Addie and her mom boarded the “L.’” Addie took a window seat. She took a deep breath and tried to relax into the cracked vinyl, but she couldn’t keep her feet from bouncing. She watched the shoppers in the city square, bustling about the grassy center with bags full of breads, clothing and toys. Downers Grove, Illinois was number eight on a list of America’s friendliest towns, and on this glorious spring day, it was easy for Addie to see why. The sun shone down and new growth abounded; there was a general, happy feeling in the air.
Addie thought back to when she had first heard the audition announcement, when she and her best friend, Sam, had devised their business plan. Sean Oyster, the host of Chow Chef, had been standing with that season’s winner under a rainfall of brightly colored streamers and balloons. Sean had been dressed in his signature black suit, bald head and black-framed glasses, looking directly into the camera…looking directly at Addie. Addie’s heart had beaten like the bubbles of boiling water. Winning a competition like this could change her life and provide security for her future that she hadn’t yet earned. “I’m excited to announce the casting call for our newest adventure, Chow Chef, Junior, open to all cheftestants ages thirteen to eighteen years old. Visit chowchef.com for more details.”
Addie envisioned placing a giant red check mark next to steps one through four of her and Sam’s Ultimate Business Plan:
Addie and Sam’s Ultimate Business Plan for Success:
Day of the audition: Addie looks her best
Sam arrives to watch little brother.
Sam/Addie bribe little brother to behave with “Devil” cookies, put Frozen on repeat for said little brother.
Addie auditions for Chow Chef, Jr. wowing the judges and making the final cast.
Addie wins Chow Chef, Junior, increasing her YouTube show, Pastries and Platters following to over 20,000 regular viewers, making Addie Jones a household name by seventeen years old.
Continued success with Chow Network: Addie a Chow Network food star; Sam, Executive Producer, both by twenty-two years old.
Enjoy - Addie and Sam rule the world!
After a forty-five-minute train ride and one caramel apple cider, Addie and her mom stood outside the Chow Network skyscraper.
“Wow,” Addie said, staring up at the tall building. “It sure is big.” Addie had traveled to the city a few times, but today, standing next to such a tall structure sent shivers down her spine.
Addie’s mom fumbled through her purse, pulling out her iPhone, tapping several times to get it to do what she wanted.
“Are you taping this?” Addie asked. Her mom’s inability to operate a smartphone – or the television – made Addie laugh.
“Oh, I wish I knew how to do this better,” her mom said, struggling with the phone. “Sam gave me strict orders to record as much as possible for some before you were famous footage.” Her mom got the phone into video mode. “So, Addie. How are you feeling now that we are here for your big audition?”
“Excited! This is seriously the most important moment of my life!” Addie beamed.
“Oh my gosh, sweetie,” her mom said, dropping the phone to her side. “You’re right, this is huge! Are you sure you want to do this? I mean, in front of all those people?”
Addie slumped. Addie’s mom never quite understood Addie’s passion for cooking, nor her love for being in front of the camera.
Flustered, Addie’s mom caught herself, and came to Addie’s side. She framed Addie’s cheeks with her hands. “You are so brave, and you will be great,” she placed a kiss on Addie’s dainty nose, tucking her sleek, dark hair behind her ears. Addie draped her arms around her mom, the lilac of her mom’s perfume reminding her she was safe. They might not agree on everything, but at times like this, Addie knew her mom had her back.
“Thanks, mom,” Addie said. “Let’s do this.” They swung through the revolving door, and were lost in a sea of suited businessmen, six-foot tall women strutting like peacocks in high heels, and overweight men sporting baggy sweatpants, sipping on light pink smoothies. Addie felt smaller than she had in a while.
They were ushered to an elevator and told to get off on the thirty-sixth floor. After a maze of lines, form checking, pictures, and more lines, they arrived at the final holding room to wait for her interview.
Addie’s face flushed as she looked through the room of swarming teens in front of her. A dozen rows of folding chairs faced the front, where four closed doors stood. A creamy-skinned girl sat on the end of the row closest to Addie, dressed in a crisp white chef suit. She had an expressionless face, and was sharpening two knives together, while a playful teenage boy stood, upside down in the handstand position, against the back wall, kicking himself down...and then back up again.
Addie scanned the room for an empty chair. Dodging the feet of the handstand boy, they walked to the opposite side of the room, closer to the windows. Addie was about to take the seat next to a pretty girl with black spiraled hair, hyperventilating into a paper bag, but spotted a better one a few rows up, next to a tall blonde, sitting next to an even taller, stockier woman. They looked quiet and normal.
Addie and her mom weaved through the other hopefuls, taking the chair next to the quiet blonde, facing the four audition doors. Addie made eye contact with the girl as she sat, but there was not even a smile on the bright red lips of the stone-faced girl.
A door at the front opened, causing a hush across the room. A young man, no older than Addie exited, fresh tears glimmering in his eyes, hugging his mom as they ran for the exit. A plump man holding a clipboard came out behind them. “Mike Hawk?” he called into the room, as all eyes watched for the next contestant to stand and face their fate.
“Wow, can you believe this?” Addie said once the door closed to the girl next to her. “There are a lot of people here.”
“You seem nervous,” the girl replied with a slight accent.
“I’m not nervous,” Addie said, but was taken aback.
The girl smirked and looked Addie up and down but said nothing. Heat rose from Addie’s collar and the other contestants’ chatter throbbed in Addie’s ears. The blonde’s mother sat at attention like a statue, not turning to see who her daughter was talking to.
“What’s your name?” Addie asked, and cleared her throat, more to break the awkward silence than because she wanted to know.
“Danka.” After a silent moment, the girl continued. “I’ve seen your show before – Pudding and Pasties.”
“Oh, actually, it’s called Pastries and Platters.”
“The episode I saw was on quiches. What are you, thirty-two?”
“No, I’m thirteen. How about you?”
“You don’t get sarcasm, do you?” Danka said as she rolled her eyes.
“My therapist says sarcasm is a survival technique for the insecure.”
“You talk a lot for such a tiny person.”
Addie glanced back to the hyperventilating girl, who was now doing Yoga an aisleway. Anything would be better than sitting with Danka.
Another audition room opened. This time, a petite lady in her thirties with bright red spiky hair emerged with a file in hand. “Danka Steinberger!” she called.
“My turn,” Danka stood and marched past the lady into the audition room, towering over her in height.
An hour and twenty minutes later, it was Addie’s turn. Petunia, the same lady that had called Danka’s name, sat across a table from Addie in the small audition room, talking on her cell phone. The room was the size of a doctor’s exam room, but less welcoming. The walls were empty except for a whiteboard with the words, “Don’t just cook it, Chow Chef it!!” in purple and pink bubble writing. Addie shifted from side to side in the plastic chair. It was approaching eight pm and her stomach growled with hunger.
“Just hold the reservation,” Petunia said to her phone. “We have ten more auditions and we’ll be there…these are the Chow Chef producers; do you really want to anger them?” A few minutes later Petunia hung up her phone, shoving it aside on the table. “Paperwork?” she hissed.
Addie pushed her fifteen-page application across the desk. She straightened her back and fidgeted with her hair, her shorts, her hair again, hoping she was putting on an air of confidence. She tried to appear calm, keeping her breathing even and wiping the palms of her hands covertly on her pants, but she touched her nose one too many times for it to be natural.
Petunia stared at Addie through her dark glasses.
Addie smiled, hoping to mask her overwhelming anxiety. A drop of sweat formed on the back of her neck and rolled down her back. The audition was causing more stress than she thought. If she made it through the audition process, how would she ever make it through the competition?
Petunia blinked a few times. She picked up Addie’s application and read it. “I see you describe yourself as a thirteen-year-old foodie with a flair for the unusual. Tell me a bit about yourself.”
“Well, my name is Addie Jones and I’ve been cooking for as long as I can remember. I’ve spent a lot of time with my grandma growing up - we baked cookies, prepped for dinner, she had me washing potatoes at the age of four. I have my show, Pastries and Platters, that we air on both YouTube and Downers Grove’s Cable channel thirteen. I’ve followed Chow Chef since season one.”
“What do you think your biggest flaw is?”
“Well, I hate my knees. They are kind of fat, and round around the edges…I can’t wear a skirt for the life of me,” Addie let out an accidental snort as she fake-laughed.
“I meant, your biggest flaw as a chef.”
“Oh, right.” Addie closed her eyes and willed her body to relax, but her hands shook from not yet having dinner. This was her one chance, she had to pull herself together. “I guess…experience. I don’t have any formal training, but I still consider myself to be quite a technical chef. And what I lack in experience I make up for in motivation and the ability to thrive under pressure.” Addie paused for a moment. At least in the kitchen she thrived under pressure.
“Okay, so enthusiasm would be your greatest skill?”
Addie pulled her shoulders back and straightened her spine, taking a deep breath. “Yes, and I’m a super-taster, I have a very selective palate, and spice to perfection.”
“Who is your favorite chef?”
“And why?” Petunia asked, sounding as if she had heard the answer a thousand times. Lark Lawson was the most famous teen Chef there was. At eighteen, he was the first winner of Chow Chef UK, and later, was recognized for revamping Brittan’s elementary school lunches. Thanks to his charisma and rugged good looks, he became an overnight sensation in America, and he’s now a regular on Chow Network. “He’s Chow Network’s most famous teen chef, and at only eighteen years of age he earned a Michelin star, the youngest to date. He has what I want.”
“Do you have an audition tape?”
“Sure do,” Addie said as she slid the flash drive across the table. “Pastries and Platters has over ten-thousand subscribers. The most in my entire school.”
Petunia popped the flash drive into the computer and set the video in motion. Sam helped Addie create the three-minute promo containing highlights from their favorite tapings, snippets of her most proud teaching moments, as well as some funny off camera bloopers, hoping to showcase all the positive traits Addie could bring to the Network. Addie had watched the promo a hundred times, but this was different playing it for an actual Chow Network producer. Addie mouthed along with the words while trying to watch Petunia’s face for any glimmer of approval, but her stern face gave nothing away. Addie tried not to read too much into that.
The next twenty minutes were filled with a barrage of questions: What is your signature dish? Describe an embarrassing moment you’ve had in the kitchen. (Oh boy, which one did they want?) If you were to be on the next season of Chow Chef, Junior, what will you be remembered for? And then, finally, it was over.
“Well,” Petunia said. “Some of the other candidates have much more impressive resumes. But you have passion, which is one of the most important things we look for, along with charisma, which you also have.” Petunia took off her glasses and stared at Addie for a few seconds. Addie smiled and clasped her hands in front of her heart. Addie knew this was a longshot, but to make it through the first interview was all she needed. Once she started cooking, she knew she would be okay. “There’s something about you the camera likes, which might resonate with our audience. The normal, not impressive, not over-the-top contestant they love to root for. You aren’t in the immediate discard pile. We’ll contact you within two weeks if you move to the next level.” She stood and stuck out her hand, “Thank you for your time.”