Chopped And Channeled: Ted Allen's Star Rising On Food Network
To be Ted Allen these days is to be a man in demand. When he isn't writing books or magazine articles, he's taping shows for Food Network. Last year saw the debut of his show "Food Detectives," sort of a food combination of "Bill Nye, Science Guy," "Mythbusters" and "Good Eats." (It returns Tuesday for a second season of 13 episodes.) Allen also has a new Food Network series on Tuesday nights called "Chopped," which pits four up-and-coming chefs against each other as they turn a selection of secret ingredients into a three-course meal. The prize for winning each episode: $10,000 in cash.Each week, a rotating panel of judges, including chefs Alex Guarnaschelli, Aaron Sanchez, Chris Santos and Geoffrey Zakarian, decide whose dishes succeed and which deserve to be, uh, chopped. I had a chance to catch up with Allen last week to chat about the new show for my Table Conversations podcast. Allen, who's probably best known as a member of the Fab Five on Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," is building quite a body of food TV work. He started as a judge on "Iron Chef: America," then moved to occasional spots on "Top Chef," and then jumped to Food Network for his two shows. When I goofed about this and about the ever-growing roster of culinary reality TV shows, he suggested that for his next show to stand out, he'd be dropped on an island to hunt human prey. Where does "Chopped" rank in the pantheon? Well, there's more than a little unpredictability as the chefs grapple with the ingredients they must cook with. There's an everychef quality, in that cooks from various professional backgrounds compete against each other. (In the Jan. 13 debut, it was almost cruel to watch the vegetarian chef deal with cooking baby octopus.) It also has the requisite panel of accomplished judges. (Guarnaschelli has her own show, "The Cooking Loft." Sanchez competed in last year's "The Next Iron Chef.") To make viewers care about the new roster of cooks introduced each week, producers likely will be forced to make the ingredients more improbable or so simple that it will take a leap of imagination to make a great dish. The best news: Allen keeps the show moving as host, with both his observations and his prodding of judges for their feedback. You can listen to my interview with Allen by going online to my blog, The Stew, at www.tinyurl.com/TheStew. JUDGING THE JUDGE Last week, British restaurant critic Toby Young debuted as the new judge on Bravo's "Top Chef." Reviews of his performance were not kind. The blog for VH1's show "Best Week Ever" compared Young's physical appearance to comedian David Cross and the boxer Butterbean. (Hey, at least that guy has a food-related name.) Then they piled on with this observation: "Young also tried waaaaay too hard to compare everything to movies. His desperate attempts to explain everything with movie similes reminded me of Matt Dillon's forced 'All I got are these damn Nepalese coins!' pickup line in 'There's Something About Mary.'" Ouch. BLOG POST OF THE WEEK "It's so cold here, ducks are asking to be cooked inside turkeys." Posted by @BadBanana on Twitter.com about the weather last week in Nebraska TANGENTIAL FOOD HEADLINE OF THE WEEK "GIRL SOLD FOR CASH, BEER, MEAT; Dad called cops when he wasn't paid." - CNN Headline News NOTE TO SELF: TIME FOR A CUP "Coffee. It's the Gatorade for journalists." - From the blog "Stuff Journalists Like" (www.stuffjournalistslike.com) HAIL TO THE CHIEF, HE'S THE ONE WE ALL SAY HAIL TO On Inauguration Day, the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., will serve 1,000 guests an Obama Beaver Tail pastry topped with cinnamon, sugar, hazelnut chocolate and maple syrup. Beaver tails are popular in Ottawa. I am not making this up. Want to toast the new president? Try mixing a Hail to the Chief cocktail with Skyy vodka. The recipe: 11/2 oz Skyy Infusions Grape 1 teaspoon raw sugar 4 slices fresh-peeled ginger 4 blackberries Top with ginger ale Muddle fresh blackberries, ginger and sugar in a pint glass. Add ice and SKYY Infusions Grape. Shake vigorously and strain into Collins glass over fresh ice. Top with ginger ale and blackberries and candied ginger. For something simpler, try downing a Chief's Cocktail, which is scheduled to be served at Barack Obama's inaugural luncheon. Simply fill a champagne flute with Korbel and garnish with raspberries. It's easier than beating John McCain. BITS OF THE STEW * On Tuesday, Bern's Fine Wines & Spirits will host a six-course Robert Foley Vineyards Wine Dinner featuring winemaker Robert Foley. A vintner in Napa Valley since 1977, Foley was named "Winemaker of the Year" in 2007 by Food & Wine magazine. The dinner is $125 per person, all inclusive. For reservations, call (813) 250-9463. * Five Guys Burgers opens Jan. 27 in downtown Tampa at the SkyPoint building. Oh, and they have a Facebook fan page at http://is.gd/fLiR. * Also on Jan. 27, season six "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks will join chef Roy Yamaguchi, founder of Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine, at Roy's restaurant at 4342 W. Boy Scout Blvd. in Tampa for the second annual Jordin Sparks Experience charity event. In addition to the special menu, Yamaguchi is expected to accompany Sparks on drums for a song. One item up for live auction bidding: a private dinner party for 12 with the pair as your chefs and dinner guests. Ticket prices are $250 and $400 for VIP access (limited to the first 100 sold), which includes a meet-and-greet with Sparks and Yamaguchi. To purchase tickets, go to www.alleventsandtickets.com, and for more information about this event, visit www.sparkscharities.org. Proceeds benefit Sparks Charities, Uplift Excellence Foundation, and 1voice. * Aja Channelside will to host Super Bowl parties with DJ Jazzy Jeff (Jan. 29), Holly Madison and Kendra Wilkinson (Jan. 30) and Pamela Anderson (Jan. 31). For tickets and information, go online to www.ajachannelside.com. * Mexican cuisine expert Diane Kennedy will sign her cookbooks at the South Tampa Barnes & Noble from 2 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 13. She'll also host a cooking class at El Taconazo on Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 14. * Jerry Greenfield (Jerry of Ben & Jerry's ice cream) will be scooping at USF's Marshall Center on Jan. 22. He last spoke at the university in 2005, during "An Evening of Social Justice, Radical Business Philosophy & Free Ice Cream." * Tampa has been named as the most caffeinated city in the United States by the HealthSaver Caffeinated Cities Survey commissioned by the HealthSaver health care discount service. (That's up from No. 2 in 2007.) Oh, and Tampa takes more caffeinated pain pills per capita than any other U.S. city. Probably to relieve the headache from reading meaningless survey results. * First Watch will open a new restaurant at the Alderman Plaza Shopping Center in Palm Harbor. The 3,600-square-foot restaurant is expected to seat 120 and to open this fall. The restaurant will be located at 35150 U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor. * A poll of 600,000 customers by T.G.I. Friday's shows Jack and Coke is considered the "All-American Drink." You may now celebrate, within moderation.
Jeff Houck can be reached at [email protected]