It’s been a strange road to stardom for Adam Gertler, the 31-year-old actor/cook who, in just four years, went from executive chef of the Smoked Joint on Locust Street to a finalist on The Next Food Network Star and now hosts his own show, Will Work For Food, where he explores the world’s little-known food jobs. Gertler is an L.A. guy these days, but as he explained, without Philadelphia — the illegal meat shack, the angry neighbors, and the inspiration to sing a dirty jingle to Martha Stewart — he might still be waiting tables.
What happened to your barbecue restaurant, the Smoked Joint? We were good cooks, but there were so many first-timer mistakes. We couldn’t fit the giant smoker we had into the restaurant. We had a small one, but every time we fired it up, we’d catch hell from the Academy House. We had what we called our “compound” in Roxborough, placed the huge smoker on a concrete slab, then built a shed around it and cut a hole for the chimney.
So you were importing smoked meat from an illegal shack across town? It was the food equivalent of a meth lab. Exactly! A meth lab might have lasted longer. It wouldn’t have produced the smell that got the police and fire departments involved. The neighbors just went crazy. It was fun to just be extremely calm with people who were losing their shit.
Were those folks satisfied when it closed and you ended up waiting tables at Amada? [laughs] Probably. I didn’t have the zeal to cook. I didn’t even cook eggs. I was just done.
On The Next Food Network Star, the turning point for you was when you sang to Martha Stewart. Was that an act of desperation? Oh yeah. I was not blowing them away with my food. I knew we had a guest that night, but I didn’t know it was Martha Stewart. I wrote this blues jingle for my barbecue rub, and I’m thinking, If this is how I go home, so be it. I altered the lyrics so I didn’t say “honey baby” to Martha Stewart. It was bad enough I’m saying “I rub it on, I smoke it long” to Martha Stewart.
Afterward, did Martha tell you to make sure you don’t come within 500 feet of her? She seemed to take it well [on the episode], but I remember the look on her face being much more terrified. She did give us all cookbooks, though.
What were you planning to do if you didn’t end up with a TV show? Back to acting? More illicit smoking ventures? I didn’t know what else I would do, but the network called me while The Next Food Network Star was still airing. We had a viewing party at North 3rd for the final episode, and by then I knew that I had my own show, but I wasn’t allowed to tell people. So I said, “I have to leave, I can’t tell you where I’m going, but it’s a good thing.” Three days later, we started shooting.
Were there ideas for Will Work For Food that were too extreme for the Food Network? It’s tough to find the line. The network is wholesome; all the shows are for every audience. Prison chef did not make the cut. Foie gras preparer did not make the cut.
Is there a job you’d never do again? Working on the oyster boat in Louisiana. A sack of oysters weighs between 100 and 120 pounds. Hauling those and stacking them five high — it was the one time I was like, “When are we done with this?”
Are you getting any crazy fan mail? “Love your show. Here’s a photo of me wearing nothing but guacamole.” Exactly! The offers you get are enough to make one blush. One girl posted on my Facebook wall saying she wants me to show her around L.A., and because I have a girlfriend, no one has to know. I deleted it. Then she sends a long diatribe about how I was leading her on, my girlfriend was a tramp, fame is fleeting — it was like, whoa!
So what was the fate of the illegal smoker? We were planning on cooking for thousands of people at Live 8 and saving the business. People, whose names won’t be mentioned, smoked the pork and put it in coolers while it was still warm, not knowing the coolers also keep heat inside. Pork held at a warm temperature for days equals not very good. So we lost thousands of dollars, and the banks repossessed it. I’d love to know where that smoker ended up.