A spectral spin on the culinary reality show
Sibling duo pulls paranormal from the pantry for novel TV concept
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The elevator pitch: local ghost-kitchen purveyors convene in a haunted house to have their cooking judged by a hungry spectre.
Oh, and there are also paranormal experts, familiar monsters and just a hint of bike theft.
It’s a deeply weird, multidimensional concept that a Winnipeg film production company has turned into a very real television series available now on Bell FibeTV.
Ghost Kitchens is a four-part reality cooking competition/supernatural history show created by Folks Films, a studio founded by siblings Laina and Taylor Brown. Pushing the bounds of possibility was a driving force behind the pair’s first foray into entertainment TV.
“Part of the show is: can this really happen?” says cinematographer Laina. “Because it’s so weird.”
The Browns grew up making movies together with their dad’s camcorder. They eventually graduated from filming their Beanie Baby collection to working with human clients. For the last seven years, the brother-sister duo has been shooting everything from weddings and corporate campaigns to music videos and comedy skits.
“We just fell in love with that storytelling medium,” says Taylor, the company’s director. “What we want to do is… experience the world and then show that through film.”
Humour is a big part of the business. The idea for Ghost Kitchens came at the height of the pandemic, when actual ghost kitchens — food businesses without a physical storefront — were popping up all over the city. The crew was brainstorming how to highlight the local scene when scriptwriter Nate Flaman casually mentioned he used to work with a paranormal investigator.
“We were like, ‘Oh yeah, he needs to be a part of this. What if we got him to find a ghost to judge a cooking competition?’” Taylor says. “Then we started getting other people involved, like psychics, ghost historians, ghost kitchens and comedians to pull it all together.”
Pitching the idea to said subjects was another story.
“Whenever I would call someone, they’d be like, ‘OK, I don’t really get it, but I’m interested,” Taylor says with a laugh.
That was precisely Megan Wolbaum’s reaction when she was approached by Folks Films.
“(Laina) explained it to me and it was so wacky, it was so weird, but it was right up my alley,” says the owner of Made by Megs, a Winnipeg ghost bakery. “I love the spiritual realm and I love baking and cooking shows, so it was kind of like a match made in heaven.”
Wolbaum’s family owned a bakery in Arborg, and she grew up baking with her mom and grandma. During the pandemic, she turned the pastime into a business and started selling custom cakes, cookies and pastries through Instagram (@madebymegss).
Made by Megs is one of three ghost kitchens featured in the series. Episodes are between 10 and 20 minutes long and include interviews with the chefs and various local ghost experts. The series is hosted by Winnipeg comedian Angie St. Mars, who shows off impressive range as a witch, a mummy, a vampire and a Frankenstein-esque monster.
The final episode was filmed in Seven Oaks House — a hotspot for paranormal activity — where the spirit of William McMurray was summoned to select the winner of the Ghost Kitchens cooking competition. McMurray was a fur trader who purportedly choked to death in the dining room of the home in the late 1800s.
Wolbaum’s entry was a three-layer pumpkin cake with cream cheese filling decorated with Swiss meringue buttercream. The finale was equal parts nerve-racking and interesting.
“I was a little nervous, because I had been hearing everyone say this is the most haunted house in the city,” she says, adding that while she didn’t feel a presence per se, there were some strange occurrences during filming. “All of a sudden my finger was gushing blood and I didn’t hit it on anything to my knowledge.”
When she went outside to get a Band-Aid, she learned another crew member’s finger had started bleeding out of nowhere.
Wolbaum laughed off the coincidence, but decided it was probably a good idea to state her intentions out loud for any former residents who might be around: “I respect all of you who are here; I’m just going to do what I need to do and stay out of your way,” she recalls saying.
Unlike with the living cast members, Laina and Taylor couldn’t guarantee their judge would show up for the call time.
“There was definitely activity,” Laina says. “But you have to watch the show.”
“At the end, I think the purpose of the show wraps up really, really nicely,” Taylor adds.
Despite the admitted weirdness of the idea, the creators of Ghost Kitchen say the show brings together some of the city’s best qualities, from food and comedy to a rich paranormal history.
“I think it shows off the fun parts of what’s available in Winnipeg,” Laina says. “It’s uniquely local, but hopefully has appeal beyond Manitoba as well.”
Ghost Kitchens was funded through Bell’s TV1 programming — which highlights original locally made content — and is available on demand through Fibe TV and the Fibe TV app.
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Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.