Only in the School of Communication’s Studio C on select Thursday nights can a student host, a UM alumnus and a celebrity chef convene for an old-fashioned “cook-off” on Off the Wire, UM’s late-night comedy show.
A sector of UMTV, Off the Wire calls itself “a social experiment in late-night comedy” and is a hybrid of digital sketches and local guest appearances.
The student-run show taped its 99th episode during Homecoming Week with two special guest appearances: the creator of the show, Spencer Weinkle, and “Top Chef Masters” finalist Lorena Garcia.
Executive producers Sarah Barenberg and Gretchen Schroeder, who have been working on the show since their freshman years, adapted the usual lineup to incorporate the guests. This episode included a cooking segment with Garcia, in which both Weinkle and current Off the Wire host Paul Napoli tasted and felt various foods while blindfolded.
“Lorena has a good personality to have on the show,” Barenberg said. “She actually gave us a new idea for the cooking segment, and we incorporated it.”
According to content producer Rachel Hyman, who books the guests for the show, Garcia is one of the most high-profile appearances Off the Wire has had, and she decided to come free of charge.
“I was making phone calls and looking for bigger names, when I watched Top Chef and saw that Lorena was from Miami,” Hyman said. “I then pitched the idea, and she got back to us. That never really happens.”
Garcia is a renowned Venezuelan chef who has her flagship traveler’s restaurant in Miami and a second in Atlanta. She also appeared as a guest chef on the season finale of Bravo’s “Top Chef All-Stars” and competed in season four’s “Top Chef Masters.”
Garcia was excited to be on Off the Wire to share her experiences and participate in the cook-off.
“It is fantastic to be on the show,” she said. “Every time I can support and be a part of the new generation’s goals is great.”
Sophomore Michael Rodriguez, who sat in the audience for three show tapings last year, could not believe Garcia was on the show.
“It is one of the best episodes,” he said. “The cooking show with Lorena was definitely the best part.”
Before confusing rosemary with cumin and chicken with salmon, Napoli and Weinkle performed a routine where the two repeated phrases at the same time, trying to overstep each other as the Off the Wire host.
As Off the Wire’s latest host, Napoli continues the legacy that Weinkle began in 2003 when he created the show as a freshman.
“I never thought of 100 episodes,” Weinkle said. “I thought of how to do episode one.”
Weinkle praised the efforts of the show’s current group. He said he was impressed by the students’ dedication.
“They eat, live and breathe it every day,” Weinkle said. “The people you’re seeing today have incredible skill and will become the national stars for tomorrow.”
These national stars-in-training include writers, producers and directors that meet during the weeks that the show is not being taped. They plan content, create jokes and organize rehearsals. Megan Rico, a head writer, said that collaboration is what helps generate jokes and ideas.
Rico said she hopes to work with the rest of the Off the Wire team to promote the show to attract more students to attend the show.
“It would be nice to pack the studio once in a while,” she said. “If they come once, we’re pretty sure they’ll come back and see it.”