This Food Network gig is wild, baby. On Wednesday, they’re flying me out to Vegas to cover Bon Appetit’s Vegas Uncorked, a culinary and wine festival featuring some of the most famous, important chefs alive (Wolfgang Puck, Daniel Boulud, Lorraine Bracco). The craziest part? On Saturday night I’m hosting a V.I.P. party by the pool of a flashy hotel and we have TWO extra tickets to give away. Are you or anyone you know going to be in Vegas next Saturday the 10th? Let me know in the comments, make sure to leave your e-mail address too, and you can glam it up with me and my posse by the pool. Meanwhile, everyone else: where should we eat in Vegas? Anything we should do off the beaten path? Your advice is much appreciated!
Find out by clicking here!
To answer some of your questions:
– We were at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival (see here) and, as stated in that post, we were on our last day of shooting, at the Mario Batali Jamie Oliver dinner at Danny Devito’s restaurant. My director and I, exhausted from all the interviews we’d done, decided we’d just enjoy this dinner and not make it a “work” event. But then, at the end of the meal, I said: “Let’s just go into the kitchen to make sure we’re not missing anyone” and so he obliged, pushing through the throngs of people (it was a madhouse in there) and once in the kitchen, who should we find but Mario, Jamie, Giada DiLaurentis, Dave Pasternack and, of course, Sir Anthony Bourdain. Earlier on the trip, I’d reached out to Bourdain for an interview and he’d kindly refused and so, respecting that, I kept him out of things when we shot this video with Mario and Jamie. After that, I said to him: “See, I respected your desire not to do this show” and he said, “I appreciate that.” It was my director Matthew, though, who said: “Just so you know, we wanted you to come on our show and bash the Food Network… we wanted you to say whatever it is you had to say.” At that Bourdain smiled and said, “All right, let’s go” putting his arm around me and assenting to the interview you saw linked to in the post below.
– As for the bleeped bits, I’m happy to share (and this is from the extended video, which you should watch to see the whole thing in its entirety):
* on Next Food Network star: “it’s sort of like watching German anal porn, I can’t turn away… it’s horrifying, but I’m learning something about Germany while I’m watching it.”
* on Sandra Lee: “She should be taken to Guantanamo and waterboarded.”
* any final words: “Watch Travel Channel…it’s so much better than Food Network.”
[The bleeping makes it seem worse than it is–well except for that Guantanamo bit–but those were the parts the higher-ups took exception to.]
As for my own take on Food Network (in case you’re interested), I think it’s important to keep things in perspective. I’m a perfect example of someone who knew nothing about food, who grew up eating processed foods–jarred tomato sauces, TGI Friday’s dinners, frozen pizzas–who only thought to care about cooking as Food Network became popular. Really, it was a confluence of being a miserable law student and finding Food Network shows calming and comforting. True, the shows that won me over were shows that Bourdain would champion–Mario’s and Sarah Moulton’s–but what those shows were, really, were gateways into the food world. It’s not like anyone watching endless cycles of Food TV will suddenly become cultured and cultivated–even watching Bourdain’s show, you won’t suddenly become worldly and wise–it’s just an impetus to go out and learn more. The only real way to learn how to cook is to start cooking. That’s it. Standing in your kitchen, burning your roast beef and scorching your sauce, you are acquiring more knowledge than a year’s worth of even the greatest cooking shows can provide. The key is to get people cooking. Does Food Network do that? Yes, I’m pretty sure it does. And when some of those people who make Rachael Ray 30 minute meals start to say, “You know what? This is getting boring. I want to make something more complex and rewarding, something intricate and historical and important that takes more than 30 minutes” they can crack open Julia Child and make a cassoulet (as I did here). Thought of as a gateway to bigger and better things, Food Network is fine. And sometimes, as Bourdain points out, it’s better than fine: Barefoot Contessa recipes are often the best of their kind and I think Ace of Cakes, Iron Chef America, Good Eats, Nigella Bites, Next Food Network Star, and Tyler’s Ultimate are all excellent shows. Those are my two cents, take them as you will.
Perhaps it’s injudicious to say so (especially if Rachael Ray is reading this–sorry Rachael!), but of all the Food Network stars I’ve met so far, my favorite, hands down, has to be Michael Symon. I think Food Network stars come in two types: those with light-switch personalities (on one second, off the next) and those who are the same onscreen as they are offscreen. Michael Symon, most certainly, is in the latter camp. He’s the real deal: a great chef (the perogies I ate at his restaurant Lola, after shooting the video you’ll see below, were truly unforgettable–worth a trip to Cleveland) who is also kind, charismatic, and, most of all, authentic. Check out this video and see if you don’t agree:
Perhaps my affection for him is also due to this interview (click here) which was the first thing I did for Food Network. Needless to say, I was terrified. I never told you about that day–it happened in mid-December–when, after rounds of interviews, I showed up to shoot an actual pilot, there at 7:30 am, where an entire crew was waiting. They put me in hair and make-up and then they whisked me on to a very real set, with about 20 people in the room, and said, “OK–go!” The format of the pilot was much different from the shows you’ve seen: they had me working from a script I wrote myself–a little like “The Daily Show” meets “Talk Soup”–and there was one impassioned essay I wrote, a mock diatribe about dieting, that I could not get right for the life of me. Take 20, Take 21… it was humiliating and draining and by the end of that segment, I figured my career as a Food Network web host was officially over.
But then came Michael Symon, who was flown in explicitly for this interview. And he was so affable, such a good sport, that I suddenly felt calm again and when we sat down to talk, even though all the cameras were there and the same crew that’d seen me mess up with such flair, I was completely at ease. And the same was true, months later, when I flew to Cleveland to shoot the segment you saw in the first video. Even though I was in a real restaurant kitchen with that wall of heat (I’m not sure many of you realize how hot it is in a restaurant kitchen, especially behind the grill station) and a bunch of sweaty, suspicious sous chefs and sauciers, I may as well have been in my own kitchen cooking. Michael Symon casts a spell around him–it’s the spell of a supremely talented chef completely at ease with himself and others.
A few weeks later, I was in Miami, walking with a friend, and I heard a voice calling. “Hey Adam!” The voice was familiar but difficult to place. Then I identified the source: it was Michael Symon standing outside his hotel with his wife. If you would’ve told me last year that an Iron Chef / chef cult hero would be calling out my name at a Wine & Food Festival, I would’ve called you mad. “MAD!” I would’ve said and that would’ve been it. But now I’ve met Michael Symon and I feel like I’ve made a new friend. If nothing else comes from this gig, that’s enough for me. And an even better reason to return to Cleveland, a city we barely saw–we flew in, shot at Lola, slept in a hotel, and flew out the next morning. I say: Spring Break Clevleand 2008. Who’s with me? Party at Symon’s place. I promise, I won’t do the cooking.
P.S. Michael Symon has his own blog, Symon Says, which you should go read by clicking the words “Symon Says.”
P.P.S. Michael Ruhlman, another Cleveland cult hero, was there the night I was cooking, mocking me and my food. (Actually, I think he said I did a decent job.) Unfortunately, the footage didn’t find its way into the end video (it’s hard to edit this stuff down to 3 minutes!) So apologies to Ruhlman and a promise that when I do return to Cleveland, I’ll bring him a gift bag of raw venison liver to show my remorse. (Click here for explanation.)
P.P.S. I’m going to post the recipe for that ziti with fennel and sausage later tonight. Stay tuned!
I’m really proud of this week’s FN Dish because it features the talents of two HIGH SCHOOL students who cook better than most adults. Check it out:
And then, click here to watch me walking around Union Square with the Rescue Chef, Danny Boome.
One of the best things about working at Food Network, which is located in the Chelsea Market, is that the elevators that get you up there are directly across from one of the best coffee bars in the city. That coffee bar is Ninth Street Espresso which many of my barista friends (including those that work at my favorite coffee shop, Joe) speak of with such great reverence there’s often a coffee glow in their cheeks.
Ninth Street Espresso takes its coffee seriously, as evidenced by its menu which does not allow for sticky, gloppy, blended coffee drinks but, instead, sticks to the classics: espresso, cappuccino, latte. They only come in one size, so no “super grande iced mocha latte with a twist of vanilla”–this is coffee as philosophy, as a spiritual exercise. And, correspondingly, patrons of Ninth Street Espresso gather around the bar like worshippers at temple: there’s a calmness in the air, a peacefulness and community cheer that’s unusual in this fast-paced city. It doesn’t hurt that the drinks are outstanding.
The cappuccino, as shown here, is an artful marriage of frothy milk and deep, dark espresso. Normally, I put a packet of sugar in my cappuccino but the balance is so right-on here that such an act would be criminal. It’s as if a cloud floated down to earth and landed in your cup–if you let go, the whole thing might float away.
Working at Food Network has been a very happy experience thus far, but Ninth Street has made it that much happier. If you plan to judge Iron Chef or guest on 30 Minute Meals any time soon, don’t miss Ninth Street on your way up. It’ll make your day.
At the end of the weekend and our trip to The South Beach Wine & Food Festival, my director, Matthew Horovitz, turned to me and said, “You’ve met everyone now. There’s no one left to meet!”
Watch the following video–the 2nd official episode of “The FN Dish”–and tell me if you disagree.
If that video left you dazzled and discombobulated, allow me to walk you through everything you just saw: a day-by-day breakdown of the festival with some big surprises thrown in too.
What a chore this Food Network job is turning out to be… now I have to leave this 26 degree New York weather for the tropical beaches of Miami and a forecast of 83 degrees. Could life get any harder? Feel free to hate me. Full reports and videos on Monday! Until then, have a great rest of your week.