, it is unlikely to tell you whether a package of ground beef contains the filler as an additive. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has not required such labeling. The USDA also does not require manufacturers to include ammonia treatment on labels, because it says it is a “process,” not an ingredient.

After a major backlash, the whole “pink slime” thing has done a number on ground-beef processors nationwide — causing one to suspend operations at three out of four plants and another to seek bankruptcy protection.

The nation’s leading fast-food chains and supermarkets spurned the product, even though U.S. public health officials deem it safe to eat. Hundreds of U.S. school districts also demanded it be removed from school lunch programs.


What people may not have known is that ammonia – often associated with cleaning products – was cleared by U.S. health officials nearly 40 years ago and is used in making many foods, including cheese, baked goods, and chocolate products. Now that little known world is coming under increasing pressure from concerned consumers who want to know more about what they are eating.


Next time you crave a burger, create a healthy one at home. Use 4 ounces (quarter-pounder) of 95 percent lean beef and grill or broil. Enjoy on a whole wheat bun, for fiber, and top with fresh vegetables such as tomato and romaine lettuce leaves. Skip the mayonnaise, but top with low-calorie pickles, ketchup and mustard. Make your own baked fries for a side dish to satisfy your cravings without all the fat and calories.

A hamburger isn’t, by itself, a terrible nutritional choice. Topped with some lettuce and tomato, ketchup and mustard, and a relatively small bun, a burger is a high-protein treat that shouldn’t pack too much fat or too many calories. Unfortunately, the good, old-fashioned American burger has evolved from lean and simple to very fat and very complicated. Stay away from the 1,000+ calorie burgers like the six dollar burgers (some of these burgers has as much as 62 grams of fat or about 560 calories from the wrong kind of fat). Get a regular burger for 300 – 500 calories and add extra lettuce and tomatoes on your burger. The worst part of a burger is actually the bun, the white bread. Try it with a whole wheat bun or even without the bun wrapped in a lettuce leaf “protein-style”.

Job Jargon

December 13th, 2011

Before working with me on a food television show, commit these phrases to memory to get a leg up on the competition!

Breakdown: The culinary script written for all shows, webisodes and live action events that chefs, food stylists and production teams follow to get the cooking action accomplished. Breakdowns include recipes, techniques and specific cooking or prep support needed to get the recipe demo across to the viewer.

Talking Points: Points of discussion that the chef must convey about recipes, techniques, ingredients, etc. Usually written by culinary production staff, talking points are also helpful to the talent who need to fill on-air time while cooking.

Swapouts: Food items, dishes or ingredients used on-air to stay within the time constraints (i.e. 30-minute shows) and undo mistakes. Behind the scenes, food stylists will cook along with the talent to be ready for potential mishaps (burns, over-cooking, undesired final results). The swapouts are used whenever needed – whether it’s partially browned onions to swap for burned ones, or a completed apple pie coming out of the oven just five minutes after it went in – swapouts are the real “magic” of food TV!

Mise en Place: The French phrase for “everything in its place.” Learned the first day of culinary school, this phrase means being organized and ready to go before action begins. Whether you’re cooking in your own kitchen or prepping ingredients for a food show, this is crucial. For a culinary producer that means having breakdowns, talking points and recipes written, having lists of all equipment needed, lists of swapouts and schedules of the day. If you’re testing a recipe or cooking dinner, having all your vegetables chopped, spices measured out, and ingredients at the ready is the first step to culinary success.

Purchasing: To the average eye, purchasing may seem like simply going grocery shopping. But when you’re purchasing for a food show, you have to think about more than just your list of ingredients. Segments of shows can be shot as many as 4 times, including mistakes the talent makes and shots of just their hands moving/chopping/washing. As a purchaser, you have to anticipate how much of each ingredient you’re going to need to make it through all those passes. You never want to be on set and have your director say, “can we take that again?” and have your reply be, “that was our last chicken…”


Nine Eleven

September 10th, 2011

My view from Brooklyn

Being born on September 11th was changed forever 10 years ago.

I temporarily relocated to NY June 2001 to write Tyler Florence’s debut cookbook, Real Kitchen. This was only my second book, and in looking back, was an important transition in my career——crazy to imagine that a decade later I have a total of nine cookbooks published.

Ty and I worked together on the FTV series Food 911 for 3 years and we considered each other family. To this day, he is like a brother to me. Through a series of circumstances, I ended up moving in with he and his girlfriend at the time, Evyn— a Jack Tripper, Three’s Company situ of sorts. I bunked in his five year old son Miles’ room, with a trunk full of toys, a blue Big Wheel, and a bird’s eye view of Flatbush Avenue. Spending the summer in Park Slope, Brooklyn and writing a “celeb-chef’s” first cookbook is in and of itself a memory.

As the hot summer in the city progressed, I rediscovered my New York soul. I moved to LA after college and while I visited the tri-state area often to see my parents and friends over the years, this was the first time I lived in the greatest city on earth as a woman. I was in a different place in my life than when I was going to NYU and bopping around the Village.

Tuesday morning September 11, 2001——day one of food photography for Real Kitchen. Big Day! It was also my birthday and Tyler and I intended to celebrate at Mesa Grill, at the invitation from fellow Food Network chef Bobby Flay.

Renowned photographer, Bill Bettencourt and his assistant are due to arrive at 9:30 am. All food and props were purchased and organized the day before. I wake at 7:30 am to find Tyler already prepping the beauty dishes in the kitchen. “JoJo, we need better baby bok choy for the Hong Kong Crab Cake shot.” “I’ll go down the street to the Korean market on 7th Avenue”, I reply. “No, the produce is better in Chinatown, it won’t take you long to run into the City and come back,” he says. With that, I hop on the orange F train to Manhattan’s lower eastside to procure and purchase photogenic Asian cabbage from an authentic Chinese grocer. In a flash, I jump back on the subway to return to the 718 area code.

After walking up three steep flights of stairs with beautiful bunches of bok choy, I find Tyler in front of the Today Show with a concerned Matt Lauer, talking about how a plane has “accidentally” crashed into the Twin Towers. This had to be around 9:00 am. The fact that I was on a train when the first plane hit, and moreover, that I was within the immediate vicinity of Wall Street while this all was happening is chilling to me. Three minutes later, I could have been potentially stuck underground like a rat in a hole, as MTA closed the downtown subways shortly after. I am forever aware and thankful that timing was on my side.

Ty is a photog at heart, and is always taking pictures and wanted to get up and out. He and I climbed the fire escape to the roof. It’s alarming how close Brooklyn actually is to downtown. We gravely watched as the first tower burns, listening to the radio commentary from a neighbor’s boom box. With a zoom on the lens, Tyler hands me his camera for use as binoculars, as the telephoto provides an upclose view. As I am watching the smoke, I see, what I think is a helpful helicopter hover…then Bam! I see through the magnifier the second plane fly into the second tower and explode into flames right before my eyes. “Holy Fuck!” Is all he and I could mutter! I truly could not believe the flames and smoke; like nothing I’d ever seen.

Then we watched as the towers came crashing down, imploding on themselves like the Sands Hotel or a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. This could not be real?! I was shaking, full of sadness and devastation, not knowing the facts and watching the News for any morsel of information.

The smoke, the white powder debris that covered seemingly everything, the putrid bitter smell of electrical fire, the constant sirens, the singed piece of paperwork I still have from a lawyers desk in tower 2 that floated all the way to Brooklyn and into my hands.

I will never forget how small I felt on that day. Or how I watched an army of commuters trek for miles on foot across the Williamsburg Bridge to their homes and families. Or how my birth was an accident, while innocent people and firefighters lost their lives. My birthday will forever be known as 911——tainted with terrorism, death, and the day my city and the nation were attacked.

Ten years later, it has not gotten any easier to “celebrate” my birth. I have been intentionally out of the country for at least 5 of the last 10 September 11ths because I end up watching the news; grieving and crying. How can I celebrate? What I have learned is that I am meant to mourn. I am meant to greet each morning with joy.  I am meant to create, and write, and cook, and share a smile, and be a friend, and in so many ways be a gift to the world.

But I will never forget.