Remember Voula Halliday, the lunch lady I wrote about here back in 2011? Well these days, she is Voula Halliday, TV star! The Cordon Bleu-trained chef is getting her delicious recipes and healthy eating message out to a national audience now on the CBC’s Steven and Chris show.
“I was discovered by the producer they had last year, who was a volunteer in the school kitchen,” says Voula. “She loved the way I taught the students and volunteers cooking tips, and she thought that I’d be great on TV.”
Things moved fast from there: Voula was brought in to fill a spot–no audition–and found herself meeting hosts Steven Sabados and Chris Hyndman on set just minutes before they started shooting her first ever segment, on making one chicken into five meals for a family of four. And she rocked! Studio audience members murmured approval at her time-saving whisk tricks; Chris spontaneously hugged her after tasting her risotto; and everyone laughed as she gently teased the hosts for goofing up steps.
“I felt at ease from day one, because right before we started, Steven said to me: ‘You’re the expert; we’re here to learn from you,’” says Voula.
This week, I got the chance to go to the studio and watch Voula–now a seasoned guest chef–in action.
She was presenting pressure cooker recipes–a first on the show, because some people have memories of exploding pressure cookers from back in the days when they were pumped out by post-war warplane manufacturers lacking the expertise to make them right. (I’m one of those people: I still remember watching as a wide-eyed toddler as my granny’s beets flew from her vintage pressure cooker and decorated her walls and ceilings back in 1978.) Voula’s mission was to rebuild people’s trust and teach them about today’s foolproof models.
The process of preparing a cooking segment begins weeks earlier with recipe development and triple testing. “I don’t want people to waste food because something hasn’t worked out,” says Voula.
On the day of taping, food producer Joanne Lusted and in-house chef Sabrina Falone prep all the ingredients in a small kitchen by the studio–washing vegetables that need to be chopped, measuring spices into small bowls and pre-cooking anything that takes longer than the time allotted for a demo. Joanne and Sabrina are really nice, but you do not want to mess with their food trolley.
After make-up, Voula reads over her notes quietly in the Green Room.
Then before taping, she runs through her segment just outside the studio, while Joanne prompts her with suggestions and questions.” I do that run-through with my imaginary Steven and Chris, who are always agreeable to everything I do. Then when we’re on set, I get all the surprises,” says Voula, laughing.
The day I visit, a wooden spoon left in a frying pan catches fire and takes down some toasted seeds with it. The cameras keep running; Chris and Voula keep on cooking–cracking jokes as they go. “It’s like real life–the kind of things that could happen in your kitchen any day. But when things go wrong, it gives me the chance to show how to fix them,” says Voula.
In the audience, we eat up the kitchen drama; there’s delighted laughter when the smoking spoon comes out the pan. Voula is mindful of us as she works, looking up beyond the cameras, when she can, to address us with instructions and tips.
“The first time I came on the show, before I walked into the studio, I decided to thank the studio audience in my mind for giving me their time and attention, and to recognize that I was there because I had something I could share with all of them. When I did that, it helped me minimize all my nervousness and let me do my job,” she says.
By the time Voula has speed-cooked saucy ribs and explained the safety, time-saving and nutrition-boosting aspects of pressure cookers, she finds herself with a whole bunch of converts.
“Back in the Green Room after taping, the three guests on the parenting panel told me they were all going to go out and buy one straight away. Sabrina the chef told me she was going to get one too, and someone else came in later and said, ‘wow, everyone’s really excited in the design team right now about pressure cookers.’”
While Voula does an excellent job engaging people in the studio, her biggest fans are back home: husband Ian and teenage daughter Maxine. “When we watched the first show together, Max was saying ‘Mom, you looked so good; you were so great!’ They were both laughing their heads off at me.”
And how does she feel watching herself on TV? “I grew up with my mom being a lover of CBC–TV and radio–so it was always on at home. And every Saturday, my family and I listen to Stuart McLean and laugh and cry together. So to see myself on CBC with Steven and Chris, who I adore, is completely surreal,” she says.
“I feel really, really lucky.”
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Look out for Voula’s pressure cooking segment on
Monday January 28th, at 2 pm, on CBC Television’s Steven and Chris.
If you’d like to join the studio audience (as an individual, with friends or even your entire gang from the office), apply to: cbc.ca/