Ok…This is Thu Tran (sometimes Thu can get crazy).
I like to describe it to newcomers as Pee-Wee’s Playhouse meets Martha Stewart on crack. Thu has created this highly addictive cooking show where there isn’t much cooking going on. Instead, look for hijinks, tom foolery (I’ve been looking to bring that word back), colorful characters, cardboard sets, and puppets. Make that lots of insane puppets.
In my favorite Food Party episode, Thu has dinner with French Baguette (it’s exactly that, a chain-smoking French baguette, resplendent in silver sunglasses and a miniature John Water’s mustache). They’ve barely finished their first course of Mountain Dew Cornish Hen when Baguette announces in his heavy French accent that he’s feeling unwell. He’s later taken to the hospital and pronounced with a case of the croutons due to a nasty yeast infection. It’s a typical Food Party storyline spiced with your basic Thu-liciousness.
Like most loyal Food Party fans, I stumbled across the show in its early 2008 incarnation on YouTube. At that time, Food Party was being filmed in Thu’s apartment with her friends helping hand-make the sets, puppets, and props. Since then, the Independent Film Channel picked the show up in 2009; its second season will begin airing on the IFC channel on April 27 at 10pm ET.
A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to visit the set and watch them film an episode. As I approached, I was greeted by a couple of guys outside touching up huge, brightly-colored glittered stalks of corn and Thu, who was lounging around on break with a zombie. Perfect time for a quick interview – right?
HAHA MAG: I have to let you know, my favorite puppet is Baguette. Is he still around?
Tru Tran: Yeah, he’s still here. We kill Baguette all the time…he gets killed again and again. Actually, we kill puppets off all the time. But they always manage to find their way back if we need them.
HM: What’s different since the filming of Food Party has been moved from your apartment and into a studio?
TT: We have room for a lot more stuff – more puppets – more sets…there’s constant stimulus.
HM: There really aren’t any traditional foods being prepared on the show. At the outset, did you know you didn’t want the show to consist of the standard “mix this with that” formula?
TT: Initially, I did try to be a bit more informative, but I realized it wasn’t really what I was interested in. I wasn’t interested in providing information or instructing anyone. I was more interested in providing a visual experience. I tried to draw from what I enjoyed about cooking shows – you’re looking at the food and drooling; you’re not really trying to learn anything. All the instructions I give on the show are totally inaccurate.
HM: Yeah, I should know. I tried some of them.
(Thu looks at me for a moment in surprise and then bursts out laughing)
TT: No…no … don’t. (still laughing) Just watch it; just sit back and relax.
HM: (head down in mock shame) I wanted to see if they would actually come out right – Nope.
HM: What’s been your favorite Food Party concoction?
TT: There was an episode where I prepared eight different kinds of turkeys. At the time, my friends and I worked at country clubs, and they used to give us free turkeys for Thanksgiving, and we’d battle each other by cooking up all different types of turkeys. All the turkeys we prepared for that episode were part of a battle we had done.
HM: How about some of the foods on set. What have you made that’s made you really ill?
TT: The donut lasagna we had on set today made me kind of ill – we filmed about four or five takes of me eating that. I was starting to get a bit nauseous towards the end.
(If you’re thinking you haven’t seen her do the donut lasagna yet, that’s because it’s featured in an upcoming episode.)
HM: If someone had never seen Food Party before and you had to explain it to them, what would you say?
TT: Oh, that’s always hard; I tend to stutter a lot when I try. It’s very confusing to explain because it combines a lot of things we all enjoy. It’s basically a cooking show with puppets, but it’s beyond that. They’re little short films with absurd narratives, characters – it’s totally wild. I like to keep the episodes self-contained, so you don’t really need to watch them in a row to catch what’s going on. Each episode is its own little short story – there a resolution at the end.
HM: What’s been your favorite episode so far?
TT: That’s hard to say. (“You gotta say something in there,” Someone from the crew yells.) Whole heartedly I love every episode we’ve filmed. We’re all pretty excited about all the episodes that we film, otherwise we wouldn’t work hard to make it look cool. Honestly…I do this so I can hang out with my friends all day.
Photos courtesy of IFC