Culinary producer Kim Seeley was working in a restaurant in Los Angeles when her executive chef brought her onto the “Hell’s Kitchen” for Fox. That turned into a multiple-season run, after which she went onto such shows as “Kitchen Nightmares,” multiple projects for the Food Network and the “Nailed It!” franchise for Netflix, including the most recent “Double Trouble” season.
What about your role as a culinary producer do you feel is most misunderstood?
I came up in the restaurant world in more of a corporate setting so I understand that corporate life and just the business side of things more, which I feel like a lot of people who get into culinary producing don’t necessarily understand. I take a lot of pride in using all of my experience that I’ve had in previous jobs: I’ve done catering and I’ve done work in hotels and I’ve worked in restaurants and I’ve done events. All of those things are so important to the success of being a culinary producer because working on either a stage show or a traveling show, it’s like working a catering event because you are in a temporary setting of some kind, trying to make food and a party atmosphere.
“Double Trouble” is not the first special theme season of “Nailed It” you have worked on, but how did having double the amount of contestants change the way you normally work?
[It] was making sure that we had cakes that were almost twice as hard. So, it was more about managing time because what one person can accomplish is very different than what two people can accomplish. And because they learn the challenge on the spot, it’s [about]predicting what the possible team solutions they could come up [would be]: are they going to work together on every aspect of it, or are they going to divide and conquer, and what is the outcome of both of those scenarios so that we aren’t doing a cake that’s too easy or too hard? The goal is always to get to a really funny, honest finished project that just makes America laugh and brings joy to people, and doesn’t make the people who are making the cake feel like there’s just not a chance that they could do this. We want them to have fun. We want them to show up and be like, “Oh my God, this was the best experience.” So finding that kind of niche where two people could still make a cake that was funny and accomplishable was a whole new formula for us, basically.
How did shooting during the pandemic further change things for you?
It was just mostly about making sure we were doing everything for the safety of others. We did look at the timing of our day and what we could keep and what we couldn’t based on the safety guidelines and CDC and local and state guidelines. Everyone agreed coming into it [that] if we couldn’t make it feel like “Nailed It,” then it wasn’t worth it. It was having more equipment around so that nothing had to be used twice [and] they didn’t have to wash anything. We put almost a whole other station behind their station, full of tools, so that if anything did happen, they could just grab something brand new that was clean and didn’t have to worry about it. And normally there would be one person from culinary on the floor for each person or team to make sure that everything is working properly and safe and they’re not hitting any roadblocks. We did have to mitigate how many people could be in our work environment for safety reasons, so we put one person on the floor and then the rest of us were watching from a safer distance via computer monitors. It was a very unique process for us because we’re so used to being so hands-on.
Did you notice if it changed the contestants’ habits? Were they tasting less than in pre-COVID season?
It’s not every contestant that tastes as they go. I’ve never seen anybody taste the cake batter. It’s very rare — they might dip their finger in it — but the cake better seems to be the one thing like people just have a weirdness. But we did point out that they had spoons that they could be used once and then thrown into clean receptacles. And so, I feel everyone was more aware of overall safety, so the ones who are more inclined to taste, they did use it.
Do you think it would be beneficial to keep these changes even if safety protocols ease once the vaccine rollout is complete?
Things like the spoons, we always did. But normally if they’re going to taste it, they’re going to taste it and we don’t want to put the idea in their head. And so, we provide everything but we don’t necessarily go over it. But, for COVID reasons, we did have to address a few things and that was one of them, and I think some people were like, “Oh, idea, I should taste the frosting!”
How do you come up with the episode themes or design trends featured?
The team really looks at what’s been what’s been happening, what’s starting to be up and coming, what are people really interested in? And then also, what are things we haven’t touched on? We create this large pool of ideas and then, because it really is a comedy show about baking, comedy always comes first. So, everyone kind of takes a step back and says, “Is that really funny? What would the funny outcomes be?” That really helps us narrow down the ideas and what the show content will be. From there, it’s just honing the techniques and the things that will make people just giggle uncontrollably in the final product like, “Are there things that if it’s missing will be hilarious?”
What does the behind-the-scenes testing process look like for these bakes?
As a team we look at the overall creative and what the cake is and then what the pieces of the cake are, and then we find people who can basically test it out as if they were a contestant. We set up everything just as if they were on the show, and then we tailor things like the time or the extra details.
What do you do with all of the leftover cakes and cookies and such?
Pre-COVID I can say that the cakes were often not something that anyone would want to eat. They are doing this as quickly as humanly possible, essentially, and they are people who are familiar with the kitchen but not the best. We’re as clean as we possibly can be, but we’re still on a soundstage and we’re still rushing and the cakes are not often in a place where anyone would enjoy them. And, to be said, they are often not standing up at the end of the workday, so there’s not a whole lot to be seen or sampled time by the end of our 12-hour workday.
Why do you do you say that referring to only pre-COVID episodes?
If you watch the “Double Trouble” season, you’ll see that overall Jacques [Torres] and Nicole [Byer] were like, “Hmm, these cakes taste pretty good” and it might be attributed to the fact that some people were more inclined to taste things.