Friday, January 15, 2010

Day 305a - How to Frost a Cake with Martha on TV

I could never have imagined a better souvenir of this yearlong project than the experience I had today: meeting and getting a lesson from Martha, herself, on her TV show!!

How to Frost a Cake with Martha on TV (p. [not in the book])

Where do I begin??

It all started in August when Mary Forrest, one of Martha's producers, found my blog and contacted me to discuss the possibility of my appearing on the show. Was I interested? she wanted to know.

Um... yah.

I'd been completely immersed in Martha-ology for months - why would I pass up the opportunity to be in the same room with her, let alone together on national TV??

Not to mention, I live literally five minutes' walk from the studio. This couldn't be more convenient!

Finally, right before Christmas, I got an email from Mary about their upcoming blogging episode, and it became official: I was booked for the January 14 show. Yay!

I was easy and breezy about it until yesterday, when the nerves kicked in. What would we talk about? What if she stumps me? Will she hold it against me that I gave her an "F"?
I'm terrible with frosting - what if she yells at me for doing it wrong? Why did I tell everyone to watch this?

Arriving at the studio this morning, the first person I met was Andrew Ritchie, fellow guest blogger (check out his amazingly comprehensive Martha Moments blog) and dressing roommate. (Well, actually, we shared the green room, since there was an overflow of guests today. The green room is also where all of Martha's Emmys live, a fact that was clearly not lost on us. See right: We'd like to thank the Academy....)

It was great to finally meet Mary, "my" producer, who is a complete gem. She briefed me on my two segments (the opening group chat, as well as my lesson with Martha) and answered all my questions. (When's the photo op? Do I wear the blue shirt or the black? Can I wear the apron? Can I give Martha the apron on the air? What happens if I swear? etc.)

And then I met a cavalcade of awesome staffers: producers, assistants, stage managers, makeup, sound, camera crew, kitchen crew - nice people with great sense of humor who were truly fun to be around.

I had a quick rehearsal on the set with Mary playing Martha, which went well. OK, I thought, I'm going to be able to get through this.

The set is really beautiful and bright. Lots of color and light wood. The audience sits in cute wood chairs, vs. your typical theatre seating. And off to the right of the set is the glass-walled kitchen, where the crew was making probably ten (or more) copies of the cake I was about to learn how to frost. I got a mini cake-orientation from the adorable Tomas, one of Martha's staff chefs, whom I'd like to nominate for having his own cooking show. :-)

Then it was back to the green room, where my posse (i.e. David and Alysha) was waiting. For the next hour or so, we chatted with Andrew and his posse and whoever else stopped by. I went to makeup, I did my "bumper shot" (I think that's what they called it) - i.e. the ten-second clip of me being goofy with props while the voiceover says "Coming up next - Martha shows Jeff Blumenkrantz how to frost a cake... etc."). Just call me Hammy von Hammerstein!!

I was relieved to meet Martha briefly in the makeup room at 9:45, because once we got close to air time (10AM), everything started happening so quickly! I forgot how heart-thumping live TV is. How do these people do it every day?? Yes, I've been an actor for many years, but most of my work has been in theatreland, where you don't perform in front of people until things are quite well-rehearsed, possibly even over-rehearsed. Here, things happen so on-the-fly that there's absolutely no room for error. Not my comfort zone....

For instance, we didn't even walk out onto the stage until one minute before airing live. We could have ambled out relaxedly at 9:56, chatted with the audience for a few minutes, etc. But no, it's whiz bang, head-spinning, hey what just happened?

I'm sure they do this on purpose to keep the energy up, which I guess is smart. I just think I'd get an ulcer if I had to do this every day. Maybe one gets used to it....

So we had our little group chat, which was fun. I hadn't met Alexis beforehand, and I was unprepared for her unique... persona. I actually think she's really funny and dry, but if I were her mother, I might have to slap her. Jennifer was a good time, on camera and off. And Pim is very sweet, as I'm sure you could tell. (Andrew and I were old cronies by then.)

We had been prepped to answer a series of questions about blogging for this segment, which we never got around to. We were too busy chatting with Martha about our respective blogs.

I was surprised that Martha called me out right away about my having given her an F. I didn't know she was aware of my grading system! We never did get to discuss the problem with the Mango Sorbet, but if you're curious, you can click on the link.

Once that segment was over, we had our class picture taken, and I went back to the green room to wait for my next segment.

As they ushered me back to the stage twenty minutes later and I stood next to Martha in front of that counter of cakes, I was simultaneously calm about the talking part and panicked about the frosting part. What followed next, I only remember because I've seen it on video. At the time it was happening, it was sort of an out-of-body experience.

All I remember thinking while our segment was going was that I'd never get that cake frosted. It was like the birthday candles that you blow out and they keep relighting. No matter how much frosting I put on, my cake kept going bald.

It's an interesting thing about learning how to cook, probably learning how to do anything. When you're first starting, you're incredibly slow at it. It takes you an hour to do what a professional might do in five minutes. And that's how I felt as I attempt to frost that cake. I wanted to say, "Just give me an hour or so, and I'll have this thing completely worked out."

But no, it's TV. It has to happen quickly. Mercifully, they have scores of understudy cakes to replace the ones that I massacred and to move the process along.

My friends assure me that my cakes looked OK, but I was there, and I can tell you that they weren't very cute.

Meanwhile, Martha's waiting for me to finish and she's putting swirls and curlicues on top of her cake, which you couldn't really see in the shot, but that's why I accused her of getting fancy and zooming ahead of me.

I have to confess, if I were given a list of cake flavors to put in order of favor, Orange-Almond Cake would probably be close to, if not in, the bottom slot. But damn, that cake tasted good! Moist and rich and full of flavor. And of course, the frosting is "to die." And this, coming from someone who hates frosting.

I didn't get to spend much (any) time with Martha outside of my on-camera segments with her, but I found her to be kind and generous and good-humored at all times. It was a great honor to get to spend even those few minutes with this woman who is so accomplished and beloved and is making such an impact on the world and, specifically, on me.

After the segment, I posed for my photo with Martha (can't wait to get my hands on that!) and then headed back to the green room, where I was greeted by cheers from my posse. (Thanks, guys.) Eventually, I floated back down to Earth, and Mary came in to congratulate me and send me home with one of the understudy cakes and an inscription from Martha in my book. She wrote: "For Jeff, thanks for visiting with us and cooking. Your cake was great! Martha Stewart."

Martha, it was my pleasure entirely. And you really are too kind.

Now that I've had this little taste of Martha, I can't stop thinking of more reasons to be back on the show:

•Martha helps Jeff cook his final recipe and gives him his "degree."
•Martha and some of the people who worked on the book (Sarah Carey? William Van Roden?) come over to Jeff's apartment for "The Last Supper."
•Martha interviews Jeff about the highs and lows of his "year of cooking fabulously."
•Martha pits Jeff against [some other Martha-phile] in a cooking competition.

You know the old joke:
How does a blogger screw in a light bulb?
He just stands there holding it, and the world revolves around him.

I'm pretty sure the good people at The Martha Stewart Show aren't wracking their brains trying to figure out ways to get me back on the show, but if you think that that would be a good idea, you can email them and let them know.

Thanks for reading this terribly overwritten account of my unforgettable morning with Martha. It was the icing on an already wonderful experience. No pun intended.

Jeff: A (for the talking part)
Jeff: C-
(for the frosting part)
Martha: A (for the whole thing)

Until we eat again....

P.S. My frosting segment video is now available on Martha's website!


  1. I am so happy for you. I think you did a great job on Martha. I'm so sorry I didn't find you sooner, if so I would have checked in on you everyday. I don't have the Cooking School book but I do have her Pies & Tarts from 1985. It is dedicated to her daughter. I also have The Martha Stewart Cookbook from 1995. I actually use both books. Best Wishes

  2. Thanks, TMom! I've never seen that Pies and Tarts book, although I wonder if those recipes are in my collected recipes book from the 80's. I definitely prefer the newer books, because of the amazing photography and design, but those older books have some great recipes in them. Thanks for writing!

  3. Jeff,
    Congratulations your wonderful segment (and chat)! I enjoyed the show. I'm very happy that you had the experience! Lasting memories, for sure!
    All the best!

  4. Jeff, I saw you on the show and thought you did a fabulous job! Your cake looked fine, by the way and you seemed super calm.... a pro really! I'm also a Martha freak and am so envious of your opportunity. She does seem nice, and I agree, Alexis is funny, but so rude to her mom. What's up with that?

  5. I too found your blog via Martha's blog episode and I'm so glad I did! I love blogs like this.

    I have Martha's Cooking School book but haven't yet attempted any recipes. I love watching her instructional segments on The Today Show, however, and it's amazing what kinds of profound lessons she can pack into a 3-minute time slot. The woman poached an egg on live television, for crapssake, and I haven't managed to ever successfully poach an egg even under the calmest of circumstances. You can just tell she's been doing live t.v. for a long time.

    I'm so thrilled to hear that she's really as wonderful in person as she appears to be on her show. And you were great too! I hate frosting and am horrible at it, but do you really hate eating it? Cake is just an excuse to eat frosting, in my book.

  6. Congratulations again! Thank you for sharing the day with us! I will write Martha and ask for more... I love cooking competition shows so I will be pitching that one! Your experience shows me that I have made a terrible mistake making Ben Franklin the inspiration for my blog, it just doesn't seem likely that he'll come back from the dead to host me on his TV show and/or grade my weekly attempts at my virtues over at Everyday Bliss Perhaps that is good, I get far fewer "A"s then you! You totally rock! Thank you so much for the inspiration Jeff!

  7. Hi Jeff,
    Loved seeing you on the show and plan to read your blog from now on. The ideas for a reunion with Martha are terrific. The cake looked awesome, I think I'll make that for an upcoming dinner party.
    all the best,

  8. I am just watching the show on my DVR and had to stop after your segment to go check out your blog. You did not look or sound at all nervous on the show. You seem very natural on camera and your cake looked fine! I'm a little bit of a Marthaphile, have a number of her cookbooks and cook and bake way too much! I teach cooking, among other things, to children at a public school in Westchester and I always need to acquire new skills. I will be following you now and look forward to reading about the rest of your escapades. I'll put the book on my birthday list. Happy cooking!

  9. You did a great job on Martha the other day! I enjoyed reading your account of what happens behind the scenes! Thanks!

  10. I just saw the show on the fine living network. I thought u were great. Martha recommended you getting the revolving cake stand. Did she tell you where to buy it.

  11. I just watched the "blog" show and you did an outstanding job. You were funny, and witty and your cake looked awesome! I have lots of M.S. books but don't have the cooking school one! I'll definately have to buy it. So glad you were on the show so I can read your blog and hear about your cooking experiences. Surprised you found Alexis funny... she came across as rude on the show... we could have done without that part of the show and then you could have had more time cooking with Martha! Bravo on your part... Paula

  12. I thought you were awesome! You inspired me to read the book.

  13. Jeff- You were fantastic on the show. I was sitting in the front row on your right so I felt like I was at the table with you during the opening part but couldn't see squat during your cake frosting demo because of the cameras. I had to watch that part when I got home. You have a wonderfully natural presence in front of the camera and your humor is fantastic. I got calls from people saying they thought "that guy" cooking his way through Martha's book was awesome. And you were. I loved reading this write up of your day.

  14. I just knew that once you were on you'd have a load of new readers and fans...and there you are!

    Belated congratulations on doing such a great job!

  15. Hi Jeff,

    I finally caught the show on Martha's site. Frosting is a part of cooking, and you certainly can do that and wax eloquent at the same time! Also, I think you may have hit upon the perfect frosting method for yourself:)

    How does a Martha blogger frost a cake?
    He just stands there holding it, and the world revolves around him.

    Martha really should have you back for a mini-podcast segment in which you provide both a musical interlude and a gastronomical creation as you have done in some of your podcasts. (My email is on the way!)

  16. Hey everyone! Thanks for visiting and posting on the blog!

    Amber - I really do dislike most frostings. I don't like my desserts overly sweet, so frostings usually put me over the edge. The only ones I truly like are cream cheese or mocha or flavors that have an element of salt or bitterness to them. But I happen to like this Swiss Meringue Buttercream because it's not too sweet and the texture is so other-worldly.

    Anonymous- The cake stand I received is from Martha's line for Macy's, although I should mention that it does not twirl. It's stationary.

    Paula- I did think Alexis was funny because I happen to like a good dry sense of humor. However, I would like her more if she were able to temper her dryness with a little more respect for her mother. Not hero worship, but perhaps just a hint of acknowledgment that Martha is the reason she's on TV at all.

    Shannon - Sorry you couldn't see us live. Thanks for the great feedback! Could you see yourself in the episode?

    Again, everyone, I love your comments. Thanks for taking the time to write!!

  17. Jeff, it was so great to meet you! We had such fun, didn't we? Martha needs to hire us or at the very least make us regulars on the show. I'll archive (and discuss at length) every detail of her beautiful studio, dishware, craft items, etc., and expound on their deeper meaning, while you cook up a storm with Martha, report card safely tucked in your apron. Such a pleasure! "And the Emmy goes to..." :-)

  18. this was awesome. that show went by so fast! congrats