- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

Marc Silverstein is trying to tune out the sounds of the chatting customers, scraping spatulas and sizzling food of the Florida Ave. Grill. He is concentrating on arranging a plate of fried eggs and bacon strips so that it will appear more appetizing on camera.

Working in crowded and noisy restaurants and telling an eatery’s story while trying to stay out of the way of the staff and the regular customers is Mr. Silverstein’s job as co-host of the Food Network’s traveling show, “The Best Of.”

He has been doing the program for more than four years with co-host Jill Cordes. Although technically co-hosts, the pair maintain separate filming schedules. When they do get together, “We get along fabulously,” says Mr. Silverstein, 44.

“The Best Of” visits five cities in 30 minutes for each show, featuring themes such as “Neighborhood Nifties,” “Divine Desserts” and “Hip Hot Spots.”

Each 31/2- to five-minute segment, like the “Fried Sides” segment filmed at the Florida Ave. Grill, can take up to five hours to shoot.

“What we try to accomplish is to get the story of the restaurant — what makes the place tick, what makes it interesting,” he says. “We try to get the flavor of the place.”

The Florida Ave. Grill has been serving up its Southern-style soul food since 1944, and has fed generations of politicians, celebrities and athletes.

Filming is especially challenging inside the narrow diner, so Mr. Silverstein and “The Best Of” crew have to position their equipment in between the counter and the tables, always careful to not get in any customer’s way.

The extra lights brought by the cameraman end up inches from the ceiling fans, and other equipment is scattered among the few empty booths.

Pictures of the diner’s famous patrons line the walls, including everyone from former Attorney General Janet Reno to Oscar winner Denzel Washington.

Strategically placing himself between the photos of Chris Rock and Queen Latifah, Mr. Silverstein and his crew are finally ready to start the first take.

“Chris Rock was here not too long ago,” he says in his on-air voice, well practiced from years of TV news. “He had the smothered chicken, collard greens, and the macaroni and cheese.

“And Queen Latifah? She had the turkey bacon breakfast, with a second order of turkey bacon,” he says, winking at the camera as he lifts up the plate.

There’s a lot of downtime at each restaurant, and much of Mr. Silverstein’s day is spent waiting for food to be ready, for customers to arrive or for the next shot to be set up.

Between takes, Mr. Silverstein tastes the turkey bacon and says it’s “not bad,” offering the food to the rest of the crew.

Mr. Silverstein has eaten all types of food in cities of all sizes across the country. The show will visit its 50th state when it travels to Oklahoma in January.

After graduating with a degree in broadcast journalism from American University in 1987, Mr. Silverstein spent almost a decade working as a reporter, first at WSYX-TV in Columbus, Ohio, and then at WMAR-TV in Baltimore.

As a consumer advocate in Baltimore, he received several Emmy nominations and won an Emmy for specialty reporting.

He then came to the Food Network in early 1999 after a brief stint as a free-lance reporter covering Washington for a local NBC station.

“It was a great opportunity and an interesting challenge,” Mr. Silverstein says. “It was a new thing for the Food Network at the time — it was their first traveling show.”

He travels about once every three weeks for five to six days at a time.

Though all the traveling takes its toll on his family, Mr. Silverstein says that the most difficult part of his job is also one of its biggest perks: the free, and often very unhealthy, food.

“The hardest thing is trying to fit into my clothes,” he says.

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