Harvesting caviar in the swamps of Louisiana is just another day on the job for South Philly’s Adam Gertler. In fact, it’s just one of many jobs.
“People are going to be shocked that some of these jobs exist,” he said.
It’s Gertler’s mission in his new Food Network show, Will Work for Food, to showcase overlooked jobs of the food industry. On the show, which premiered last night, Gertler combines comedy with his passion for food to give an accurate depiction of what these jobs entail.
“People can expect to see me do every kind of job in the food world imaginable, from working on a lobster boat to milking goats to make cheese,” Gertler said. “I have that first day [on the job] repeated and repeated and repeated.”
Gertler, 31, said food was always more of a hobby than a career goal. He grew up on Long Island and went to Syracuse University, majoring in theater. After graduation, he moved west to Los Angeles to give showbiz a try.
“I didn’t really choose food as a career,” Gertler said. “It was my passion, my hobby. I always thought I was going into performing arts. But I made more of a living doing cooking than my job as a performer.”
In 2004, an opportunity arose for Gertler and his brother to open a restaurant in Philadelphia. The Smoked Joint, located at the Academy House near 15th and Locust streets, quickly became a popular destination.
Gertler moved back east to South Philadelphia and served as the executive chef at the Center City restaurant, which served as his “grad school,” he said.
Craig LaBan, restaurant critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer, had few negative things to say about the cuisine in 2005.
“Good barbecue is all the draw an establishment like the Smoked Joint really needs, and it delivers,” LaBan wrote in his review. “Considering the recipes here were conjured by a bunch of childhood friends from Long Island, where, as Adam Gertler says, ‘the only rib places we knew were Chinese restaurants,’ it is not surprising that the food mixes and matches barbecue traditions rather than sticking to any specific regional style.”
The Smoked Joint closed in 2006, however, and Gertler put his food career on hold. It wasn’t until another opportunity arose that he pulled out his barbecue spice rubs again.
Gertler was one of 10 finalists on the fourth season of The Next Food Network Star, a reality competition where contestants vie for their own cooking show.
“It was just very exciting, an enormous amount of fun,” Gertler said. “I’m more comfortable performing than not. In a show like that, you’re asked to be on all the time.”
His cooking chops and personality propelled Gertler to the final three. His demo, called Hungry in Philadelphia, was an interactive show where viewers submitted questions to Gertler while he prepared meals. Ultimately, though, he lost to Camden native Aaron McCargo, Jr.
Gertler returned to Philadelphia after the show and waited tables at Amada in Old City. Shortly after the finale of TNFNS aired, Bob Tuschman, the network’s senior vice president of programming and production, called Gertler to offer him Will Work for Food.
“It was very exciting to hear from them. Imagine your life’s dream coming true in front of your face,” Gertler said. “My expectations were pretty much gone. To be offered Will Work for Food, I wouldn’t have imagined it in a million years.”
Tuschman, who also served as a judge on TNFNS, said the network had been discussing the concept of WWFF internally, and Adam’s “quick humor, guy-next-door quality and willingness to try anything made him the ideal host.”
“We were lucky to find several great new talent during season four [of TNFNS],” Tuschman said. “We wanted to do a ‘food jobs’ show for some time, but we couldn’t move forward until we found the perfect host, which was Adam.”
Now, Gertler travels across the country, exposing the food jobs typically overlooked by consumers. On the show, he has collected truffles in Oregon, created ice sculptures using a chainsaw and harvested caviar from Louisiana swamps.
“I will have varying degrees of success with these jobs,” Gertler said. “It’s the kind of thing where you’re not trying to goof off for the audience in any way, but a lot of humor and fun comes out of the fact that I’m dealing with masters and trying to tackle that job in a day.”
The only difference, though, is that the cameras are always rolling.
“When I make an ass of myself,” Gertler said, “it’s for the whole world to see.”
For Gertler, it’s just another day on the job.
Chris Stover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.