SCHENECTADY -- With the cameras rolling, the lights on and the clock ticking away, Tara Kitchen co-owner Aneesa Waheed was only concerned about one thing while taping the Food Network’s "Guy’s Grocery Games".
“My biggest concern was I just wanted to make sure I cooked food that tasted good in the time frame they had given us.” Waheed said. “That was my biggest concern. Through the challenges, I wasn’t thinking about whether I was winning or losing, I was thinking I just have to have tasty food, period.”
Waheed took a trip out to Santa Rosa, Calif., in February to film an episode of the show hosted by celebrity chef Guy Fieri. Contestants are given various challenges on the episode where they then have to go through a grocery store and shop for their ingredients. The episode airs on the Food Network at 9 p.m. on Aug. 29.
The idea of being a contestant on a television cooking contest had never crossed Waheed’s mind. And she didn’t think it was for real when she got a call from the show’s scouting producer asking her to appear in the competition.
Waheed said because she doesn’t have any formal training, and with the hundreds of thousands of chefs that exist in the country, she didn’t think she’d be qualified.
“I thought it was some kind of practical joke,” Waheed said. “[The scouting producer] was like, ‘No ,no, no, it’s for real.'”
Tara Kitchen opened its Liberty Street location in 2012. Waheed then began selling her sauces online and in stores, then expanded into Troy in 2017, and now has plans to open a new wine and tapas bar in Schenectady.
The show’s staff apparently knew all of this, Waheed said, adding that they essentially “cyber stalked” her.
“They seemed to know everything about me,” Waheed said.
Waheed said her family watches the Food Network all of the time. "Guy’s Grocery Games" happens to be one her children’s favorite shows. So, when she got the call, Waheed said she was hesitant at first to agree to it. But when her kids told her she should do the show, she obliged.
There was also the fact that a few weeks before she got the call asking her to be on the show, Waheed said her kids had actually been inquiring as to why she had never been on it.
“It felt like kismet,” Waheed said.
The actual competition was tough, Waheed said. She wasn't in the comfort of her own kitchen and she didn't have access to the ingredients she’s used to using. That’s because most of what Waheed does use can’t be found in supermarkets, she said.
Also, Waheed doesn’t go grocery shopping. That’s the job of her husband, co-owner Muntasim Shoaib.
Then there was the fact each contestant has a cameraman following their every move, Fieri is peppering each chef with questions, and they are thrown into different challenges.
“The minute Guy tells you what to do, the countdown starts,” Waheed said. “Whether you’re ready or not, the countdown has started.”
Waheed said she wanted to win the competition. Not just because she is a competitive person, but because if she won the $20,000 cash prize, she planned to donate it to her brother-in-law’s charity, the Islamic Medical Association of North America.
“I really wanted to win for them,” Waheed said.
Her appearance on the show also made Waheed think about her dream of hosting her own show. One that allows her to talk about the food she cooks and the different nationalities involved: a woman from India who married a man from Pakistan in Morocco and then opened up a restaurant in America.
‘I’ve always said from day one, food is a great way to bridge cultures,” Waheed said.
Waheed knows that going on the show could allow her to bring more attention to her products, but she also loves any opportunity to highlight Schenectady.
That’s something Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. Executive Director Jim Salengo doesn’t doubt.
“I absolutely know that is always on Aneesa’s mind,” Salengo said. “She’s a smart businesswoman. She always wants to shine the spotlight on Schenectady.”
Salengo had nothing but high praise for Waheed. He said he wasn’t surprised she would be on the show, adding he almost expects these sort of things to happen for her and her family.
“It’s a really cool and high profile step in what has already been an amazing progression of their business,” Salengo said. “I think it’s fantastic. I could not ask for a better ambassador for the city of Schenectady.”
Salengo also had some words of encouragement for Waheed.
“I hope she wins,” Salengo said. “I know I and everybody who knows her in the community will be rooting her on.”
When asked how she did on the show, Waheed said she was bound by contract not to reveal anything that happened on it.
Everyone will just have to watch the episode when it airs.