Written by Janet Davies
Lauren Gulyas lives in Cherry Valley and she wouldn’t call herself a TV star – but we would. Allowing for modesty, let’s just say Lauren has her own cooking show on Gusto TV, a new Canadian lifestyle network that was scooped up last year by Bell Media. She is one of three hosts who each present their own episodes on an engaging show called A is for Apple. Here’s what she told us about it.
“The premise of the show is you start with a letter of the alphabet and take two ingredients that start with that letter. We make one recipe using one ingredient, another recipe with the other and then a third recipe that combines the two. That’s where the fun comes in, because we can be putting pretty weird things together, like halibut and horseradish, or apples and anchovies, things you would not normally think of combining. It’s a fun twist on those more serious, competitive cooking shows.”
FROM B.C. TO THE COUNTY
Lauren shares, “I have lived in The County for three years, but my mom’s side of the family comes from here so I came here a lot in the summers when I was growing up in Ottawa. My husband and I actually moved here from Fort St. John in British Columbia. He was working on the rigs, but, when oil prices dropped, the American company he worked for just pulled out and more or less paid him to leave. It was a shock, but, honestly, it was a blessing in disguise. I sent a text to my friend Laura Borutski who runs The Hubb in Bloomfield and said ‘Soooo, what’s happening in Prince Edward County?’ I was happy and excited to think of coming back to this side of the country because both our families are in Ottawa. When we left B.C. I guess we had the whole world to chose from, but we wanted to move closer to home, though not necessarily to the city. I knew The County pretty well, and I know it’s much more than a vacation spot. The lifestyle is similar to what we had in Fort St. John, sort of slower paced and more relaxed. My husband Dan had never even been here – but he trusted me!”
“We thought we’d try it for a year and see how we got on,” says Lauren, “Well it’s three years later, we’ve bought a house in Cherry Valley and we’re still here. My husband is working in general contracting with Otto Buikema, www.ottocarpentry.com and loving it. There is a lot of work and he gets a lot of variety with renovations and new builds. A big change from the oil rigs but we gained a much better life – it’s so worth it. On the rigs he was three weeks on, six days off – three weeks working 48hr + days in the middle of nowhere, often without cell phone reception – then he’d come home and sleep for six days. Life here is not even comparable. He comes home every night, we can go to the beach, we go for long walks, he can sleep. Some people think Cherry Valley is a bit remote but I point out we lived our first two years in Black Creek, next to the cheese factory, and we had more horses than people for neighbours. People down there love it, but Cherry Valley feels like a big town compared to that, and we’re just ten minutes from Picton.”
BREAKING INTO SHOWBIZ
“How did I get into TV?” Lauren shares, “People who have known me forever just laugh because I have videos we made when we were kids doing crazy cooking shows, pretending to be ‘Wok with Yan’ in our parents’ kitchen. It’s hilarious, because it’s kind of what I always wanted to do but how it happened is a bit random. There was an open casting call for a cooking show when I was about 20 years old. My cousin, who makes films, helped me do an audition tape, and I got through to the final interview with Chris Knight. He’s a hard man to impress. He told me I was pretty good but I didn’t have anything like the experience they were looking for. He told me to go to cooking school. He asked me the weirdest question: What is a duc-sel, and I guessed it was a salty duck. It’s actually duxelle which is chopped mushrooms, so how wrong can you be? That was a blow to my ego, but I thought maybe he’s right. I was bartending at the time and I didn’t have a path, so I went to cooking school. I was lucky enough to get hired into a really great restaurant and a couple more great ones after that and I loved it, and I was good at it.”
Lauren continues the story, “Fast forward ten years. Dan and I were Christmas shopping in Westboro and we’d had enough. We went to a pub to have a pint so we wouldn’t end up killing anybody. Kidding! Anyway, we sat at the bar and a girl walked in and asked the bartender if she could speak to the chef. She was recruiting people for a cooking show. I thought if I don’t say something I am going to regret this for life. I just put my face in front of her face and said ‘I’m a chef!’ At first she just said, ‘Yeah, yeah,’ but we got talking and I found out it was Chris Knight again doing the show. That was just too funny – or spooky. When I met him he did kind of remember me, but more importantly he was stoked that I had taken his advice, gone to cooking school and ten years later I was in the industry. He said ‘My God, maybe it really is your destiny.’ I had to audition and prove myself like everyone else, but I had the right skills and they liked my personality so I got the spot.”
Talking about the network, Lauren shares, “Gusto was just a small network, but Bell picked them up last year and that was huge. Now they have a bigger budget, better studio space and they just won a James Beard Award for one of their shows. That’s like the Oscars for cooking shows.”
PEC ON TV?
“I would love to talk about Prince Edward County on the show,” Lauren says, “I have talked about my County ancestors who were corn farmers in Bloomfield. I did a whole episode on corn, saying I had to pay homage to my life’s blood, to the place where my family comes from. I have been trying to plant the seed about Prince Edward County since Day One, how there is wine and food and beaches and great cooks and so much more. It’s funny, at first the response was ‘Why would we go to The County when we can go to Napa or France?’ Now it’s totally on the radar and they’re thinking about it. Now they get that it’s a special place with a whole bunch of new opportunities.”
“I’m working with Katy McIntrye who is great with social media,” Lauren says, “We are putting our brains together to come up with a YouTube show, and the more we hang out and talk the more sense it makes. She’s fantastic with vegan stuff and healthy food and I am like the other end of the spectrum with ultra-comforting, fresh, approachable food. I’m excited for what we can come up with. I’m also teaming up with Bree Seeley of County Yum Club, who I absolutely love. She’s like a food scientist, right down to the food chemistry, a wealth of knowledge and I just can’t get enough. I’m looking at lots of options. I’d love to keep making cooking shows for the rest of my life, but I have to broaden what I do. This is The County, you have to get creative! Over the winter I thought hard about the future. I registered a business name, The Canadian Chef.”
Lauren continues, “You know, a show based in Prince Edward County could be so great, between the interesting characters running small farms and the crazy people running restaurants, the young brewers and the wineries and everything in between. I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life the other day. We helped Matt and Liz Fleguel move their herd of sheep over to Waupoos Island on a barge. You may have seen the YouTube videos or there are still photos on CountyLive. That would make incredible television! It was the most intense day of my life, so beautiful, with life and death and danger and rebirth. Those guys deal with this kind of stuff every single day. Me? I was completely burnt out. I would love to show people who have a certain idea about commercial farming what it’s really all about. It’s fascinating and full of stories, people just working their asses off – the real thing, not scripted or staged. There are great things like that happening every day in The County. Now that would be a great show!”
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