Nectar Lounge at the Seminole Casino Coconut Creek was host to the Christmas-ey dessert party, Sweet Dreams, this weekend. The event featured a huge spread of sugary cakes, candies, flash-frozen ice cream, and dessert sushi, which you can check out by viewing our slide show. But it also featured celebrity host, Ted Allen, who was there promoting his new cookbook, The Food You Want to Eat: 100 Smart, Simple Recipes. In between stuffing our faces with sweets, New Times got a chance to sit down with the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy alum, and asked him about his take on everything from his new book to his role as a judge on Iron Chef America to the food revolution.
Ted Allen on...
...his new cookbook: The first thing Ted said when we were introduced was "Just so you know, I did write my book," responding directly to a question I had posed on Friday whether or not he had penned it himself. (So many of these cookbooks are ghost written.) "I did have help, though, because when I did it Queer Eye was at its peak and Bravo was torturing us to do episodes. I think we did 40 that year, and it takes about a week to do each one. So I had a recipe tester named Stephanie Linus (sic) who helped me with the recipes, because if the recipes don't work, you're really screwed. And people find out. I get e-mail from a lot of people telling me everything is working."
Not all his criticism is positive though: "Recently I did read one
blog from a woman who said that a recipe [of mine] didn't come out. But
she admitted right in the blog entry that she had swapped out three
crucial ingredients. And she still said, 'Strike two, Ted Allen.' I was
like, 'What are you talking about strike two?' I don't even know what
strike one was! Screw you; you left out the eggs lady, and you admitted
...the serious foodie versus the casual foodie: I
asked Ted about the trend for cookbooks to focus on simple cooking,
despite the fact that food literacy is really higher than it has ever
been. "Well, I like to talk about cooking with real ingredients,
natural food, organic stuff, real herbs, no prepacked foods, and my
cookbook reflects that. That doesn't mean that [cooking] has to be
difficult. It requires you learn some techniques, and an interest in
cooking. But I think vast majority of the market needs and wants simple
recipes. And this is why you see such an enormous growth in that area,
even among my fellow Food Network people. Rachel Ray is giving 30 Minute Meals,
which I think is fantastic. Sometimes she does it a little cutesier
than I would, but there's a reason why she resonates with so many
millions of people."
He continued, "I always thought my audience
was somewhere in between. The Bravo audience is a very sophisticated
group of people who, for the most part, have the luxury of cooking as a
hobby. And that is a luxury, to have that much time and disposable
income. Most people can't do that. But I still thought because our show
was called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and we were speaking
to guys who didn't know anything about food, that my cookbook should be
reasonably simple. And I think it is."
As a result of this trend
towards the simple, though, many 'hardcore' foodies tend to last back
against the personalities that preach to the masses. But Ted thinks
there's plenty of options out there for folks who don't want things so
simple: "You could go buy Grant Achatz's cookbook, Alinea, and
try to cook out of that if you think you can handle it. It just came
out, and it's staggeringly inexpensive for what it is. Grant Achatz is
one of the most important young chefs in the country. He serves you
like 26 courses of the most impossibly complicated food you've ever
seen in your life. You could make fun of it, even, if you want to. Some
people say, 'I don't know whether to eat it or hang it on the wall.'
But nobody complains about Mozart or Rembrandt. And I think you have
who are the Rembrandts of our time in the culinary world, and you have
Rachel Ray, who is reaching a much more regular audience. And I
definitely fall closer to Rachel Ray! But I appreciate all of it.
Anything that propels people into the kitchen is cool."
...his part in the continuing food revolution: Ted Allen's role on Queer Eye
as their food and wine expert really cemented food as an important
aspect of being a complete person. On the show, the fab five were
essential remaking people, and food was a big aspect of that. I
asked him about what it was like to be one of the faces that brought
food into the spotlight for so many people. "Even before the food
revolution that happened courtesy of Martha Stewart and Emeril and
Bobby Flay and Mario Batali, dining has always been the biggest form of
entertainment. Even in a country that used to have no good food - and I
mean ours. Back in my days at Esquire, where I still do some
work, I believed and they believed that knowing something about food
and wine is an important part of being a sophisticated guy. Women like
it. Or men, depending on what your trip is. But the message I was
always trying to give our straight guys was, being able to handle
yourself in a restaurant, or better yet, being able to cook for the
object of your affection, is an enormously generous and romantic and
cool thing to do."
At just 43, Ted is still very much a child
of the food revolution. He recalls a moment that first opened his eyes
to the wonders of food: "I've always loved to cook, but I grew up in
Indiana, and my parents and I never did anything fancy. I got a job at Chicago Magazine
in 1993, and like a lot of city magazines at the time, that was sort of
the restaurant bible for the city. I got sent out on menu tastings a
lot, and Chicago is a really good restaurant town. So I sort of fell in
love with the culture of the people who make food. Chefs are really fun
people, sometimes too much fun. But I also got exposed to food from all
over the world. I had my big culinary epiphany at the Ritz Carlton
dining room, which, even though it's a hotel, had a really amazing chef
named Sara Stecker (sic). It was the first time I had ever had dessert
paired with wine. It was a chocolate cake of some type and it was
paired with a white dessert wine. And light bulbs just went off. I
thought white wine was Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. And that's when
I realized the way that wine could amplify the dining experience. I got
into so much that I became a junior critic at the magazine, which paved
the way for everything for me."
...his role as an Iron Chef and Top Chef judge: A long way from
his Chicago roots, Ted now has one of the best jobs in the world:
Tasting the food of Iron Chefs and Top Chefs from around the world. "I
really love doing the judging work on both shows. Unfortunately it's
been taken away from me, because I now have two shows on Food Network,
Chopped, which premiers in February, and Food Detectives,
which we're shooting our second season for. Food Network will not let
me judge Iron Chef anymore because I have two shows on the network, and
they don't want it to be perceived that I would have warm, gushy
feelings towards my fellow Food Network people, and that I would not
give the challengers a fair shake. They really take that very
seriously. Anytime anything comes up were there's even the appearance
of a question in integrity, the Network gets really hot an bothered and
they crack down, understandably. You have to be able to trust that game
shows like that are not rigged. There are actual laws about that stuff
that apply to Iron Chef America, Top Chef, and Jeopardy, and that will apply to my new show Chopped,
which is also a competition. I've judged somewhere between 50 or 60
Iron Chefs and the decision is always left in the hands of the judges.
So I do respect Food Network for taking my favorite job away from me,
but I also fought them on it!"
Throughout his many appearances as a judge on the two chefs, Ted Allen
always towed the line between light heartedness and being a very
serious critic, sort of like the judges panel's comic relief: "I think
that's what they brought me in for in the first place. It's difficult
to find people who know something about food, who can articulate it
quickly, and who are funny. Which is why you'll see Iron Chef bringing in someone like the rap star, Bonecrusher.
If you haven't seen the episode, he's an extremely large man. He's from
Atlanta. It was great, because I think it was me and [Jeffrey]
Steingarten, which are three very unlikely bedfellows. It makes for
some interesting conversations."
Ted also explained the logistics of serving on the show, which are sort
of sped up through editing: "The way it works is, the chefs have
exactly 60 minutes to cook just as you see unfolding. A coin gets
flipped to see who serves first, which is important because a lot of
food won't hold during the 45 minutes you have to serve. You're not
alowed to recook anything. They're allowed to keep things warm, and
that's all. So a big part of the strategy is cooking food, say a piece
of beef, to the right point where it will hold for 45 minutes or
longer. And when you're a good chef you know how to do that. It tests a
whole other set of skills."
Ted took a few minutes to reminisce about his meals on the show: "I
have to say, after all those battles, I had almost nothing that wasn't
incredibly good. There were a lot of great dishes, and it's hard to
remember them all. But I think my favorite that I can remember was
Battle Parmigiano. Mario [Batali] took an entire wheel of Parmigiano
cheese and hollowed it into a bowl. He made a pasta carbonara, and
tossed it in the bowl, where it melted the cheese a little and pulled
up the flavor. Just the sheer decadence of it, I mean a wheel of
Parmigiano is worth about a thousand dollars. It's the king of all
cheeses. I love the theater of it, I love the flavor of it, obviously
Mario Batali makes great pasta... I think that was my favorite one of
...his South Florida dining plans: "The irony of my work now is
when I'm travelling to do an appearance or shooting a show, I usually
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don't get to eat anything good at all. Mainly just because of the
hours. I've been to Fort Lauderdale before, but I would probably go to
-- John Linn