A taste of TV fame

Screen Rothesay girl makes professional debut in the first food show aimed at children.

In the age of celebrity chefs, the 100-mile diet and a global food crisis, we are more interested than ever in what we eat. And market research shows that adults aren’t the only ones hungry for culinary programming: kids are watching the Food Network along with their parents in record numbers.

TV executive Mark Bishop with Rothesay’s Anneke van der Laan, who plays Safety Elf on the children’s cooking show ‘Taste Buds,’ which premieres in September.

They have to. Despite the soaring popularity of kitchen-based programming, there are no food shows targeted at kids, says Rothesay native Mark Bishop, a Toronto-based TV executive.

That will change this fall, when Taste Buds, a food adventure series aimed at children aged seven to 10, premieres Sept. 1 at 5 p.m. EST on TVOKids, Knowledge Network, Access Alberta and SCN. In New Brunswick, the show will only be able to be viewed online (www.tastebudstv.com). The show was created by marblemedia, the company Bishop cofounded in the late ’90s that has created a number of award-winning children’s TV series, including the hit This Is Daniel Cook and its spin-off This Is Emily Yeung.

Taste Buds is off to a strong start: it has already been picked up for a second season, even though the first episode doesn’t air until the fall.

Despite this hunger for youthful food programming, Bishop says “the safety factor” has deterred producers in the past.

“The challenge is to present safety in a fun and lighthearted way,” he says during a recent interview at Kennebecasis Valley High School. For the second year in a row, Bishop had returned to his alma mater (class of ’94) to lead TV workshops at summer camp held by KidSing, a performance group for elementary and middle school students. “We can’t be preachy but we have to be safe.”

So when marblemedia began developing the concept for Taste Buds a year-and-a-half ago, the cast for the show included Safety Elf, a little character who would pop up in the corner of the screen and speak directly to the kids, letting them know when they should get an adult, warning them that knives are sharp, stoves are hot and some people are allergic to pine nuts.

Problem was, casting calls in Toronto weren’t turning up the right pint-sized performer to play Safety Elf.

It was at the first KidSing camp he took part in that Bishop found the solution to his dilemma.

Anneke van der Laan, a chirpy, articulate 11-year-old from Rothesay, has the infectious laugh, warm personality and friendly face Bishop had been looking for.

“Certain kids you meet have a natural spark,” he says. “When you see it, you know it.” When he met van der Laan, “I just saw this little ball of talent that is just bursting with energy,” he says.

Convinced he had found his Safety Elf, Bishop asked Casey Yerxa, KidSing director and choreographer, to tape a screen test with van der Laan that he could show to the other producers. They were as wowed with the gregarious brunette as Bishop was. In March, van der Laan and her mother flew to Toronto for filming.

Her first day on the set, van der Laan went for a costume fitting.

“It was not a very good fit,” she says of her bright yellow and black chef’s suit. “It was huge! I could fit four of me in it.”

The next day she returned to the set for hair and makeup, before filming Safety Elf’s 28 warnings.

She may have been new to the soundstage, but she already knew her way around the kitchen.

“I help my dad cook almost every night,” she says, chopping vegetables or adding milk to soups and sauces.

And while she would consider another opportunity in television, she’s says she’s not dreaming of small screen stardom.

“I want to be a dentist,” she says. “I love going to the dentist.”

She’s got plenty to keep her busy in the meantime.

“I play piano and I dance and I sing and I …” he voice trails off.

“You tell funny jokes,” Bishop says.

“And I tell funny jokes and I make funny faces,” she says. She does just that, squeezing her cheeks between her hands.

Bishop says she regularly cracked up the crew during filming with her arsenal of jokes.

Van der Laan’s not the only local who is part of the show: Saint John songstress Jessica Rhaye was in Toronto earlier this month to record the Taste Buds soundtrack.

Bishop says it was never his intention that his involvement with KidSing turn into an impromptu casting call.

But as the famed tale of Lana Turner’s discovery behind the counter at Schwab’s Drugstore teaches, in the entertainment business “you just never know where things might lead to.”

Although Bishop is not yet a father, “I’m looking forward to having my own little focus group someday.”

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