Inventing Great Food Shows: Q&A with BeamZ' Alex Gourevich
BeamZ is expanding into a new Food genre for live, interactive shows. We spoke with the man who manages content on BeamZ, Alex Gourevitch, in a Q&A session about ideas for new series in the Food genre, the late Anthony Bourdain, and how to get inspired when talking about food.
Q. For someone wanting to produce a good food show, what can they do?
Master classes and cook-alongs are a natural starting point. A lot of companies brought cooking classes and workshops online in 2020 as a direct response to the pandemic – cooking academies, local DMC’s, and tour operators.
The way I see it, some 18 months out, these cook-alongs can be successful in two ways:
First, they can provide low-to-mid-level revenue for producers that are content with some side income. And that’s potentially a lot of producers.
Second, they can be successful as private events. You see lots of families and team-building participants reviewing these cook-alongs.
But to me, BeamZ is fundamentally about entertainment. For Beamz, I’d want to look past cook-alongs and cooking classes and branch out into food and all the sensations and implications attached to it: the people, culture, and history behind it.
Q. What types of food shows are working well on BeamZ?
On BeamZ, the food shows that are working best so far seem to be the food/culture shows:
One of our French hosts cooks in his own home kitchen French foods that are both simple to cook and culturally very French. Like croque-monsieur, and crepes. The show is definitely not a cooking master class (I hope the host forgives me for that!). It is more about French food culture, and also the personale knowledge and personality of the host. Viewers love this valuable insider information, and it’s like having a real life conversation.
Also successful are walking tours that hit tons of attractive local food stores in an attractive neighborhood. Beautiful, mouth-watering cheese and desserts and roasts and wine and cold cuts and so on. Visually gorgeous, that’s the first thing. And insightful about local culture. It also gives viewers great tips for where to eat when they plan to travel to the place in the future.
Q. How would I go about creating great entertainment around food?
To each their own! Personally, I would study what other people do, and then I would let my mind drift to see what inspires me personally.
I started by watching the work of the man who’s made such a big impact: Anthony Bourdain. On his TV shows, the late – and great – Bourdain showed worker’s food, and peasant’s food. He also showed the people eating it. Bourdain films people cooking and people eating. He doesn’t spend much time exploring how food is cooked, he doesn’t discuss recipes, he doesn’t interview chefs standing by the stove. He talks about the cultural context of the foods. Who eats this and that, and why. He shows us what else people who eat or cook this food also do. He interviews people a lot, he doesn’t talk all that much.
I also paid a lot of attention to the tributes that were made about Bourdain, as they shed light on his special talents. Bourdain had beliefs, and he built his multiple shows around those sets of values.
Photo by David S. Holloway/Courtesy CNN
Q. How can Anthony Bourdain’s style inspire new show ideas?
I might have a series that runs out of one restaurant. Each week I’d meet and show different people eating the food from that locale. Talk to them about the food they find there, and about what they eat in general, about their lives. I’d want to follow them past the restaurant perhaps, meet their friends, find out about their lives.
Or else, I might visit a different restaurant on each new episode, defending the style of cooking that I like. Focus on the people who make this food. Who are they, what do they like about it, what else do they do, who are their friends etc.
Q. What would you do if you ran into a host that has strong values and beliefs?
I might suggest centering their show around those values. Like restaurants that advance the cause of carbon neutrality. Or another way to defend the environment. Or if I lived someplace remote, someplace BeamZ’ North American audience might not know too much about, I could present local recipes each week, with the aim to present my local culture through the food. As you can see, I get antsy just thinking about it…
Q. Let’s say a producer is wary of going out in the streets to do a food show, and prefers doing a show from the comfort of their own kitchen. What else is successful?
Cooking contests of course, I’d want to think about Top Chef style shows. Cooking is often too slow a process to suit a live show format. Indeed, cooking contests are highly edited. Fortunately though, other ideas come to mind fast. How about a show that focuses on the judges, for a change? Who are they, what do they like? Who is nice, and who is obnoxious? The show might put emphasis on the judges instead of on the cooks.
Then, after the foods are tasted and commented on, after the judges have voted, the public might vote, and decide whether to keep or to remove each judge. A do-you-love-it-or-do-you-kill-it show! BeamZ is live, live means you can be interactive, and bring the public into the scenario.
I can think of two ways to do this. In one, we bring new judges each week – and each week we may ruthlessly eliminated some. Alternatively, the viewers award points to each judge on each episode, judges compete. In addition, maybe we also bring an amateur new judge in each time, and we see if that amateur is good enough to join the pros. This could be a great way of getting your family and friends involved and have some fun with it!
Q. What are some sources for inspiration for show ideas?
So TV is my first source of inspiration. Second are these successful online experiences, as they might reveal things I had no idea about.
Like the other day I stumbled upon a YouTube video of cooking with a stuffed dog. The world of kitsch! What a find. For BeamZ, I would want to explore the idea of a kitschy food show, if I find a host that’s attuned to kitsch. In the case of Francis the dog from Japan, I also love the way that they add that English voice-over, so they can hit two audiences. I take that home as a great lesson.
Q. Usually gimmicks sound negative, but you make it sound fun!
A successful gimmick can make you stand out. Remember BBC’s “Two Fat Ladies”? Very provocative, they put fat into every food they eat. But there’s also that great gimmick of theirs, the sidecar-equipped motorcycle, and the helmets to boot. Again, that’s entertainment! All with colorful personalities.
Q. Back to Master Classes, what do you think works?
I spotted Master Classes that are taking the world by storm. Airbnb has one about coffee. Now I happen to love tea. I’d want to make a Master Class about tea. Maybe from a tea farm, so it’s about the art of brewing good tea, but it’s also about tea farming and tea culture. I imagine producers will step forward with master classes about whatever food or drink they especially love. And once again, the personality of the host, and the host’s willingness to speak their minds and show who they are, are what seems to win audiences over.
Now these ideas for online experiences are one-offs. For BeamZ, you should be after creating a series, with different episodes each show, so any of these would require further thinking.
Q. You are full of ideas!
I rely a lot on free associating. So all these famous TV shows feature foods in one way or another. How about a food show where the host cooks these foods for real, and sees how they taste ? Remember How Harry Met Sally ? « I’ll have whatever she’s having… »
Q. What if you have a cooking show already, what can you do with it to improve its success?
You may be perfectly happy with it! If I were looking for improvements though, I’d see if I can bring picturesque into it. Take it on the streets. Or install a cooking area outdoors, or in another interesting place. Bring more people and conversations into the mix, make it about culture and traditions.
Q. Final thoughts?
This would all be my approach to things that would work for me. But to each their own. I am certainly not designing shows, just sharing some insights on what seems to be working best. This is the direction we are heading when developing ideas for food-related shows.
And one last thing on this subject. If you have the urge to produce a show of your own, or if you have the kernel of a show, talk to us!
We love to discuss new concepts with producers and help them give birth to their ideas.