Carrie McCully, host of Food Network’s new show Chef Hunter, earned that dream gig not by building her television résumé or going on casting calls, but rather, by a lifetime’s work as a chef recruiter — matching up restaurants with chefs who were out of work or looking for a new career challenge. She came to L.A. to learn more about the city’s burgeoning food scene and wound up getting referred to a casting producer who created a show around her. It’s a lesson in how helping others can ultimately win big karmic payback.
Though it sounds delicious, McCully’s job is not for everyone. It takes a special sort of personality to connect with and become a confidante of the notoriously quirky kitchen artiste. Chef Hunter takes viewers along for the ride — and in this Q+A, JustLuxe goes behind the scenes (of course, we also get some great restaurant suggestions. Who better to ask?).
JustLuxe: What do you love about your job and what do you hate?
Carrie McCully: My job is seriously rewarding when I can make connections with a candidate and restaurant that changes everyone's lives. The worst part is when during an interview a chef gets arrogant with an owner or blatantly doesn't follow directions. I definitely get really angry and swear to never work with that chef again.
JL: What was your background in the years before Chef Hunter?
CM: At that point I was working in an elevated niche of the culinary industry. I have been very lucky to work with some of the best: Terrance Brennan, Alain Ducasse, Martha Stewart.
JL: How did you get discovered by the Food Network?
CM: I came out to L.A. last year to get to know the food scene better. Shortly after I arrived, I received a call from a casting producer who had heard about me from another industry insider. I met with the producers and discussed the nuts and bolts of the business... and now, here I am!
JL: What reality competition shows do you watch?
CM: I don't really watch TV, but I watch various food reality shows just to see a friend or candidate of mine compete.
JL: Who among the reality hosts/judges do you most admire?
CM: I have a huge camera crush on Bobby Flay and Alton Brown is the swankest man in town.
JL: What was it like to do the show — how did it feel to bring your recruiting job on camera?
CM: I love shooting this show. I really love that the general public gets to see just how hard these chefs work to get a job. An executive chef isn't just hired because he can cook, there are a myriad of moving parts that all have to be in sync. Every kitchen is different, and the best chef is the one who can orchestrate all of the moving parts for that particular kitchen.
Carrie McCully’s quick guide to dining in...
Chicago: Chant has a terrific farm-to-table program going on that has just improved dramatically after hiring Chris Hora, whom I love and was on our Wilshire show.
You can't go to Chicago and not eat at Stephanie Izard's Girl and the Goat. Stephanie is so hands-on that she visits local farms to ensure that the produce and meats coming to her have been raised to her high standards.
Charlotte: I have family in Charlotte, and we like to go to The Liberty, a pub with great atmosphere. It's casual, a little pricey, but spot on. Chef Tom Condron even offers cooking classes.
For something with more European flair, I would recommend Rooster's. In the past it was hard to find a good restaurant like Rooster's in that part of the South. Rooster's gave Charlotte a culinary wake-up, for sure.
Los Angeles: I love AOC and Suzanne Goin. They have consistently offered an outstanding menu for almost 10 years. It's a restaurant I can trust.
Right now and until New Year's, chef Jet Tila is doing Bistronomics at BreadBar. It's a fresh dining concept. It's experimental and innovative, but the most important part of Bistronomics is that the food is really good.
New Orleans: My favorite, after many years, is still John Besh's August for fine dining and Commander's Palace. I've been going to Commander’s since I was a child.
Las Vegas: Comme Ça [in the Cosmopolitan] really stands out for me. I love David Myers and his constant evolutions. Adam Tihany designed it, and I adore his aesthetic.