Foodgasm premieres with edgy style, alternative recipes

By Matt Watson

Dressed to imitate Lucille Ball, wearing a vintage apron and bright lipstick to accent her flaming red hair, Ashley Simone dashes around the kitchen as she prepares recipes designed for people who don’t want to eat a big slab of meat. Ending each episode by blowing the audience a kiss, Simone said she wants to set herself apart with a provocative show that, she hopes, will some day rival Rachael Ray’s in popularity.

Simone, star of “Foodgasm” and a former Columbia student, said the new Web series accentuates the sensuality and pleasure of cooking and eating food. The show, produced by Fernworks Productions, premiered on YouTube and Vimeo on April 15.

“Foodgasm” is set in the 1940s and focuses on alternative diets, such as pescetarian, vegan and gluten-free, among others. Using the webisode platform as a starting point, the producers plan to shoot a 30-minute pilot to pitch to a cooking TV network.

“It’s an edgy cooking series that’s a little bit naughty and a little bit nice,” Simone said. “It’s going to be classy with the ’40s style but also [racy].”

The approximately 4-minute webisodes feature Simone in the kitchen as she prepares a different dish each time. David Strzepek, assistant producer of “Foodgasm,” said the series stands out among cooking shows.

“We say lifestyles instead of restrictions,” Strzepek said. “A lot of people who have a food lifestyle like this have become very routine [in their choices]. We want to provide them with a foodgasm, a ‘wow’ factor when you bite into something.”

Simone said there’s an open niche in the cooking show market for a series that focuses on alternative diets. From attending culinary conventions, she said she’s seen a lot more chefs start to concentrate on gluten-free and lactose-free meals. Simone emphasized many people don’t know creative ways to cook such meals for themselves.

“A lot of people like fish but don’t do it often because they don’t know how to prepare it well,” she said. “I’m trying to hit the alternative diets in a way that’s tasty and flavorful and [people] aren’t thinking, ‘Ew, that’s some weird tofu-vegetarian dish.’”

According to Strzepek, the naughty part of the show is interpretive. He said the show isn’t solely about cooking; it’s about the experience. Simone dances on stage in each episode, and the way she says “Foodgasm” gives off a feeling of sensuality, Strzepek said.

“We wanted that in the show for the purpose of grabbing people’s attention, giving them something pretty to look at and to say, ‘Here’s the enjoyment factor of cooking,’” he said. “We end every show with, ‘Food is love.’”

Simone, who studied dance at Columbia for two years before leaving to perform with Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, said she always loved to cook. The idea to combine performance with culinary arts came about when she met Alinea Chef Grant Achatz.

“I was like, ‘Wow, he’s amazing,’” she said. “I thought it would be a great idea for me to go to school for this and not look like an idiot. That way, I could look [professional] chopping onions.”

Simone is now studying for a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts at the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago.

Simone and her mother, Etta Worthington, a director who teaches in the Film and Television departments at Columbia, began shooting “Foodgasm” in January 2011. The two enlisted a production team, including Strzepek, to get the show rolling.

“It turned out to be such a well-oiled machine,” Strzepek said. “Some of our crew are the top people anywhere in the country, and we just put it together by chance. There had to be an alignment of planets and stars.”

After shooting five episodes in January, the crew shot another five in March in high definition. Worthington said they will release one show every other Friday for the next 10 weeks. When the weather gets nicer, they will begin shooting an outdoor grilling series.

Worthington said the Web series is just the beginning. The producers plan to use the online platform to eventually pitch a 30-minute pilot to a network. According to Simone, one other cooking Web series, “Bitchin’ Kitchen,” has successfully made it on the Cooking Channel but with a different angle than “Foodgasm.”

Strzepek said the Internet is a completely new way to launch a TV show, an avenue unheard of a decade ago.

“I know I can get people interested by going through the webisodes and getting online,” Strzepek said. “Going viral gets you such an incredible amount of exposure and that’s the best use of the Internet.”