Zac Fallon’s nom de stage in local wizard-rap act LiL iFFy was Playboy ManBaby, but that’s Chef ManBaby to you, Jake. Because PB’s list of credentials — iFFy rapper, bass player for Senryu, standup comedian, all-around Knoxville gadfly and raconteur — will officially expand to include that particular designation when Fallon makes his debut as a contestant on the Fox network’s Master Chef television show.
Beginning the night of June 1, Fallon will host a Master Chef live stream at 8 p.m. in Scruffy City Hall. At 6 p.m., just prior to the show, Fallon will also host a live Twitch stream, and then host a variety show featuring local talent at 9 p.m. The weekly event will continue every Wednesday, until Fallon either wins big, or is eliminated as a contestant on the program.
How long will that be? Fallon won’t say, on pain of an awful death, maybe a flaying, and subsequent filleting, at the hands of notoriously ill-tempered Master Chef host Gordon Ramsay himself. But he did hold forth recently on the nascent ascension of his culinary proficiency, and on the roller-coaster ride of competing for big stakes on a popular reality-TV program.
“I’d always watched a lot of TV cooking shows — I considered it one of my guilty pleasures,” Fallon explains. Blonde and bespectacled, Fallon is a natural performer — voluble, hyper-animated, his attention-hound persona agreeably softened by a charming penchant for self-deprecation.
“And then I realized that I was actually learning a lot from watching the shows, that I had a lot of knowledge built up just from watching cooking on TV.
“I’ve always had a good memory for facts, especially for facts I feel like I might need.”
As one of local bandleader Wil Wright’s right-hand men — Wright is the mastermind behind both the aforementioned LiL iFFy and Senryu — Fallon found himself frequently traversing the southeast on tour, with each year bringing at least a couple of stopovers in New Orleans. Fallon fell in love with Crescent City cuisine, and especially, with gumbo.
“I really got a taste for gumbo on the road, but I couldn’t find any places around Knoxville (that served it),” Fallon says. “So I had to figure out how to make it myself.”
Armed with the knowledge gleaned from years of watching Emeril and Gordon and Anthony under his amateur chef’s coat, Fallon says he learned other aspects of cooking even as he mastered the finer points of gumbo. And so when word came a few months back of an open-call audition in Louisville for the Master Chef television show, Fallon took off, on a lark, to Kentucky.
What followed was a lengthy, and exhausting series of trials over several months, tests and interviews and correspondence and cooking samples and recipe submissions. “There are lots of steps,” Fallon says. “Lots of deadlines, and lots of waiting. Even after they flew me out to L.A. for an interview, there was still more to the process. They were absolutely dedicated to finding 40 very passionate home cooks.
“Personality definitely comes into play,” says the irrepressible Fallon, who doubtless scored big points in that regard. “They want people who are going to be fun to watch. You have to be a monster in the kitchen, but it helps to have both.”
But for all the nail-biting hurry-up-and-wait of the audition process, Fallon says it was a mere hint of the tsunami of emotions he experienced as an actual competitor. For those who’ve never watched Master Chef, the show presents an ongoing series of eliminations, trials and cook-offs and team challenges to winnow an initial batch of contestants (a total of 40 for this, the seventh season) down to a single winner, who receives a cool quarter mill, his or her own cookbook, and a trophy.
“I felt just about every emotion I’ve ever felt, and all of them in their purest form,” Fallon says of his time on Master Chef. “It was very intense.”
Of Ramsay, the fierce and often foul-mouthed star of the show, Fallon says “he’s quite the character. He’s a lot of what you see on television. He takes food very seriously, but he is a nice guy. He just knows what he wants, and he doesn’t intend to settle for anything less.”
While Fallon can’t offer any hints about his final fate on Master Chef, he does offer some hints about his continuing role as one of the city’s most versatile. “I’ve got a lot of things I’m working on, music things and comedy things,” he says. “But I’ve never been a person to make big plans. I’m not read to say , this is the path I’m going on. I don’t work that way.”
Zac Fallon will host Master Chef streaming, with local variety show to follow, beginning Wednesday, June 1 at 8 p.m. in Scruffy City Hall. The event will continue each Wednesday as long as Fallon stays in the running on this season’s Master Chef.