By Hannah Reich Berman

There is a well-known expression that has been making the rounds for the past several years. People often say it when someone is quite obviously ill-equipped to be doing what he’s doing, such as when someone with a terrible voice decides to sing aloud. This expression often brings a smile to the face of anyone within earshot and it consists of five short words: “Don’t quit your day job!”

Whoever coined that phrase may have had me in mind, as there are any number of things I have attempted that I am clearly unqualified for. I can’t sing to save my life, I’m terrible at being a mediator, I don’t know how to arbitrate, and I’m not too good at judging. Unfortunately, all of these things appeal to me, so I occasionally try my hand at them. I absolutely love to sing, so I do. It’s almost as if I think that one day my voice will miraculously improve. According to my kids, however, it never has improved and it never will! I have also attempted to mediate between two people who are at odds with one another, and I haven’t been a huge success there either. To put it succinctly, I usually fall flat on my face in the process and end up with both parties annoyed at me! Unfortunately that doesn’t stop me from trying to do it again.

A favorite pastime of mine is watching cooking shows on television. I’m not crazy about instructional cooking programs. For starters, I have yet to find a kosher show. Since I don’t get any use out of learning how to create dishes that include pork products, that combine meat and dairy, or that are made with seafood, I generally stay away from the instructional shows. But it is not strictly because of the ingredients that I eschew those programs. There is another reason: I figure that if by this time I don’t know how to cook and bake, there is little point in getting further instruction.

Not that I am above accepting an occasional helpful kitchen hint when I hear one. But I don’t really need lessons in the culinary arts. Still, the Food Network remains a favorite of mine. The types of shows that captivate me, and that I watch incessantly, are the competitions. The Food Network features such varied programs as Chopped, Chopped Canada, Cupcake Wars, Cutthroat Kitchen, Guy’s Grocery Games, and a host of others. I also love Throwdown and, the newest show to hit the boob tube, Beat Bobby Flay. All of these are contests between hopefuls who, if they come out a winner, get a big boost in their respective businesses as well as a cash price totaling anywhere between 10,000 and 50,000 smackers, depending on the show. The format is pretty much the same. The details and the gimmicks differ, but in each program, there are three rounds of cooking or baking, and one contestant is eliminated after each round. The last person standing is the winner. Makes sense!

But being a spectator can get tedious. Possibly for that reason, every now and then I feel that I am actually a participant. Since the power of suggestion is strong, the result is that when I watch competitions I make my own determination about which contestant should win. I not only talk to myself, I also talk to the television screen. I cheer on the contestants and I often insult the integrity of the judges by challenging their decisions. I get annoyed when I think that the judging committee, consisting of three professional chefs, has made an incorrect decision about who should stay and who has to go.

The fact that these judges, and not I, are the ones tasting the food should be enough to deter me from making a decision. But it does not. In some ways, I am like the men who scream at referees during a televised sporting event. It is of little consequence to the viewer that his vantage point is not as clear as the one that the referees have. Nor does he care that not a soul on the court, on the field, or in the ring (depending on which sporting event it is) can hear a word he is saying. And the sports referees, like the food judges, wouldn’t care about what the viewer had to say even if they could hear him.

Nevertheless, I feel qualified to make a ruling. To be candid, my ruling is sometimes based directly on the comments made by the judges. So when they tear into a contestant and make withering criticisms to him, as well as to one another, about the dish that was presented and then they turn around, eliminate a different contestant from the competition, and keep the one they criticized, I get annoyed.

For some reason, it escapes me that this “reality” program is not reality at all. It’s a show, so the participants have to give the viewers their money’s worth. Clearly, these professional chefs are better suited than I to disqualify contestants and to eventually declare a winner. Now and then, when I argue with the judge’s decision (I argue with myself, really, since they can’t hear me), I expect one of them to look through the screen, directly at me, and say, “Hannah, we got it. We know who the winner is. And, by the way, don’t quit your day job!”

Between my singing, my occasional attempts at mediation, and my so-called judging skills, I’m beginning to think that the phrase was coined with me in mind. That’s the way it is! v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.


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