NORWICH — Great American Enterprises owner and filmmaker, CSI Vegas dolly grip, and all around motion picture car rig and techno crane operator Casey Slade visited his hometown of Norwich to shoot an upcoming cooking show; Wild Cooks Kitchen.
Slade said, “I’ve been talking about shooting here for about twenty years. I think this is such a gorgeous area, when I come back home, my stress level goes away. It takes a bit to acclimate and slow down because in Los Angeles, in the belly of the beast, I'm working at the highest levels of television production and its extremely stressful, difficult and fast.”
“My day job now is in Los Angeles on the set of CSI Vegas. I'm a dolly grip, it's all about camera movement. I also operate cranes, build car rigs, maintain sliders, hit cues, etc. My acting career began in 1996 and I have my Screen Actors Guild (SAG) card but my true passion is behind the scenes, making it happen, that's where I like to live,” he added.
“Awhile back, I was over at a buddy of mines house and he said, 'Hey man, are you hungry?' and I said, well what do you have and he answered he had some venison stew. He served the greatest venison stew I have ever eaten. Although it was a tad spicy, my face was numb, but he didn't think so. He's got some land he’s building on and this venison was from his property. He had a full freezer and I kept thinking, this is most of the people I know. This is what I want to shoot,” said Casey.
Slade explained the project started when he went on hiatus from CSI Vegas, February 9, and was thinking, this would be a good time to start his cooking show. Norwich has always been his home and he visits at least two times a year. His memories are filled with going to Chenango Lake where he learned to fish and swim.
A few families were contacted and scheduled with one family ready a year ago when presented the idea. Another family couldn't follow through due to scheduling so the first shoot ended up with three families scheduled, one in Norwich, one in Sherburne and one family in Pennsylvania.
“The shows name Wild Cooks Kitchen title was finally chosen for the project. The food prepared will be wild game, not necessarily meaning wild from the woods because you can raise wild right in your own back yard,” he said.
“I got with Knowledge Tree Films, put the show on their books, hired them to shoot and flew the crew out from California on April 20. They were booked through the 24th. I put them up at Fred’s Inn and we started working the next day,” said Slade.
“Three different families supplied the recipes and cooking while providing togetherness, camaraderie, dedication, discipline, cost, and time. In the beginning, it was all about the food, but once sharing the time with the families, it became more than that, it became more about the family unit and the food honoring the moment,” he added.
Slade explained, “Our first day, we shot a walk and talk interview downtown from the Colonia (Theater) to the front of the clock at the corner and finished in Westside Park in front of the World War II memorial with the courthouse behind us.”
“Our biggest and heaviest day was a trip to all locations to meet and prepare what will be needed for shooting at properties and finding out what recipes would be prepared,” he said. “I was so nervous as the weather was showing rain. And we really didn't need additional shooting days to add up, costs add up and I really wanted to stay on schedule. It was about an hour and a half to the Pennsylvania camp, and finally about twenty minutes out, the clouds parted and some sun came through. The rain held off all day long.”
Challenges were many as one family had to pull out because it wasn't going to work for them; another was getting the film crew here and accommodations, coordinating the whole thing, taking care of his mom and her house, lawn work, balancing it all and getting it done within the time frame the crew was here to get it done in.
“An additional challenge arose when not one person showed up for the open audition at the Colonia Theatre. I rented the upstairs space and also posted on multiple social media sites. Hundreds of people knew about it; some answered the ad and said they knew someone that cooked and would send them over but that didn’t happen,” said Slade.
The Pennsylvania family property was between New Milford and Montrose. The family fished while they waited the film crew to set up. The kids were great and the family was amazing. Their daughter Opal was shadowing Slade all day long. They connected because Opal made them connect. She was always right next to him, watching his every move and playfully taking his bandana to wear it herself.
Norwich cooks Rick and Sharon Reihl were a couple that were chosen as they have known Casey their entire lives and went to school together.
Rick said, “We had no idea he was going this far into it but did a really great job at it. The experience was more than we had expected and very memorable. The challenge was trying not to be nervous, it was a little intimidating being filmed with the lights and all that was going on and we didn’t expect it to be so much in detail. We can’t wait to see the end result.”
They threw a couple recipes out to Casey and all three decided on the recipe for the show. The oven in the garage wasn’t working well so they opted for the inside kitchen oven.
Sharon said, “This show is giving the chance for people to see what they can do with local resources. You can take one deer and do so much with it. We used canned meat for our recipe to show how versatile things like venison, rabbit squirrel can be. Hopefully this will inspire more young people to go hunt and realize what a fun sport it is and you can live from it too. Casey gave us this opportunity to showcase how Chenango County is doing things. I love the show idea, it’s really great.”
Another family showcased on the Wild Cooks Kitchen series was the family of Pastor J. Fischer who pastors at Faith Baptist Taburnacal in Sherburne. His family was informed of the show by a church member and because Pastor J. loves to cook, he decided to go for it.
Pastor J. said, “As far as protein goes, we eat 90 to 95percent of our food comes from animals that we have some level of relationship with whether it’s hunting or growing chickens, getting beef or pork from people we know, we have a network of friends that do all of this stuff and we do trade offs and such.”
“Being filmed while cooking was pretty interesting as I had never done that before and we got the kids involved in it too. Casey and I were having a lot of dialogue so it didn’t really feel like I had a camera stuck in my face,” he added.
“Possibly the hardest thing was coming up with something to cook like I felt like it was different, something special. I wanted to do something that most people I know would say, I don’t think i would have thought of doing that recipe with that animal. I decided on a Dijon rabbit recipe,” said Pastor J.
“Anything that highlights a community thats really down home, very much people that are in touch with the land, I don’t think is a bad thing. My wife and i moved to Sherburne from Buffalo and found it to be a lot like home. This community is in touch with the land, whether it’s farming or hunting and has thats the very thing thats core to our souls and rejoiced around,” he added.
Pastor J. explained that if Casey asked me tomorrow, to cook again for the show, he would definitely do it again, mostly because he likes to cook. His heart was broken because he didn’t have any waterfowl on hand to cook for him as that would have been the thing he would have liked to highlight. His son and daughter also love to hunt waterfowl.
He said, “My wife, Erin, is not a hunter as it wasn’t her culture yet the show highlights my wife walking into this environment with me when we got married and seeing the benefit of being able to procure meat that’s hormone free and we can safely say we know it’s from field to the frying pan. It became very beneficial for her and our family.”
“JJ, Grace, and Justice were all very involved during the shoot. Unfortunately, our little daughter Joy is missing from the show as she had dance class during the filming,” he added.
Casey Slade is a former resident of Norwich and his dad, Charles A. Smith was the President of Victory Markets/ Great American and had a hand in most everything in Norwich. His grandfather was the first president of the YMCA and also helped build the Methodist Church.
“I learned to hunt on West Hill, behind my house. I got my first rabbit up there and tasted my first rabbit before I tasted venison. I love to cook and create but here’s the thing, I wanted to make a cooking show but selfishly for the reason that I love to eat all of this stuff. I wasn't thinking I would be the host, I don’t like being in front of the camera, I like to be behind the camera. I like to work, build, create. I like logistics, challenges of location, working around the sun light but I ended up being the host,” he added.
“I’ve been in the entertainment business my entire life. I attended college in Delhi but left to further my interests in music and enrolled in the Music Business Institute (MBI) but still wanted to learn hands on, get into the industry and start working,” said Slade.
“When I went to LA in the 80's, my first job there was at a recording studio called West Oak Recorders. They were sharing a roof with another studio called 41B. There was competition between the studios but I learned more in the first two to three months of actively working in a recording studio then I did at a year and a half at sound school,” he added.
“Slade said, “Great American Enterprises will not only be about entertainment as it’s more of an umbrella which will hold many different LLC’s ; different portfolios. I have many interests and the company will continue to grow.”
The big plan is beginning with laying the foundation by creating a new experience and bringing hands on 'how to' of film making into Chenango County, specifically Norwich. He hopes to train film in all facets of film production while supporting an avenue for generational wealth, giving people a reason to stay in the area.
He's scouting out buildings in the local area that will offer sufficient space for equipment and open space to create his next two written features and television show. Also, possibly he'll create a food pop up that offers recipes from his show.
His next cooking shoot will be on the west coast just outside of Fresno where the cook raises pheasants, quail, and wild turkeys.