BY VELMA SOUTHERLAND
Greeneville's Jan Charles has had an exciting summer that she's been preparing for since she sat on her grandmother's kitchen counter and "helped."
Charles' invitation for the excitement started with a totally unexpected phone call offering her the opportunity to compete in a new reality show on the Food Channel, with the popular British chef Robert Irvine as host.
Charles says she jumped at the chance and left Greeneville on June 29 for the competition. The show's first episode is expected to air in early November.
Charles' agent, Greenevillian Chris Seaton, now with the Holland Law Firm in Knoxville, disclosed that "Restaurant Express" will be the flagship show for the Food Network's fall season.
He said that the competition-style reality show involves eight potential restaurateurs.
Seaton described the premise of the show as eight chefs on a bus/RV. At every stop, the chefs have to pitch an idea or concept. Each episode has a cooking/food element.
At the end of each show, one contestant leaves until finally the "winner is dropped off at his/her own restaurant."
LITTLE INFORMATION NOW
Charles and Seaton are allowed to say very little about the show, but here's what is available so far.
According to a July 5 article written by Aaron Claverie for the Southwest Riverside County News, the show was filming in Old Town Temecula, Calif., at that time. Contestants were bring trailed by their individual film crews as they talked with all sorts of locals about the dining scene.
After interviewing, and researching the town, the contestants then prepared menu items that were offered as samples in Temecula (and, one supposes, at other communities along the competition) to an invited crowd.
The "Express" part of the title refers to the bus which carried the contestants to various cities.
Of course, the longer that Charles was away, the better she did on the show.
But she's not telling. She said in a telephone interview Friday that she has a very extensive non-disclosure contract that she's honoring to the letter.
Charles said that she has absolutely no training in the cooking field -- not even a home economics course back in her school days.
She is completely self-taught -- or grandmother-taught, as she recalls her earliest days of taste-testing.
That taste-testing came in handy during a dark period of her life when her oldest son was fighting against, and winning against, leukemia.
In order to help her child become well again and to feed his cravings, Charles learned about ingredients and calories and other necessities in order to develop a specific taste.
"I taught myself how to taste food and a trick to identifying everything in it, and identifying how it was cooked."
Later, even though her son was better, his immune system was weak, so Charles was home a lot.
"My sanity-saver was cooking.
"That's how I realized I kind of had a talent for it. Maybe it was an obsession for it -- I was just too stubborn to quit.
"As he got better, I cooked my way through some pretty classic cookbooks" as a challenge to herself.
COOKING AND TELEVISION
Then, in 2009, she and her children returned to Greeneville.
"I needed a way to support us. I didn't know anything except cooking and television."
She started putting cooking videos up on You Tube, and received an invitation to appear on WJHL-TV in Johnson City.
She was appearing on WJHL about once a month and posting cooking videos. At this time, she has 234 such videos up and is getting about 20,000 hits a month.
She shot the videos herself in her own kitchen with the main goal of "teaching someone why a recipe works or does not work."
Her tagline for her You Tube channel is "Home cooks feed the world."
At the end of 2011, she met the people at Food City stores and was called for a segment of the "News at Noon" show on WVLT-TV. She has been doing segments there for 15 months now.
It was this combination of exposure that led the casting director for the Food Network to Charles -- and led to her being invited for the new reality show that others had to audition for.
Her appearance on the show did require "some back-and-forth paper work," she said.
As the Food Network begins to promote its new show, we can expect more details to emerge about Charles' experiences during her exciting summer of 2013.