Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Big News

Believe it or not, this is my actual kitchen

Brad Pitt has done it. Kevin Bacon has done it. William Shatner has done it. And now finally, I have done it. We have all used our chiselled cheekbones, charismatic personalities and the rich, deep timbre of our eloquent voices to endorse a product. In Bambi's case, he bafflingly entranced us all into buying Chanel No 5 with nonsensical non sequiturs. Mr 6 Degrees is currently bouncing footloose all over our screens, extolling the virtues of a mobile network that he probably doesn't even use. And who can ever forget Captain Kirk's gleaming appraisal of the Commodore VIC-20. And me? Well, I am about to enter your living rooms via the power of the goggletube to tell you all about dishwasher tablets. Yes, dishwasher tablets. Thankfully, in my opinion at least, the production team behind a new advert for New Finish Quantum with Power Gel, which features yours truly, have done a very good job. Much better than the Hollywood examples. Sure, you might have spotted a clunky insert in this paragraph already and there will be more. But believe me when I tell you this, I am not the new Barry Scott.

The journey towards the advert started off fairly innocuously. I received an invite to attend a blogger event in February organised by Finish, that presented the chance of meeting and cooking with a top chef and to feature in a national TV ad. The chef in question was Florence Knight of Polpetto fame (soon to be re-opened) and to be frank, the notion of rolling meatballs with her was far more appealing than getting my face on the box (be still my beating heart). As PR days go though, it was great fun getting stuck in with everyone, prepping burrata, octopus and making small glasses of tiramisu, all cornerstone ingredients and recipes from the Polpo Empire. Particularly good giggles were had with Claire from Things We Make and Dom from Belleau Kitchen and it was a shame that wine wasn't served really but of course, it was also a casting day so it was probably best that we were all kept in check.

Curiously, I don't remember that much from the video interview I had with the director, a friendly chap called Toby. Principally, he asked questions about me and about the blog but he also wanted to know what I thought of the product, as Finish had sent me stacks of their New Finish Quantum tablets to test beforehand. I think I gabbled. I think I gabbled a lot. With jazz hands. I think at one point I even said "The best thing about these new dishwasher tablets is that they clean dishes really well." Which they did. But I am not sure that I had to extrapolate the recommendation further with star jumps. At the end of the interview, Toby warmly shook my hand and in a totally non-judgemental way said "Thanks Danny, it's been really.......interesting." And I walked out thinking 'Oh well, that's that.' Because we all know what 'interesting' means.

A couple of weeks later though, I received an email saying that the director really liked me and that he wanted to meet me again with his team, this time at my house to have more of a general chat. More New Finish Quantum with Power Gel tabs were sent, which got distributed amongst family and friends, giving me a new found reputation as the Willy Wonka of detergents and more conversation was had on my sofa. The advert by all accounts was to be far more poetic and organic than your usual marketing splash that screams and blasts viewers into submission. Showing me the treatment on his Mac, which was basically a large collection of photos of kitchens, food and people; he demonstrated the feel of the project quite aptly. I was slightly unnerved that a lot of the photos were taken from my blog, Twitter and Instagram accounts, which led me to pause and wonder whether Toby was stalking me. But I was reassured that they were interested in me because I was a normal guy, with a normal family and a normal life but with a big passion for food. They also liked the fact that I admitted during the interview that I was a messy cook, which fell right into the remit. They felt Finish could help me with that.

A day or two later, they got in touch again and said that I had made the grade, along with Nisha, owner of the aesthetically pleasing My Kitchen Antics blog. We were gonna be big stars! (Jazz hands, again).

After that, there was a whole barrage of telephone calls, emails and even more dishwasher tablets were sent. By this point, I thought about always keeping a couple on my person. To tip bellboys and cab drivers and slip in the pockets of doormen outside private clubs; predisposing a lifestyle that surely would soon come. But Mrs FU quickly brought me back down to earth and said that we should save some packets for Christmas presents. The reason for plying me with the tablets was to make sure I was happy with the product and that I could convey that easily when it came to filming.

I have to say, my father-in-law was a boon with regards to the testing process as he would often report back, saying that his tea mugs have come up sparkly clean or that he's finally removed some random stain from a soup bowl (he, not the tablet). I sort of get the impression at some stage though, that he started to gleefully over-egg things, burning casseroles to buggery to purposely prove a point. "Ha! Didn't bloody shift that though Dan!" That's what my mother-in-law told me anyway. Personally, I was captivated by the smell, especially with the lemon and apple tablets. The twins were drawn to them too but for other reasons. So we had to make sure the test packs remained high up on shelves for fear of foaming mouths.
The day of the shoot came around quite quickly. A car with blackened windows and leather seats picked me up from my house on a cold spring morning and whisked me to a location in West Hamstead. I say whisked, it took about two hours what with the rush hour traffic but luckily, I had as much water as I could drink to pass the time with. Can you imagine it? Free water! That's when you know you've hit the big time. Well, when I finally got there, I thought I was going to wet myself trying to climb back out of the car. So really, it's not a good thing. And when I saw all the production trucks lining the street, the urge became even stronger. I have done piddly little things before, dancing in front of a camcorder with a wooden spoon, holding a chicken by the neck, that sort of thing. However, arriving at this cavernous, basement flat, filled with equipment and tons of people with clipboards and walkie talkies was something else altogether. It was terrifying. Toby found me almost straight away and led me into the garden to talk about the day ahead and about setting up a scene to do some cooking using a wheelbarrow and he noticed that my leg was shaking uncontrollably.

"Are you cold Danny?" he asked and I just nodded, when really it was the adrenaline kicking in. Being a consummate professional though, with a few deep breaths, I soon knuckled down to the business of looking earnest, with arms folded and sharing the vision before heading to wardrobe and makeup; the latter of which only took 2 minutes (I have such good skin). And then bang, off we went. The whole, long day was spent shooting set pieces, interviews, cooking sequences, jugging dishwater tablets and presenting various dishes for the camera. All quite repetitive really and slightly dull in places, what with all the hanging around, getting the light right, chosing the best lens for the camera, placing props around to create the perfect mood; all very arty. Highlights of the day for me include thwacking steaks and shucking oysters, setting fire to the aforementioned wheelbarrow to make risotto and tantilising the nostrils of the crew with the ox cheek lasagne that I baked. 

Ox Cheek Lasagne
The low point came when I had to hold the said lasagne dish up the air, now clean due to the magic of Finish Quantum with Power Gel, for an inordinate amount of time. My job was to scan it intently and seriously whilst the director of photography got the ultimate, beautifully framed shot. I thought my arms were going to fall off at one point. Yes, it was a hell of a lot of work for what essentially amounts to 30 seconds and at the end of the day, around midnight, I fell back into the car and drifted straight off to sleep, with no water passing my lips. But I must admit that I did enjoy myself.

Jazz hands
Months have passed now and I have seen the final cut and like I said, I am quite pleased with the result. Chuffed in fact. The advert itself airs in a couple of week’s time but I should be getting a link sorted out soon so that readers of FU can get a sneak preview and then you can decide for yourself. One of the final outcomes from the advert, as you would sort of expect, is that Finish hope to persuade consumers to switch and see the difference, a catchphrase that in the wrong hands could belong to the Barry Scott School of Sloganeering. However, I think Nisha and I have managed to lend some credibility to this latest campaign, not just because we write a food blog but because we are regular people. We tested the product after all. On smeared wine glasses, grimy plates and scabby pots and were happy with the results. We've switched and so have some of my family and friends. And my doctor. Oh and the milkman too.

In fact, come over to my house if you want to try them out, I've still got a box under the stairs. Unless you want to wait until Christmas that is.

I told you I was a messy cook

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