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A Gourmet Operation

In the kitchen with show host Allan Shewchuck and Dr. Richard Hu

By day he’s an orthopedic surgeon at Calgary’s Foothills Hospital. At night he’s a chef and television producer. Now Dr. Richard Hu has combined all these passions. And the result is an eight-part cooking show launched March 23, 2004 on the Canadian Learning Channel.

The show Close to the Bone: Surgeons and Chefs has an unusual premise: surgeons cooking cuts of meat they normally see in a much different environment. For example, a thoracic surgeon cooks pork ribs, a knee surgeon cooks a joint of lamb and an urologist cooks beef kidneys and testicles. The idea for the show was cooked up by Dr. Richard Hu, B.Med.Sc.’83, MD ’84.

Though he started cooking as a child, Dr. Hu never had any formal training in the kitchen. But that never dulled the edge of his passion for interesting food. “I've always enjoyed a good meal, as many of my friends will attest,” he says.

“Then, a few years ago I was watching cooking TV shows and thought the chefs seemed very familiar. They were really passionate about the food they were preparing and most seemed to be sticklers for detail.” It was then he reached the surprising conclusion that surgeons and chefs are quite similar in their outlook on life: long periods of training, striving for good results and making sure that things run smoothly in their own worlds. These were all commonalities that he felt made them similar.

“The opportunity to bring these two worlds together and to produce an informative and interesting TV show seemed like an exciting goal. And after that,” shrugs Dr. Hu, “it wasn't a big leap to having surgeons talk about anatomy and combining that with cooking on television.”

The set he conceived for the show is designed along the lines of an operating room - a kitchen with drapes, an X-ray view, books and instruments used for spinal, hip and knee surgery.

When he approached other doctors to be on the show, their initial reaction was that he was joking. “I suspect that my general humorous nature fooled them into believing that this was another of my hare-brained semi-thought-out ideas. But when I actually asked them to commit time and showed them the set, as well as the camera crew etc., they realized that this was the real deal.” Each show presents two recipes and includes a visit to the butcher who describes the anatomy of the animal destined for the pot or the grill.

The reaction to his concept from patients, friends and colleagues was very good, but the reception from the television networks was "less good.” He tried to get people interested in broadcasting the show in Newfoundland and Labrador by calling NTV and ASN. “No one wanted to talk to me about the show. I have never had so much rejection since my experiences at the Saturday night dances in junior high.”

But persistence is part of the recipe for getting any show on the air. Finally Dr Hu was able to convince Canadian Learning Television to nibble on his idea. They agreed to air the eight episodes.

Dr. Hu said people have told him that some of the more "different" recipes were not things that they would cook or eat. “However, that's true of things such as broccoli too,” says Dr. Hu, whose own contribution to the on-air feast is oxtail daube (a dish slowly braised in red wine) and an alligator-tail rice pilau.

In retrospect, Dr. Hu said he thinks that the concept is a little ahead of its time. He believes the major networks will eventually see the attractiveness of this show. “Now, I have mothers of optometrists calling me to put their sons on TV to cook sheep eyeballs. It was so easy when all I did was surgery!”

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