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Lights, Camera, Cooking! Chef Eliza Martin Films Reality TV Pitch on Campus

by Paige Dormann May 30, 2023
Chef Eliza Martin Group Photo

Students arranged fresh produce on the bench in front of Jesus the Teacher: juicy Cara Cara oranges, vibrant radicchio, and romaine lettuce—still crisp despite the unrelenting heat. 

In a few hours, they’d engage in a relay race to gather these resources that they’d transform into a healthy salad. Later they’d shop for more ingredients, which they’d use to whip up interpretations of the Copperhead Grille’s sizzlin’ sirloin fajitas.

Their goal? To star in a three-to-five minute pitch for Alpha Pie—a cooking competition combining college life and culinary experiences. The show’s creator, Eliza Martin ’11, a musical theatre graduate and former “Chopped” champion, hopes to pitch the idea to TV and streaming networks.

“The reason I started culinary school is because when I graduated school and moved to New York City, I desperately wanted a cooking show to empower young people with food,” said Martin. “I pitched the idea to a Food Network guy who asked me, ‘Do you know how to cook?’ I replied ‘No,’ and he said, ‘Come back to me when you can.’”

Over time, Martin’s passion for acting and cooking evolved until she not only wanted to create a show about cooking but teach others how they can “feed who they are and feed that well.”   

She has returned to DeSales on several occasions to achieve just that, even serving as the keynote speaker at an event two days before the film project began.

“Cooking is empowerment. By learning to cook, young adults have so much more control over their health, their creativity, and even their budget. When adulthood strikes, students need to know how to take care of themselves. It can be so simple with just a few culinary building blocks.”

 Eliza Martin ’11 

As participants trickled onto the campus mall, Martin’s excitement was palpable. The students mirrored her energy, talking animatedly about their families, their majors, and their prior culinary experiences.

“I had to learn to cook because my mom is Italian,” began Malaina Gallagher ’23, a theatre major in the musical theatre track. “Now I go grocery shopping and I’m really into healthy living, so I’m always playing around with food and trying out healthy substitutions.” 

While Gallagher recognizes the important role that food plays in our overall health, she fears that most of her peers don’t. 

“If this show gets picked up, I think it would be entertaining for college students, so they’d learn how to cook healthy without even trying,” she said. “With TikTok and social media, people see how bad food is and are becoming aware of how it affects them, but they still don’t fully understand.”

While engaged in a staged cooking competition, students gained cooking expertise through tutorials and one-on-one coaching with Martin. On top of this, they earned invaluable real-world acting experience. 

The participants were assigned majors and instructed to develop their characters and motivations. The director encouraged them to think of the filming as one giant improv theatre and share any creative ideas that they had for how to make things more interesting or exciting. 

Behind the scenes, though fatigued from the long hours and the heat, the actors expressed gratitude for being invited to participate in the project.

“This is what I want to do so it’s exciting to have a real on-camera experience,” said Sophie Schneider ’25, a communication major in the advertising, marketing, and public relations track. “I’m trying to get involved in as much as possible and build my resume. Opportunities like this will lead to opportunities outside of DeSales.”

William Borusiewicz ’23, a theatre major in the acting for the stage and screen track, is used to being on sets for his work-study position as a studio tech. However, he admitted that this project was different. 

“I’ve been on some really well-done student sets, but it’s interesting and exciting to see the gap between those projects and professional ones,” he said.   

After filming on the mall concluded, participants headed to the basketball court in Billera Hall to begin preparing more culinary creations. Father James Greenfield, OSFS ’84, Ed.D., president of DeSales, stopped by to film a cameo with Martin.  

“I think it’s important to teach our students that eating is more than filling up,” said Fr. Greenfield. “A real DeSales student has passion, has grit, and does what they need to ‘be who they are and be that well’… Some people eat to live but this [project] teaches you to live to eat.”

When their conversation concluded, students worked in pairs to prepare meals ranging from chili to fajita-style pasta—taking into consideration the tips that Martin offered along the way. While their dishes were tasty, healthy, and aesthetically appealing, what participants took away from the experience was far better than the final product—they left motivated to keep cooking.

“Cooking can be simple; it can be beautiful,” said Martin, “but it starts with your own curiosity. Start asking where your food comes from and how you can transform it. Cooking is just removing water and adding salt. Start simple and begin to discover the flavors you love. Then chase your food-learning the rest of your life.”