'You're the Chef' to Be Distributed Nationally
What started as a menu option for the Williamsport cable audience now has the potential to satisfy the appetites of public television viewers nationwide. "You're the Chef," Pennsylvania College of Technology's Telly Award-winning cooking series, has been selected by a major distributor of "how-to" programs for satellite delivery to public television stations this winter.
The National Educational Telecommunications Association will distribute "You're the Chef's" third public TV season across the country on a weekly basis beginning Feb. 11. Annually, NETA distributes about 2,000 hours of general audience programming to public television stations. The NETA lineup includes about a dozen cooking series, including the public television staple "Ciao Italia!," which it will begin distributing this spring.
"Over time, NETA will help us achieve our ultimate goal of transforming 'You're the Chef' from a regional cooking show favorite to a successful national cooking series," says Tom Speicher, broadcast media specialist at Penn College and "You're the Chef's" co-host/co-executive producer. "From where we started on local cable, this distribution avenue is a huge development in the continued evolution of 'You're the Chef.' Who knows? We might have Chef Paul fan clubs pop up across the country!"
Chef Paul Mach, an assistant professor at Penn College's acclaimed School of Hospitality, co-hosts "You're the Chef" with Speicher, who is not a chef. Mach's expertise and easygoing style blends with Speicher's culinary naivete to produce an entertaining 30-minute program that showcases practical recipes made with readily available ingredients.
"Cooking shows have had a home on public television since Julia Child and 'The French Chef' in the 1970s," explains Gayle J. Loeber, director of programming and information at NETA. "What sets 'You're the Chef' apart is the combination of family-style cooking and professional expertise. Chef Paul and Tom create delicious food and have a good time doing it. That's what public television stations everywhere will welcome."
WVIA-TV, the PBS member station in northeastern Pennsylvania, spotted "You're the Chef's" potential during the show's local cable run in 1997 and collaborated with Penn College to transform "You're the Chef" into a public television series in 1998.
"What struck me right away was the chemistry between Chef Paul and Tom," recalls Mark Thomas, vice president of television at WVIA. "When I saw that, I knew the show had an opportunity to be something special. A lot of people cook and a lot of people have fun in the kitchen. There aren't a lot of people who can do both at the same time."
The show has rewarded Thomas' faith. In its premiere season on WVIA, "You're the Chef" increased the station's ratings 20 percent for the Saturday 1:30 p.m. time slot. Airing Saturday at 12:30 p.m. the past two years, "You're the Chef" has been an anchor for WVIA's cooking block. The program regularly wins its time slot (except against major sporting events), as over 10,000 households in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market routinely tune in the show. "You're the Chef" has exceeded the ratings of "national" cooking shows on WVIA.
"The show works because of the fun interaction between Chef Paul and Tom, but also because the series presents, often in real time, the way to prepare a meal that is user- friendly to everybody," notes Thomas. "You don't need to be a culinary expert to prepare the dishes. Chef Paul has the ability to teach in a way that viewers have fun as they learn."
According to Speicher, the series has improved markedly each year it has been on public television. "Even though a few other stations aired our first two public television seasons, our 14 third-season episodes are by far our best and deserve national consideration," he says. "Our director and editor, Kris Hendrickson, did a magnificent job with this season's shows."
Besides NETA's stamp of approval, the Telly Awards recently recognized "You're the Chef's" quality. The series received a Telly Award in the entertainment program category. In recent years, the Telly has become one of the most sought after awards in the television, commercial and video industry.
In advance of NETA's national distribution, "You're the Chef" currently airs on WVIA in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton; WPSX in State College; WOUB/WOUC in Athens, Ohio; WSKG in Binghamton, N.Y.; and KGTF in Guam. Stations already announcing plans to pickup the NETA feed of "You're the Chef" include KWBU in Waco, Texas, (begins airing in February); WITF in Harrisburg(begins in March); WMVS in Milwaukee (begins in March); WVPT in Harrisonburg, Va., (begins in April); and WYBE in Philadelphia (begins in May).
Even though "You're the Chef" will be available to public television stations nationwide through NETA, the decision to air the series still rests with the individual stations.
"I think I'm going to ask Chef Paul to make a couple hundred batches of chocolate soup that we can send to station programmers across the country to encourage them to taste the series," jokes Speicher.
Production is expected to begin on "You're the Chef's" fourth public television season this summer at Penn College's main campus in Williamsport. Once again, all the episodes will be taped in a working kitchen designed and constructed by students, faculty and staff from Penn College's School of Construction and Design Technologies.