You’ve arrived at university for your first year and moved into residence, or perhaps you’ve been here a few years. You’re young and you’re eager to enjoy the university lifestyle. Eventually, however, a time will come when you’ll begin penny-pinching. Your bank account will have run dry, your credit card will be nearly maxed out and you’re standing in the middle of the food court wondering what you can buy for a handful of change or which restaurant will charge your debit card first before making your food, just in case the dreaded “insufficient funds” appears on the screen. It’s for that moment that NUTV has begun airing their new cooking show Bite Me.
Bite Me is a series of 5-minute segments that will introduce University of Calgary students to the art of cooking by providing quick and easy recipes that can be made on a dorm-room hot plate. Each episode of the show will centre around a cooking challenge set by one of the show’s hosts, Aleksendar Kukolj and Soroush Rezaian.
“The first episode, I challenged Aleks to make a meal using ingredients only found on campus,” Rezaian said.
The second episode, currently in production, will involve cooking a meal for under $5.
“[They are] challenges that are pertinent to students,” Rezaian said.
The real challenge for Kukoji and Rezaian, however, is creating recipes that students will want to spend time cooking.
“I cook now,” Kukoji said, “but I didn’t really cook much when I was a student. It’s going to be interesting to see what they’ll actually apply.”
The show will need to provide recipes that are both cheap and convenient, the hosts explained.
“What are students going to actually use?” Kukolj said. “What are they going to eat?”
Kukolj and Rezaian are both foodies who enjoy cooking and were eager to join the show. Kukolj had previously worked for three years at NUTV behind the camera. When the opportunity to get in front of the camera presented itself — and especially to cook — he immediately called Rezaian who he had performed with as a musician.
“I was used to performing with him,” Kukolj said, “and I [thought] this will be just like that except we’ll do it in a kitchen.”
Rezaian also has experience working as a comedian and had performed at Broken City, Jupiter Lounge, Yuk Yuks and the Laugh Shop.
“It was the right fit,” Rezaian said. “When Aleks was like ‘Yeah, we’re doing this silly cooking show,’ I’m like ‘silly’ and ‘cooking’? Those two things are me.”
However, Kukolj and Rezaian both watch the nutritional value of the ingredients in the food they cook and eat, something that would not come easily to many university students. Eating healthy can often cost more money and time than cheap and easy meals.
“But at the same time you can eat healthy,” Rezaian said, “and still have it come out cheaper than if you go out and eat, if you properly manage it.”
Rezaian said that students can stock up on healthy ingredients at the grocery store and spend less than eating fast food.
“Get your vegetables, get your what-ever-you-need. That’ll be cheaper than if you eat out every meal, I guarantee you that,” Rezaian said.
Program director Sameena Darr said that many of the people involved in the show want to introduce students to nutritious food but know their audience isn’t interested.
“We’re trying to take those baby steps for people who have never cut a vegetable before or boiled something,” Darr said. “Unfortunately, a lot of people are like that and they’re buying their lunch everyday. It’s a lot of money going out the window, to a wealth of corporations that are in MacHall. How can we take those baby steps to encourage people just to cook anything? That’s what this show is going after right now.”
Darr said the first episode’s challenge, of only using ingredients available on campus, caused a heated discussion among NUTV members because there isn’t many fresh ingredients available on campus. She admitted having a problem with the mac and cheese recipe with broccoli and bacon in the first episode because basing a recipe around Kraft Dinner doesn’t necessarily benefit anyone. But, she said a number of students do eat KD on a regular basis because it is inexpensive.
Rezaian said the audience’s response to the episode was very positive.
And NUTV wants to start those discussions about what students eat, whether around eating healthy or saving time and money. The production team for Bite Me are inviting student viewers to respond and provide feedback on the show and the food involved.
“Those reactions from the students is what we’re looking for in the show,” Darr said. “We want their reviews for it.”
Bite Me also represents a change in direction for NUTV which usually provided documentary and reporting-style television.
“NUTV for a long time dealt specifically with electronic news-gathering reporting and we’re moving a little more in a different directions in terms of studio production,” Darr said. “We have a studio space now. It’s nice and shiny and has all these lights.”
She said Bite Me has been a pilot project for their studio-based television production.
“We’re doing a lot more short-form things,” Darr said. “We’re encouraging some members working on storyboards for upcoming projects. We want to start using our flats and we want to start building sets and working on set design. And film making is coming more into the picture here rather than just reporting.”
In the future NUTV may be involved in producing television dramas.
“Why not?” Darr said. “We have the space to do it, we have the equipment to do it. All we need is just some creativity and some people, some man power to make it happen.”
Kukolj, Rezaian and Darr all joked about filming an over-dramatized Persian soap opera.
“I want to make a Persian soap opera,” Darr said. “I’m not even joking.”
The first episode of Bite Me aired during NUTV’s Full Frontal show on Oct. 1, will appear on Shaw Cable and will be available online this week on NUTV.ca.