Former SUNY Fredonia student to join MTV reality show

When Harrison Bader, a former SUNY Fredonia student, came across an application for MTV’s “House of Food,” he applied on a whim. Bader was a few weeks into the spring semester of his junior year, taking classes like any other twenty-something. He never thought he would actually be chosen to be a contestant on the show.

“I found the application online randomly one day and I figured ‘why not?’ I had nothing to lose. So I sent in the application, and I started callbacks for different stages of the process,” Bader said. “And I got the show and it was just so cool.”

The 22-year-old Suffern native attended Fredonia for journalism and focused on broadcast television. It was his love of food, though, that landed him his spot on the program.

“House of Food” premiered Monday and is MTV’s newest reality show and its first food show. Think of it as a version of “The Real World” combined with “Top Chef;” eight conceited amateur chefs thrown together in a Los Angeles mansion to face off in weekly challenges. Each week, the contestants learn a new culinary technique, until the end where one winner will receive an apprenticeship with one of the three L.A. chefs who are mentors on the show.

“I’ve always loved food. And I had a passion for food, and I had a passion for TV. And to be given the opportunity to combine both of them was just a dream come true,” Bader said.

Talk of Bader’s appearance on the show started circulating around Fredonia in early fall, shortly after he withdrew from the college. However, Monday’s premiere had the audience staring at the TV screen, confused and on their toes. As the cast was introduced, there was no sign of Bader.

The first episode pit contestants against each other in a challenge to “show off their personalities on a plate,” and to create “the most perfect pasta.” After taking grueling criticism, this week’s winner was given the opportunity to act as executive chef of one of the judge’s personal restaurants – still no sign of Bader.

Fifty minutes into the show, one of the contestants, Amanda Shaw, made a confession she would soon regret: she didn’t really want to be a chef and she was only there for the experience. At the end of the episode, the judges threatened Shaw, saying she could be replaced if she didn’t value her time with the program . . . could this be Bader’s chance to slide in?

It wasn’t until the show ended and the preview to the second episode that we caught a first glimpse of Bader – girl in one arm and cooking towel in the other.

At Fredonia, Bader was involved with the student run television station, WNYF-TV, where he anchored the weekly newscast, Eyewitness News and was a frequent guest on others. His interest for cooking, though, started at a very young age. Bader said “House of Food” gave him the chance to apply skills he’s worked on his whole life.

“I grew up around food, and my father owned a few delis and restaurants throughout my life, so I’ve always been in the kitchen and always been in that atmosphere. And family dinners were always a big thing at my house. Food was just always a constant in my life and something that I just loved and just always wanted to pursue a career in it,” he said.

Bader’s “House of Food” gig only lasts for so long, and therefore isn’t quite the career he’s looking for. It did, however, open his eyes to new options. As for his future, he’s not sure returning to Fredonia is the right thing for him.

“Going through this experience, it definitely made me realize how much i love cooking – being in the kitchen and the passion I have for it. That drives me every day so I definitely want to focus on cooking right now and perfecting my craft, Bader said. “And maybe down the road, if TV is an opportunity, I would definitely consider that. But right now, food is my focus.”

Although Bader’s target isn’t on journalism anymore, he credits Fredonia for a large part of his success. Fredonia, he says, is a big reason why he knew how to carry himself on TV.

“(Being at Fredonia) was an amazing experience. That helped me be who I was on the show and helped me be who I am today. I learned a lot when I was there. Even though it was short, I learned a lot in that short time,” Bader said.

However, being an anchor for the school’s TV newscast isn’t exactly the same as being a reality TV star. No amount of anticipation and preparation could have readied him for what he was about to get in to.

“It was everything (I thought it would be) and more,” Bader said. “You go up there, and having been a lover of MTV my whole life and watching all these reality shows, you think you know what it’s going to be about. And then you’re put in that situation and it’s a whole different ball game. It was so cool to experience it. I learned a lot about myself, a lot about others – it was just amazing.”

“House of Food” airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. on MTV.

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