Everything is done on a grand scale in Chatswin, the fictional suburban enclave of the wealthy and mostly white that is the setting of ABC's "Suburgatory," and the Valentine's Day-themed episode is no different. It's chock-full of momentous gestures, epic fails, rekindled romances, and one "Top" guest star.
While Tessa drags Ryan to an art film, Malik tries to woo Lisa with serenades and life-size dolls, and Sheila's mom cuts in on her plans for a romantic night of tapas and tango, George and Dallas's disastrous dinner date provides the most laughs. He has booked a nonrefundable $600 18-course menu provided by world-renowned visiting chef Julio Proust (played by real-life "Top Chef" Season 6 winner Michael Voltaggio), but Dallas cancels their date. Apparently her experiment with an antiaging injectable made from blowfish leaves her hideously unrecognizable.
Watch a preview clip from the episode:
"We always try to find a funny left-turn way to handle holidays on our show, and because Valentine's puts so much pressure on people to perform and crushing defeat is so much more reasonable an outcome than pulling off some grand romantic plan perfectly, we thought an absurd dinner, a botched beauty treatment, and a burlap sack was the perfect idea," creator/executive producer Emily Kapnek explained to Yahoo! TV exclusively at a lunch celebrating the episode, which airs Feb. 13. "The script called for a Michael Voltaggio type. He was our pie-in-the-sky name, so to get him to be part of the episode was superexciting. The icing on the cake was that he was fantastic and such a good sport about making fun of the celebrity-chef thing."
Cheryl Hines, whose "hours of prosthetic makeup" helped her achieve the "gross, puffy, scary, cat-lady-like look," added, "It was so fun to have him on the set. First, because he's real cute and intriguing with the tattoos and the brooding. And because people know him from winning 'Top Chef,' he added a little something special. I just hope it will help me get reservations at his restaurant. I can pull the whole 'I was on "Suburgatory" with him and because my fictional Blowtox incident kept me from eating my fictional meal on a TV show, I figure he still owes me a dinner."
Voltaggio, whose L.A. sandwich shop Ink.Sak provided the fried chicken and spicy tuna subs the actors and press noshed on, spoke with us about the "fun" gig but ultimately promised that gastronomy would never lose him full-time to acting.
How did the guest spot on "Suburgatory" come about?
Through my agent. I'm represented by UTA, and the script was in their office. They were looking for talent to play a chef that was a Michael Voltaggio type. Someone in the office was like, "Well, we represent him. Why don't we just get him to do it?"
Like in cooking, why settle for substitutes when you can have the real thing?
Totally. I don't exactly know what they meant by a "Michael Voltaggio-type" or if I should be offended, but I figured I'd at least be able to nail that part. The funny thing for me is that I am supposed to be Chef Julio, but he was based on me, so I am playing myself -- but not really.
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They mention a couple of courses in the show, including paper-thin slices of pig's heart drizzled in a sauce of its own blood, and pork belly and veal tongue hash finished with shards of microbeak in a freshly lambed foam. Is this stuff you'd ever attempt to serve or eat?
I don't know that a lot of the stuff could be made, but I'll try anything once, as a general rule. Chef Julio is supposed to be preparing 18 courses of all kinds of weird animal parts, like intestines and hearts and even pieces of beak. The dishes they made up were making me laugh. But it is funny because restaurants are becoming more like that. They are trying to serve the craziest, most off-the-wall things possible, whether or not they sound appetizing. We have a something on our menu right now that people are constantly asking about because it sounds weirder than it is. It is turbot, a fish, in a sauce made from its bones, and people read that and are like, "That's gross. The sauce is made from its bones." But every sauce that we have is made using bones -- chicken bones, beef bones, fish bones. I don't know what else to call it. It isn't weird. Chicken stock is made using chicken bones, and people don't second-guess cooking with that at home.
You're surrounded by animal parts in all your scenes. Were they real? That seems like it would smell terrible, if they were.
I don't know if if that was all real meat. That's part of the magic of television. There was some real meat in the kitchen the day we shot, but I'm also used to all the blood, meat, and chopping.
How did you feel about poking fun at your own kind?
It was fun for me to be a part of making fun of my own industry, seeing as how "out there" it has actually gotten. It definitely makes fun of the food scene and chefs and how seriously we all take it, and that's fine by me. You have to be able to laugh at yourself. It definitely suggests the style of food that we cook at my restaurant, but it is extremely exaggerated for the sake of comedy. I think jokes like this will also help expedite chefs' getting back to the basics, which is what most people want these days. They are getting into canning and preserving, and they want to eat meat and potatoes again.
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Do you have a funny tale about a Valentine's Day date gone wrong?
I don't, really. Holidays, especially Valentine's Day, are the busiest nights in the restaurant business, so I usually forget most holidays because I'm always at work.
Would you ever hang up the apron permanently to go into acting?
I don't think so. This is the third time I've done something scripted -- I also did "The Exes" on TV Land and a movie recently -- and I really enjoy it. I'm blessed with the opportunity to go do it from time to time, but at the end of the day, my passion is behind a stove.
So are you a card-carrying SAG member now?
I've been invited. I get the letter all the time but I don't know what I'm supposed to do with it. I ask all the actors that work in my restaurant about it and they just get mad at me because I'm acting more then they are now.
The Valentine's Day episode of "Suburgatory" airs Tuesday, 2/13 at 9:30 PM on ABC.