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A Storyteller in the Kitchen: My Experience On NBC's Today Show

May 15, 2011

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to see it, does the tree really fall?

It has happened many times before. Remarkable experiences have occurred in my life and passed, unrecorded, surviving only in the fading glow of my memories.

Being asked to do the Today Show, one of the country’s most influential daily programs, is an incredible honor and, in spite of the fact that I had made a number of previous appearances on the show in the past, allow me to say this: “It gets more and more exciting every time!” It’s like going to the circus. The only difference is … this time you are one of the acts. This time you are the show!

I met photographer Ken Goodman through Andy Husbands , a great chef and a guest on my new TV Series. As Ken and I became friends, I became familiar with his work. I love his photographs. The man has an artistic point of view that he deploys with elegance and panache.

On a whim, I asked Ken to join me while I made my appearance on the Today Show and to capture the experience on film. I wanted to see this adventure of mine from someone else’s point of view; particularly, his point of view.

Immediately upon meeting in my hotel suite, Ken started clicking away with judicious discretion while engaging me in conversation. He took the first photo while I was having breakfast and watching the early morning news.

I love that photo. It portrays a calm, cool and collected man; a man seemingly unaware that he is about to appear on national television before millions of people. I love that photo because when I look at it, I know I’m a great actor. In the image I appear calm. But my mind was spinning. What was to follow is nothing less than a blur; a series of moments and images that rushed by at the speed of light. By the time it was all said and done, I felt as if I didn’t actually know what had happened.

As I silently lost my mind in anticipation, my good friend Ken was by my side with his cameras. He went about his business with quiet intensity, capturing the moments … and some iconic shots. His photographs are like a series of stitches in time, a beautiful collage of special instants that I was privileged to have experienced.

On the way to the upstairs studio at NBC, I ran into Scott Conant, a friend and the owner of the very successful Scarpetta Restaurants. I spent some time chatting with Scott and Anne Curry.

I gave Bianca, the food stylist, a big hug. We have known each other for over 15 years and, unlike me, she looks better every time I see her. She has great energy. You can see that the team loves her; she treats everyone with respect.

Finally my time came; I was given the three-minutes-to-air warning and time started to race forward at amazing speed.

“Camera one. Set!” yelled the floor manager. Katie Lee and Hoda rushed in from the side door; it took only a moment and then, suddenly, we were live!

Some men think over and strategize every part of their life. Some men just roll along and figure it out as it happens.

I worry about what could go wrong and play a thousand scenarios over in my head, trying to prepare for everything that might come my way. But you can never truly prepare because life has the most devious way of turning your plans on their ear.

So it all comes down to a series of moments. You just have to jump in and give yourself over to the uncertainty of the events unfolding before you.

When you finally do accept the condition of your situation, something clicks in your head. While everything around you moves at prodigious speeds, you find yourself acting decisively; purposely. Nothing seems to break your flow; It is too late to be afraid … It’s game time now!

During these moments, I find that my perception of time changes. Things around me appear to move slowly, as if time is made of molasses, while simultaneously flying past at breakneck speed. And when I am under pressure, something happens inside of me. My fear disappears and my brain begins to automatically feed me the words and thoughts that I had been silently going over in my head for days, even weeks.

To the audience, it looks natural, but there is nothing natural about it. There is thought, purpose, and intention in everything I do.

It becomes a strange “out-of-body” experience. I see what is happening. I realize what I am doing. My brain is focused on my agenda and I am continuously scanning my surroundings in anticipation of my next move. At the same time, it feels as if I am standing just behind and to the right of myself; watching myself move and hearing the words to come effortlessly out of my mouth.

And before you know it, it’s over.

What took weeks and months to set up, prepare, present and deliver is suddenly over in less than three minutes!

“What happened?” my mind wants to know, but it is all a blur. Life goes on. There is another segment getting ready to shoot. I am gently ushered out of the studio to make space for the next guest and a feeling settles over me. It is akin to mild depression. I ask myself, “This is what I have been working towards for so many weeks and now, in a flash, it is done?”

Then, I see Ken from the corner of my eye, snapping away with his cameras. I look to him and we smile.

“Did you get what we need?” I ask. He nods his head and his smile grows even wider.

“Wanna grab some lunch?”

He answers with an emphatic “Yes!”

“Give me one moment!”

I punch a few numbers on my cell phone. I call the office and cancel all of my meetings for the rest of the day (it’s good to be the boss sometimes). I call my nephew and invite him to dinner.

I look at Ken and ask: “Do you feel like hanging around and playing for the rest of the day? “

His brows arch for a moment before he replies with another definite “Yes!” And that was that.

It was a great day. I could tell you that it was a great day because I was on national television but that would not be entirely true.

The truth is less magnificent. The day was great because I took time off and played with my friends. Ken and I went around the city and just “hung out” with a bunch of old pals, all chefs, at their restaurants. We shared stories, we told jokes and we laughed a great deal.

I didn’t spend the afternoon as “Nick Stellino, the Celebrity Chef.” I was just Nick, the man, happy in the company of his friends. We didn’t talk about percentages. We didn’t discuss back-end options, distribution deals, or net-net returns. We told stories. We relived memories of times we had together when we were all wrestling to get started in this hectic business. We laughed and laughed … and for a moment or two, taking a sip of wine between the storytelling, the drinking and the eating, I raised my glass to the sky and said: “Thank you GOD for this beautiful day!”

I’ve said it many times before and I love to repeat it. After all it was my father's favorite saying: “A man should know when he is lucky!”

On this day, speckled with rain and a bit of snow, walking through the streets of New York, I was lucky. I felt happy. And what truly made me happy was the knowledge that I had come to appreciate the moment while it was happening. Better yet, a great friend had come along for the ride. He had shared the moments with me … and he had taken photos!

Ken Goodman is a genius, not just because he knows how to use a camera, but because he captures, through his lenses, the iconic essence of moments in time. The next time you need a photographic genius to capture you in the best light (and in my case, in spite of my own imperfections), give Ken a call. Like me, he is a storyteller. But while I use words, he speaks though his images. There is uniqueness to how he sees the world and, especially, the details of each moment.

For more information about Ken and to see more of his incredible work, go to www.kengoodmanphotography.com.

©2013 Nick Stellino Productions