We tracked down the guy who's been trolling daytime TV shows across America, by pretending to be a chef whose speciality is sprucing up holiday leftovers.
During one of my recent, daily adventures inside the internet’s ever-growing catalog of viral YouTube videos (I live a hard life), I stumbled across a montage of a chef named Keith, who clearly had no idea what he was doing, demonstrating his utter lack of cooking skills on a variety of daytime TV shows. It’s clear from watching Chef Keith at work that the man is a troll of the most masterful magnitude. After watching his cavalcade of pranks a dozen times in a row, while laughing to the point of nearly throwing up, I hunted down the culprit behind Chef Keith—who turned out to be a friendly New Yorker, by way of Wisconsin, who goes by the name of Nick Prueher. I had to know first-hand how a guy like Nick was able to go on so many talk shows, and not crack a smile, while the hosts rolled with the punches, and consumed his culinary abominations.
VICE: How did the whole character of Chef Keith come about? Was there any inspiration behind it?
Nick/Chef Keith: I guess the main thing was that my friend Joe and I were really bored, so we were trying to think of something fun to do when we were back visiting our parents in Wisconsin over Thanksgiving and Christmas. Joe and I run a found footage festival, and occasionally when we’re promoting it in a new city, we’ll go do a morning TV show. They’re always just the worst. Basically, we find old VHS tapes at thrift stores and garage sales—things like exercise and training videos and home movies—and we watch them all, and pick out the parts that make us laugh. We put them into digestible chunks and the show is a live 90-minute comedy show of a guided tour through our video collection. This is the ten-year anniversary of the show, actually.
Anyway, we hate doing these morning shows. They’re always filmed before the sun comes up, and who knows who the hell is watching these shows. I don’t know anyone who does. It really makes you question the value of it.
The other thing is, no matter what you’re talking about, nobody is listening. They get the name of the show wrong, they don’t even understand what it is. We realized how easy it is to get on these shows. They all have 90 minutes to fill every morning, so we thought what a slam dunk it would be to get booked while we're home over the holidays. Often, when we’d do morning shows there was a chef on before us making some seasonal treat, so we figured we’d make up this chef who had written a book on how to spruce up your boring holiday leftovers. We just thought how could they say no to that? Then we mocked up a book cover called Leftovers Right: Making A Winner of Last Night’s Dinner. We also made up some fun facts about Chef Keith that he’s a rock n’ roll chef, he owns a place called the Milk House Cafe, he owns a French bulldog named Rollins, his motto is “Live, Rock, Eat,” and he has a tattoo that says it, too. We just made up this stupid character. I drew the short straw and had to play this guy once stations started saying yes.
Isn’t it kind of weird the network’s producers didn’t do a background check on you at all?
I guess it is. A quick Google search would’ve shown there’s no such thing as the Milk House Café, or that I’ve never been on the Marie Osmond Show, or a regular guest on Queen Latifah. They probably should’ve asked for video or a web link or something. There’s no book on Amazon, either. It’s hard to blame them too much, because these small market stations are probably run by recent college graduates, and there’s, like, three people running the station—so, why not? It’s an easy ten-minute segment for them.
Three years ago, we had our friend Mark play a yo-yo expert named Kenny Strasser, who was promoting environmentalism through yo-yoing at various schools. We told them he would give them a demonstration and how he could yo-yo like no other, with a positive message, and whatever city we would be in for our festival we would tell the station that’s where he’s from. So, we had this local hero angle. How could they say no to that? We got booked on seven morning stations as this yo-yo guy, but the thing about it is Mark can’t yo-yo at all. Actually, I don’t think he can even make it come back up. We made up this dark past for him to talk about, like that he was living in the gutter on drugs, and other ways for him to avoid actually doing a yo-yo trick on TV, like cutting the string so that when he did [try and yo-yo] it would just fly off. He showed up in a sling one time and said he forgot to bring his yo-yo. We couldn’t believe how well it worked out. So we made a website for him and took some promotional photos and made up all these awards that he won. At least we made the effort of making a website so if people checked into it they could see he had a presence. With Chef Keith, we were like, screw it they’re not going to check.
How do you even get on these shows? Do you just cold call them and they book you?
We would just go on their website and find their email address, then we would contact the show with a pitch saying ‘Chef Keith has a signing for his new book at Barnes and Noble, he would love to come on and make some delicious holiday treats for you.’ I think it was difficult for them to say no to that.
Wow. How many shows have you been on as Chef Keith?
Out of the ten requests we sent, seven said yes, so that’s a pretty good batting average. Two of them were conflicting, so we had to pick and choose—but we could’ve done seven if they were spaced out differently.
So, do you actually have any experience with cooking?
No. Not at all. I mostly eat out. I live in New York, so I’m pretty spoiled with restaurant options. I can make pasta, but that’s about it.
Shout outs to Chef Boyardee.
Yeah, that’s basically the extent of it. I know how to boil noodles and pour stuff on it.
Did the hosts say anything to you after the show? They seemed pretty confused what was happening.
They just had to roll with the punches. You kind of have to admire it. I would make up fake facts; like that there’s statistics that say because of meat consumption, Americans eat over a pound and a half of feces a year, and they would just be like: “Wow, that is really shocking.” I think it’s that whole attitude of, you’re on TV, and you don’t want to ruffle any feathers, because people are watching and drinking their morning coffee. So, a total weirdo comes on their show, and they have to soften the sharp edges as best as they can and not draw attention to it. They just plowed forward, and four out of five hosts would eat the gross food I prepared. The same food that we were gagging making in my parents’ kitchen, just pouring gravy into a milk jug; and an hour later someone’s eating it on air.
Do you ever second-guess yourself going on these shows? Like do you ever feel like they’re on to you, and they know what they’re in for?
No, that never entered into my mind. I’ve second guessed myself. Like, I’d be in the car before the sun came up in the parking lot outside the station preparing a dish using the light next to my rear view mirror to line up cranberries on a turkey leg and think, man I gotta go in there and ruin somebody’s day, or know that I have to go in and knock over a table. In terms of them catching on, I was nervous for a little bit, but the second I was on and confident. I was okay. Even the most outrageous stuff, like knocking over the table, they were apologizing to me and saying like: “Hey, if anything, more people will come out to your book signing because they’ll want to see what you’re all about, and thanks for coming on!”
Now that the video has gone viral, is this the unfortunate end of Chef Keith because everyone knows what he’s up to?
Yeah, it would probably have to evolve and do something else. When we did the yo-yo guy a few years ago, we thought we would never be able to do another news prank again because people will have their radar up. There’s a pretty short memory in daytime TV circles. I think we just got in at a time where there’s very little scrutiny about chef segments and we have big ideas for next year. We just have to let it die down a little bit. We’re continuously surprised at how much we can get away with.
Looking forward to that. What was your favourite moment on a show as Chef Keith?
The funniest thing to me was (and it was the only time I ever came close to laughing during a show) was when I was in my car preparing what I call a ‘hand turkey sandwich,’ which is one of those hand turkeys you make in grade school where you trace your hand. So, I had two pieces of flatbread, and I got the anchor to trace her hand on the bread using sharpies. Then I said to her, ‘Make sure to cut in the lines because this marker is toxic. You just kind of have to line it up with turkey and gravy and you’ve got yourself a hand turkey sandwich.’ In the car, I prepared this extra sloppy one where you could see a ton of marker all over the flatbread with this pathetic display of turkey in between, just competely falling apart, and we stabbed it with a bunch of toothpicks saying it was eyes and feathers. After I show her how to make it, I’m like, “OK, let’s see the finished product!” And I pull out the pre-made sandwich I made in the car and it just looked pitiful, but they had this nice beauty shot of it from overhead. I looked over at the monitor and saw how sad that sandwich looked—compared to other chefs who come on, and have this beautiful spread of their finished meal with some mint garnish on the side. I forgot to get her to try the sandwich, but it would’ve fallen apart instantly if she tried to eat it.
That’s incredible. Are there any recipes Chef Keith can give the readers of VICE to try at home?
Yeah, sure. You can try to make your own turbo gravy. Take all your leftovers from your big holiday meal—ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, cranberries, 2 percent milk, or for a heart healthy recipe you can try skim, and put it all in a blender. Blend it, then pour it on your leftovers so you’re kind of cannibalizing your leftovers. The best part about this is you can put six-eight meals in a single milk jug and have that sitting in your fridge. Put the date on with a magic marker and have that to spruce up any of your leftovers.
Can’t wait to give that a try. Thanks, Nick.
You can learn more about Nick’s Found Footage Festival on the internet. It rolls through Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary this year.