Manouschka Guerrier turns Haitian Cooking Blog into Starring Role
Manouschka is what Malcolm Gladwell calls in his book, The Tipping Point, a “maven.” (http://www.gladwell.com) She can do anything. She made up her mind to meet Oprah, and did. She finagled her way into Obama’s inauguration. She grieved at Michael Jackson’s funeral. She won on The Price Is Right. So it did not surprise any of us when she started blogging about cooking she learned from her Haitian grandmother and life as a single woman, and Food Network came calling. Then, they offered her a show. Years ago, I read about guerilla PRhttp://www.amazon.com/Guerrilla-P-R-Effective-Publicity-Campaign-Without/dp/0887306640. It wasn’t until I met Manouschka and learned how moxie alone could replace any other resource when it comes to marketing a brand. This is a lesson every small business owner should learn from Manouschka Guerrier.
After moving to Los Angeles and trying her hand at Hollywood, Manouschka Guerrier decided to pursue what she loved most – cooking. But Manouschka’s story is one of those you repeat, because it offers hope. She started a blog, and the Food Network stumbled upon it. Now Manouschka is on national television. Isn’t that dinner conversation?
eMinutes: Let’s talk about background. From a young age, do you remember feeling inspired by anyone in particular?
Manouschka Guerrier: My Haitian grandmother. She was a brilliant cook. She didn’t have any friends, didn’t drive a car, and never left her home. And I thought it was normal that my friends were eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, while I was unwrapping aluminum foil with Haitian food, like rice and beans and meat. The smells! Kids were like, “What?” No one sat next to me. Their moms made grilled cheese and tomato soup. I didn’t have a grilled cheese until I was 16 and I was living with friends after Hurricane Andrew. My mother, my grandmother, even my father cooked every day – the best Caribbean-Haitian food. We didn’t use a microwave.
Even though my family did well financially, they’re from a Third World country and their idea of a nice meal out was Red Lobster or Sizzler. But when I started modeling and traveling, I ate different foods for the first time. I was done with Haitian food, and thought sushi and Thai food was great! But then I moved to Los Angeles, 3,000 miles away from Miami, and there was no Haitian food. So my friends became my guinea pigs as I tried recipes to bring a piece of my grandmother and my mom here.
Three years ago, my beloved grandmother passed away. At her funeral I found out that she actually went to a French cooking school in Haiti. Turns out she was a bona fide accredited chef!
eMinutes: And you never knew that?
Manouschka Guerrier: Never. All that time she cooked for me, I didn’t realize she was teaching me techniques. She just never gave me names for them.
eMinutes: She’d be really proud to see you now.
Manouschka Guerrier: I hope so.
eMinutes: Let’s talk about why you came to LA, and how you found your way to Private Chefs of Beverly Hills on the Food Network (http://www.foodnetwork.com/private-chefs-of-beverly-hills).
Manouschka Guerrier: We’re shooting Season two, which airs October 12th (Tuesday) at 9:00 pm, on Food Network. I moved here almost 13 years ago to be an actress. Years rolled by and I had very limited success as an actor, I sold a few scripts and had moderate success as a writer, but I had tremendous success as a bartender. All the while, I always cooked, and it was my therapy. I’d throw big, elaborate dinner parties.
It wasn’t until I went through a gnarly breakup I realized, “Wow, I gotta be single for a reason.” I went to Vegas to find myself, met Oprah, and realized I’m meant to be a TV chef. I spoke to a director friend of mine from my soccer team, and asked him to shoot my audition for Next Food Network Star. He said, “Why would you do that? You should just shoot your own show.” And going off the single theme, I said, “Okay. Single Serving – makes sense.” I just ran with it.
eMinutes: What is the story behind Single Serving?
Manouschka Guerrier: After the breakup, I didn’t want to go to that dark place. As a left brainer, you’ve got to work on something. I used that as my ammo and created Single Serving.
I enlisted a friend of mine, a horror director, Michael Kallio. My best friend, Shannon Pope, a graphic designer in Australia, did the animation for the intro. Everyone involved cares about me. They really got me through it.
Single Serving is cooking from a single person’s perspective, whether you’re cooking for one, for your friends, or for a date. There are a lot of single people out there. The grocery store deals are in bulk. What are you supposed to do? Do you get one skinless breast that’s $10.00, or do you buy the ten-pack that’s $11.00? I show you how to use your freezer. Your freezer is your best friend, and Tupperware is an even better one.
It’s funny, because when I first moved here as an actor I didn’t want to be considered a brand. I wanted to be considered a person and an artist. But food has been going through this incredible renaissance, and every network has a food-related show. Now with Single Serving, I understand being a brand. I packaged it perfectly. My favorite color is pink, so even the DVD was pink. I broke down the menu, and I was really proud of it.
eMinutes: After you shot it, what did you do with the pilot of Single Serving?
Manouschka Guerrier: I sent Single Serving to everyone.
eMinutes: You just started giving this DVD out all over town hoping that it would fall into the right hands?
Manouschka Guerrier: All over town. From New York, Miami, L.A., Canada, everyone had this DVD.
eMinutes: But you didn’t stop there. You started your blog: http://SingleServingBytes.com/. Why did you start a blog?
Manouschka Guerrier: Everyone was giving me advice. In this business, if you send it to a producer friend, they want you to reshoot it like 20 times, but no one’s giving you money. So I started a blog to have somewhere to release, decompress, and not lose my focus in getting this done.
If I went on a bad date, I would vent in my blog. And often I’d come up with a recipe named after the person from the bad date. It all seemed so symbiotic. And if you know anything about food blogs, there’s like a billion and one of ‘em.
eMinutes: Yes, there are. But yours led you to Food Network.
Manouschka Guerrier: I discovered I wanted to be a TV chef back in April, shot the pilot in September, re-shot the pilot in October, sent it everywhere. In March, I started my blog and in October I got an email from someone at Food Network who found my blog.
eMinutes: How did that happen?
Manouschka Guerrier: I have no idea. A few friends had taken me to Mario Batali’s place, and he’s a huge Food Network star. I was quickly checking my emails at the table, and I suddenly threw my phone across to my roommate and she said, “What happened?” I had no words. She looked at the email. It said, “I work for Food Network, we’d like to fly you out.” Interestingly, there is a Food Network here in L.A. I went there for the callbacks for The Next Food Network Star. I did this because after a while, Single Serving wasn’t moving and I was like screw it, I’ll just audition. What do I have to lose, you know?
eMinutes: Cover all bases.
Manouschka Guerrier: Cover all bases. So they flew me out to New York in December to test. Unfortunately, I had to put my dog down the day before I flew out. She was my best friend for 11 years. So I wasn’t so strong the first time I did it. But the second time, I nailed it. And you know when you do something well somebody kinda walks up to you really slowly, like you just made their job easier and they’re so grateful? This woman said, “That was great.” And I said, “Really?” She said, “Yeah, really.” And then I started bawling. She said, “What’s wrong? You did great.” I said, “I had to put my dog down yesterday.” And she said, “Then why did you come?” I said, “Because I wasn’t gonna let anyone take my job!”
It wasn’t just that I had to put my dog down, or that I had gone through a bad breakup, I also lost my steady job of nine years, and I finally booked a lead in a movie that was supposed to shoot in Aruba, but the whole thing fell through. All these things would have made a sane person either pack up and go home, or jump off a bridge. Those weren’t options for me. So I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to New York.
The executive who found my blog asked me up to his office. He said, “I have a perfect reality show for you, because you’re going through this range of emotions.” I said, “Hell no.” But he explained it to me, “The company is great. You’ll work a lot. You need a job and we have one for you.” Not only was I going to be doing my chef thing on national TV, I also had a job with this kindred company, Big City Chefs (www.bigcitychefs.com). So Tom and Samantha from Big City Chefs are fantastic, and have been supporting me through this year.
eMinutes: And you work with them on the side?
Manouschka Guerrier: Yes. When the cameras aren’t rolling, we all still work for Big City Chefs. It has led to so many on and off-camera opportunities. I catered Selena Gomez’s 18th birthday, and a party for Garnier for Audrina Patridge. I got to work with Madonna’s caterer, Lulu Powers, whom I admire tremendously. It was for the opening of the Bloomingdales in Santa Monica, which was attended by Barbara Streisand and Donna Karan. I also created my own catering company.
eMinutes: What’s it like to work on Private Chefs of Beverly Hills?
Manouschka Guerrier: It’s crazy because I like to cook by myself and have my music on, be in my zone, no distractions nobody ask me any questions — because I can’t stand questions. I am the quintessential single girl. I don’t share, and now I have to share with five other chefs.
Working on the show, I have to face all that. Also, I didn’t go to cooking school and we’ve got Cordon Bleu trained chefs, and chefs who worked in France and Napa and really great restaurants. There was an episode where instead of using tongs or a spatula to flip over my chuck (beef), I used a fork, which is very Haitian. I’m Haitian, and that’s how we do it. Chef Brian looked at me like, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m flipping the meat.” He said, “With a fork?” (laughs) I was like, okay, lesson learned. I get to learn and we laugh a lot.
I think the show is pretty much on par with a sitcom. It’s really funny seeing us in these situations, which really do happen. People (clients) who don’t understand food but have a lot of money could care less about the elaborate menu you planned. They want things their way. They worked really hard to get to where they are and you’re not going to tell them anything — just do your job. We’re in the “Yes” business – Yes, ma’am. So, it’s interesting.
eMinutes: How did you get the word out about your blog? How do you suppose it reached the Food Network?
Manouschka Guerrier: I don’t have a filter. I’ve been like that my whole life. I speak what’s on my mind and what’s in my heart, so it wasn’t just a blog about recipes with pictures of food. There were always stories attached. I’m very theme- oriented. I draw inspiration from whatever is going on in my life to create a menu.
Also I don’t feel like it’s a curse that I’m single, and I’m not apologetic for that. I am not single because someone left me; I’m single because it’s my choice. I want to make myself better before I wake up with someone else. It’s very liberating, and I have no qualms about sharing that. I have a very strong Facebook presence, and if I saw a funny video, I’d post that. It was a blog with many elements to it. Not just food, but my life in food. I think that’s what helped me stand out.
eMinutes: What social media techniques do you use to spread the word?
Manouschka Guerrier: I’m getting more active on Twitter, but Facebook has really been my platform. My personal Facebook is www.Facebook.com/Manouschka, and my fan page iswww.Facebook.com/SingleServing.
I met Aly Cleary through my blog. She has helped me understand Alexa rankings, which is basically where your site ranks, and using key words to get my name out there. She’s extremely involved in my online presence and the creation of my blog. When you type “private chef” or “caterer” in Google, I come up right on top. That’s because of Aly.
Utilizing this high rank, I’m starting cooking classes called “Plate Dates”, which put an interactive spin on online dating. I’ll have more about that on my site soon.
Jason Pinyan, my brilliant brand manager (www.PinyanBrandManagement.com), has also secured a deal with Open Sky and I’m getting ready to launch my own store on my blog.
eMinutes: What lessons have you learned running this business?
Manouschka Guerrier: I’m learning that I can’t do Single Serving alone. You definitely need business-savvy people around you to either mentor you or to partner up with, and that’s what I’m trying to find.
I’ve laid down the foundation well. I’ve created a presence, people know who I am, and what to expect of me. But I need someone or something to take it to the next level, a level that I haven’t even seen yet.
eMinutes: Can you talk to me a little about PR?
Manouschka Guerrier: (laughing) I don’t have any.
eMinutes: So what do you do about that? Because you seem to take the bull by the horns with everything else you do.
Manouschka Guerrier: That’s true. I’m my own PR. I’m on TV, yet I have no agent or manager. Thankfully, I do have a fantastic attorney, Eric Greenspan who has immeasurable knowledge about Food Network personalities and branding. But I’m responsible for my own PR, and I’m rolling up my sleeves.
I’m launching a viral video that will be premiering on October 19th on my Youtube channel (www.youtube.com/singleservingchannel), which happens to fall on a day that I’m not in an episode. I saw the opportunity and had to turn a negative into a positive and stay strong. A lot of viewers who follow me will have an issue not seeing me in the episode. What a fantastic chance to stand out in a cast of six.
I’m putting out a video that’s going to pop and go viral. I can’t wait!
eMinutes: Please tell me about this video!
Manouschka Guerrier: The first 3 letters from SINgle is SIN, and I refuse to believe my choice to be single is a curse or sin. My market includes people who choose to be single, too. Playing with the seven deadly sins, I’ll portray seven aspects of a single character set in seven sinful scenes with food. (Editor’s note: To the left is a clip from one of the scenes, “Anger.”)
eMinutes: Has anyone given you advice during this journey that has stuck with you?
Manouschka Guerrier: Just keep my head up. It’ really easy to feel insecure in this process when you just don’t know where you’re going. I’m just running with this thing and hope that somebody will latch on. Luckily I have a lot of people who support me.
eMinutes: You wrote a blog, which was discovered, and now you’re on national television. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start out but doesn’t know what to do?
Manouschka Guerrier: I give a lot of advice on Facebook. People who watch the show are blown away by how calm I am. Sometimes they’re in cooking school or they want to start their own catering company. I just tell them not to give up and you’ve gotta be you. The other day someone wrote that she wanted to quit. I said that’s absolutely unacceptable, you can’t. I told her to start a blog. You have to be honest and put yourself out there. I’m on a show surrounded by trained chefs. And there are cameras showing my success and my failure for millions of people to see. It is terrifying but at the same time it’s awesome. This is what I wanted and I’m getting to do it.
eMinutes: What’s a typical day in your life?
Manouschka Guerrier: I’d like to start with a chanting or a prayer, but that rarely happens because I open my computer. I check my Google ranking. I spend a lot of time researching different recipes and ways to present my recipes. I research the other chefs, what they’re doing, and how their careers are progressing. I keep up with all my social media relationships. People like when they hear back from you.
Later in the day, I like to put my iPod on and do what I call “Field- tripping”. I blog about this. I’ll just go aisle by aisle through different ethnic markets. People love to share their culture and food knowledge. I’ll go to this Argentinean market on Western, or this Korean market on Beverly, or Little Tokyo in Alameda, or a Russian market, Indian markets in Glendale. I’ve always been a researcher and knowledge is power.
eMinutes: Can you tell me about your first job and your worst job?
Manouschka Guerrier: I love music, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was when I was 15 to get a job at the Sound Warehouse, a CD shop. My worst job? There was a time when I needed extra money so I cleaned the toilets at the Conga Room for 40 bucks.
eMinutes: Wow. And look at you now.
Manouschka Guerrier: Look at me now.
Starting October 12th, Private Chefs of Beverly Hills airs Tuesdays, 9 pm, on the Food Network.
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