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Dr. BBQ and HSN: A match made in meat heaven?

Food stylists Amanda Rice and Cat Chancey help Ray Lampe, aka Dr. BBQ, before the beginning of his first show at HSN on Sunday, July 30, 2017, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Lampe debuted on HSN with Lampelicious, a line of sausages, burgers and pulled pork the same day. ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times
Food stylists Amanda Rice and Cat Chancey help Ray Lampe, aka Dr. BBQ, before the beginning of his first show at HSN on Sunday, July 30, 2017, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Lampe debuted on HSN with Lampelicious, a line of sausages, burgers and pulled pork the same day. ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times
Published Jul. 31, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Squinting, the lead food stylist peered upward. Silent thumbs up: All clear.

Ray Lampe, a.k.a. Dr. BBQ, had passed the nostril check. Ten seconds later, a host swooped onto the set, and Lampe's first ever HSN segment was underway.

"I am joined by the man they call Dr. BBQ," Alyce Caron intoned, flipping her short, dark hair behind one ear. And on Sunday morning at 10 a.m., she and Lampe began as a team to sell Lampelicious pulled pork and spicy Texas sausages.

More than that, they were selling Lampe's brand. It's something he has built over 30 years as a champion of more than 300 professional barbecue competitions, on shows like Food Network's Chopped Grill Masters, and soon as co-owner of a St. Petersburg barbecue restaurant, scheduled to open this fall.

HSN is a St. Petersburg company. Lampe is a St. Petersburg guy. It was a no-brainer that they would find each other, right? Still, it took a matchmaker, the Tampa Bay Times.

"I got up on a Sunday morning a year ago and read the Times and I see this interesting character on the front," remembers HSN president Bill Brand. He read the Times' profile of Lampe, "put two and two together, and it's the modern-day Tinder here."

He wants to be embraced by the infomercial world. He wants HSN to call. Selling, he said. That's what he really does.

THE STORY THAT DID IT: For St. Petersburg's Dr. BBQ, the journey to fame was low and slow

Brand called. E-mail introductions occurred, then in person. There was chemistry.

• • •

In July, it was announced that QVC had purchased HSN in a move that aims to respond to the dominance of online shopping. Dr. BBQ aims to move from a familiar face on the 'cue circuit to a household culinary name. Lampe and HSN are each at crucial moments of change, ones that, at least in part, hinge on that elusive word: celebrity.

Brand calls success at HSN a finicky recipe: A great product, a great story and a great storyteller. Serena Williams sells on HSN. Mariah Carey sells on HSN. Statuesque celebrity chef Curtis Stone sells on HSN.

Lampe has been called many things, but statuesque might not be one of them. When he's ready for competition he wears a black chef's outfit festooned with flames. Otherwise, he seldom dons long pants. He has a white flattop, a conical white beard and a wristwatch tattoo permanently lodged at 5 p.m. — quitting time.

"If you think about his success on the barbecue circuit, it's because he has a distinct personality," Brand said. "He's a guy's guy, but women like that, too. To find him in our backyard, that's pretty cool."

COMING SOON: Dr. BBQ, Datz owners bringing 'artisanal barbecue' to St. Petersburg's Edge District

Before his first HSN appearance, Lampe talked about his nerves, his goals and just what he might wear on-air ("big boy pants," but no chef's jacket — that's reserved for certified chefs on HSN). And while hair and makeup are available, Lampe aimed to do his own.

"I'll do my own hair. It's more like a vertical combover these days. My beard is always a problem. Once someone tried to flat iron it and I looked like a Star Wars character. You should have seen it. Then they put a bunch of hairspray on it and it was sticking out like some kind of apparatus."

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Yes, Lampe was nervous, even after doing dozens of other TV appearances. What's different about HSN? You're talking to the host, but also directly into the camera, to the viewers at home.

"It's all about your connection with the viewer. But I could talk for hours about pulled pork. Have you ever seen anyone like me on HSN? Me neither, it's pretty amazing."

Adam Marland, senior buyer for culinary at HSN, met with Lampe. He introduced Lampe to Michael Simon, director of product development for Celebrity Licensing Associates, a company in Hollywood, Fl. that produces hundreds of culinary and kitchen products for HSN celebrities.

Lampe gave them recipes. Products were produced and refined. For the launch: A one-pound package of pulled pork (sans sauce) and a one-pound package of three pork-and-beef spicy sausages, then barbecue cheddar burgers. Products were $54.95 and up.

Were the buyers hungry?

• • •

"Slide over, I've got a few more tricks up my sleeve," Lampe said to host Caron.

He stuck the landing on the omelet and the mac and cheese topped with pulled pork, did the crafty oven switcheroo to grab a finished platter of gooey nachos, but then biffed on the pork-stuffed grilled cheese. The griddle was tepid.

"I turned it down, not up. My bad," Lampe winced, breezing on from the ungolden slices of white bread. He hit all of his demo marks and kibbitzed as Caron held onto her bowl of mac and talked about free shipping and handling. Fifteen minutes and it was over, Caron ending with a handshake and, "Dr., you have cured me."

Within a minute the cameras had turned and begun filming the next segment, Lampe's sausages and pork replaced with wire Origami shelving units.

Back in Green Room 7, under a poster of Lionel Richie (Richie once moved 20,000 units of his Tuskegee country duets album in an hour on HSN), Lampe and Simon debrief. It went well, the energy was good. They checked the sales numbers, not looking thrilled that it was still in double digits.

At 4 p.m. Lampe went out and did it again, selling the burgers this time. It went even better, he thought, the rapport with the host looser. He has another appearance scheduled for Aug. 21. So how were sales? HSN would not release official sales figures.

"I really don't know what's expected from a first timer," Lampe said Monday. "I'm trying to not worry about that, that's their business. All I can do is what I do."

Lampe watched the recording of each performance just once on Sunday, but suspects he may watch them obsessively this week, tinkering with his recipe.

Contact Laura Reiley at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.