By Susan Poizner
Special to The Toronto Sun
It's 9 p.m. on a Tuesday night and the crew of Christine Cushing Live has wrapped up that evening's show. Producing a nightly cooking program is hard work, and for some it's been a 12-hr. day. But no one's rushing to leave the set and go home. Instead, they chat, laugh and swarm around a small table filled with the beautiful dishes Cushing has prepared. Tonight there's whole roasted salmon, Jerusalem artichoke gratin, smoked duck salad and tandoori shrimp -- and everyone tucks in.
As a food producer on Christine Cushing Live, Dana Speers, right, works with show host Christine Cushing to develop a range of interesting recipes each week.
"Mmmm. This salmon is delicious," Cushing says to 32-year-old Dana Speers as they hover around the table. The bubbly program host is not complimenting her own culinary prowess. Instead, she's giving Speers a pat on the back. Speers is more than just the series' food producer. She's also the recipe developer and has worked closely with Cushing to come up with dozens of delicious dishes to prepare in front of the cameras each week.
Speers' success stems from hard work -- and a good education. She completed her degree in philosophy and English at the University of Western Ontario in 1993. But she couldn't figure out what to do next, so she enrolled in Stratford Chefs School. During the two-year course, she studied practical cookery, gastronomy, the history of food and kitchen accounting. She graduated in 1995 -- then she had to find a job.
"I went to New York and worked for free for some of the top restaurants," Speers says. "I worked at Montrachet, Nobu and the Tea Box Cafe."
This experience eventually helped her land a job at the prestigious Lespinasse Restaurant, where she worked for three years. The hours were long and her social life was suffering. The work was tough and high-pressured. Metaphorically speaking, Speers couldn't stand the heat ... so she decided to get out of the kitchen.
In 1998 she found a job working as an editor at Food and Wine Cookbooks. Instead of slaving away over a hot stove, she was writing about food and she loved it. But then she met her boyfriend -- a Canadian -- and decided to move back to Toronto. She met all the food editors in the city. She also had an interview with Karen Gelbart of Food Network Canada. All were impressed with her education and experience. But there were no jobs on offer.
Then, in January 2002, Gelbart contacted her and offered her work as a recipe developer for Christine Cushing Live, a job that involved spending hours in Cushing's home kitchen, developing and testing new recipes. Once the recipe developing was done, Speers was offered the position of food producer.
Every day she writes the food rundowns for each program, deciding which recipe steps will appear in the various program segments. Speers also works in the control room during the live filming, advising the producers how much time Cushing will need to prepare each dish.
"I love this job because I love working for Christine," Speers says. "And it's great because I'm still involved with food all day -- but not necessarily slogging away in a kitchen."
(Susan Poizner (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)
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