Season 8 of KQED's Check, Please! Bay Area will premiere April 11 on KQED 9. This locally-produced program features regular Bay Area residents reviewing and talking about their favorite restaurants. Leslie Sbrocco has been the host for the entire series and in this Bay Area Bites interview we get a closer look at who she is and what goes on behind the clinking wine glasses.
What do viewers have to look forward to in Check, Please! Bay Area's new season 8?
More fun and guest fireworks, more wine tips, which we launched last season, and restaurants that you've never heard of but deserve attention.
Can you briefly share what your background is in the wine and food industry and why you think you were selected to host Check, Please! Bay Area?
My background before coming to Check, Please! Bay Area as host was (and still is) in the wine and drinks industry. I helped create the website about wine for the New York Times Company more than a decade ago, which really kicked off my wine career. I have written two books about wine (Wine for Women and The Simple & Savvy Wine Guide), I am a wine consultant who has worked with Virgin America Airlines, Kimpton Hotels, Harry & David among other companies, a wine educator and speaker who travels the globe speaking to thousands about wine, drinks and food, a regular on numerous national television programs such as NBC's Today show, and the co-founder of ThirstyGirl.com.
I was contacted before the first season to come in and audition after someone had seen my wine segments on a PBS cooking show. And, as they say, the rest is history.
How has being the host of Check, Please! Bay Area for 8 years affected your career?
It's been a terrific part of my career! I get recognized quite a lot now and when I do people profess their love of the show. I love it.
Do you eat at all the restaurants on the show?
I visit nearly all the restaurants. With three on each show I aim to eat at two of them. As I live in the Sonoma area, I must admit I don't always make it to the South Bay or far East Bay spots, but I've put plenty of miles on my car during seven seasons. Usually I bring friends or family with me as I just try to sample the food not eat whole dishes. I like to talk to the chefs, the sommeliers and wine directors and get a feel for the place. Now that the show has become so popular most of the restaurants recognize me, but by the time I get there the guests have already visited the spot anonymously so it's no big deal.
What's the hardest thing about doing the show?
I don't get to give my opinion. You should see how hard it is sometimes when I think the guest is saying something totally off base or outrageous. I'm smiling but really thinking, "Are they crazy?" But, my job is to keep the conversation moving. We only have one go at the show so what you see is pretty much live. I'm taking time cues from the director and have to make sure we hit all of the timing. It's fast-paced but everyone who has been on has wanted to come back and do it again. They have a great time and so do I.
The structure of Check, Please! Bay Area is fairly formulaic -- what are your fantasies about an episode that would break the mold?
As I said above, the hardest part for me is not giving my opinion on the restaurants. I'd LOVE to actually be my wild, opinionated self who shows a little more cleavage, drinks wine with the guests (maybe do the occasional shot of tequila) and generally be less controlled. That would be fun, but don't think it's going to happen.
What are the questions people ask you most?
How do I get on the show is number one, then the next is, "are you really drinking wine?" Yes. The vast majority of our guests have never been on television and so it's my job to make it a comfortable, fun and easy experience. I'd like to think I'm good at doing all those things but gotta say...the wine helps. When they drink the glasses we fill them back up so it looks the same. We've only had a couple guests who were slightly over-served. And, if they don't drink wine, you'll see juice, water, and even the occasional beer on the table.
What are some other "insider" fun facts about the show?
When we first started doing the show my producer had a hell of a time editing because my hands were in every shot. (I married an Italian, but everyone claims I move my hands like one, too.) After season one we modified the table to put on a Leslie "nipple," which is an extra curved part of the table that juts out to keep me slightly separated from the guests so I'm not hitting them with my hands all the time. I've only knocked one glass of wine on a guest this season with my expressive hands. It was white so we were cool, though.
When people meet you, what is the first thing they say?
You're so tall! I get it all the time. I'm 5' 10" and usually wear heels. Viewers are used to seeing me sit down so they think I'm shorter and many people who are on television are actually much smaller in person. (Secret -- We also put quite a few of the guests up on cushions so that the height is evened out.) I always joke that I'd love people to meet me and say, "You're so much younger and thinner in person," but I usually get the tall comment first. Last event I did, however, a husband and wife came up to me and said they were huge fans of the show and noted how much "prettier" I was in person. I was very flattered, gave them a hug, then slipped them a $20 bill.
What are you like off camera?
I like to think I'm the same, but I'm definitely a little crazier and even more gregarious in person. I've had friends say they watch me on the show and call it "Leslie Lite" because I tend to be more of a comedian in person. I try to keep my racy mouth in check, too, when doing the show except between takes when my bawdy humor takes over.
You have a tattoo on your leg. what's the story?
I wanted a tattoo for the last few years and I knew it would be glass of rose champagne -- my favorite wine. I had three criteria when it came to getting a tat: first, my tattoo had to be done by a terrific artist; second, it had to be in a place I could cover up; and most importantly, it had to be in a place that didn't sag (I'm not 21 you know). So, I decided the back of my leg was the perfect spot. I was going to get it done locally then my publicist got a call about me appearing on the TV show LA INK. So, I packed up my pink bubbly and my legs and headed to Los Angeles where I got inked. It turned out to be bigger and more colorful than I thought, but now I love it. My motto after all is "life, drink it up!"
Here are some of Leslie's favorite pink sparklers:
Value (under $20)
Graham Beck Brut Rose Sparkling Wine, South Africa
Mont-Ferrant Rose Brut Cava, Spain
Domaine Ste. Michelle Rose, Columbia Valley, Washington
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs, Sonoma County, California
Mirabelle by Schramsberg, Napa Valley, California
JCB N°69 Brut Rose Cremant de Bourgogne, France
Splurges (over $25)
Moet et Chandon Brut Rose, Champagne France
Laurent-Perrier Champagne, France
Paul Georg "Premier Cru" Brut, Champagne, France
Roederer Estate "L'Ermitage" Brut, Anderson Valley, California
Iron Horse Brut Rose, Green Valley, Sonoma County, California