In the back room of Spyhouse coffee shop in Uptown, the group of friends who make up the Halfway Cooks cooking show gather around a table, most likely annoying any patrons looking for a quiet study spot. Project manager Darien Washington shares a story of how he once got a parking ticket from an attendant.
"That's why I removed my windshield wipers," says videographer Jake Astle. "That way they can't give me a ticket."
At this table, it's best to put on your listening ears and let the crew talk. Each member is a character, and each is trying to outdo the others in jokes. Much of that humor comes through in the group's work. Their first video features hip-hop artists Toki Wright and Big Cats cooking up some "Pad Thai Rad Thai" and sharing the stories behind their music.
The concept for the web series Halfway Cooks began with a quiche. Washington was whipping one up and shaped it into the "W" representing Wu Tang Clan. As a play on Mobb Deep's track "Shook Ones Part II," he pulled from the lyrics "no such thing as a halfway crook" and his pet project was born.
With the seed of an idea, Washington enlisted his cohorts to help with production, pulling from the network of friends he made in a rap collective called RapFam, while working at Fifth Element -- producer Ryan McGoff, DJ Nimo the Hooligan, Steve Poons, Dominique "Ceewhy" Suttles -- plus Crystal Schmidt from Angel Food Bakery, Jake Astle and Nicky Gwiggs from when he attended school at IPR (Institute of Production & Recording), and his roommate Alex Post. Darien met another group member, Ceewhy, at a Culture Cry Wolf video shoot, in which he had to tackle Ceewhy through a wall.
They decided to bring artists into the kitchen, select a recipe to work from, and pepper the whole show with casual, sometimes absurd interview questions. Except no one in the group had professional training in producing a show.
"The pilot was extremely helpful in letting us figure out how to shape the next episode," says Gwiggs. "As we were filming, I would notice things, so I already know what I should be doing differently and what camera angles I should be trying on the next one."
Schmidt's boss at Angel Food Bakery donated space at the shop to allow the group to film and create dishes with their guests. The food is selected based on the culinary tastes of the guest artists, and then actualized by cooks Crystal Schmidt and Alex Post.
Post shows up late to the conversation at Spyhouse because he had the closing shift at his day job. As he settles in, he shares with the group that he decided that exact day that he was quitting at the bank. "I want to get back into cooking. I didn't even give my two weeks notice; I'm just gonna hand in my keys tomorrow," he says to a round of laughter and applause.
Currently, the show centers on the group's ties to the hip-hop community, since the crew members are such huge fans of the genre, and many of their connections come from the Fifth Element family. They do want to branch out into other genres and have other artists reach out to them to be featured on the show. When asked who their ultimate guests would be, names like Coolio, Slug, Stitches, and Riff Raff are thrown out until Ryan, in his long-winded version, creates a record-stopping moment and tosses in American blues singer William Elliott Whitmore.
Overlapping in their efforts to make fun of him, the other five people at the table quip, "We have no idea who that is! You're not allowed to make any more decisions." To rein them back in, Crystal suggests, "I would love to have Slayer as guests," to a resounding, "Yes! That would be so metal," from Post.
As much as the group sound like a bunch of dreamers, they eventually want this show to turn into something bigger, and like many projects stuck in the early stages, no one knows what that will mean.
"We love what we do here. It's fun and exciting," says Schmidt. "We are looking to get some funding, especially from local food companies, so we can learn what they do. It's more about creating a community than anything else."
Send your story tips to Hot Dish.