Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Katherine Alford of “Ultimate Recipe Showdown”

Katherine Alford of Ultimate Recipe Showdown

Ultimate Recipe Showdown on Food Network has entered it’s sizzling third season. Hosted by Guy Fieri, of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, and Guy’s Big Bite, this series challenges the 24 top contestants to chop and mix their way through 6 recipe categories: Comfort Food, Party Food, Hot & Spicy, Burgers, Cakes & Desserts and Hometown Favorites. 

Katherine Alford is not only the Food Network’s Test Kitchen Director, but also a judge for the Ultimate Recipe Showdown. Each week the judges crown a winner to take home a $25,000 prize. In addition to learning that she hates split pea soup, I got some insight into the world of Showdown. 

How would you describe your average day in the Test Kitchen?“Every day is completely different because we’re not like a restaurant where the food is always the same. We talk about the recipes we will be tasting and start cooking all morning long.  We have a tasting at 1pm…could be 1 or 2 dishes and we give feedback. If we can, we have another round of tastings at 4. The honest answer, we eat all day long!!” 

This year, contestants submitted 8,000 recipes for consideration.  Katherine, and some 10-15 other ‘tasters’, weed these 8,000 down to the top 100 for each category.  “I think it’s wonderful to put home cooks out there and put out the whole idea of home cooking in America.” 

Which category were you looking forward to as a judge and which one were you dreading?“My favorite category always, and the one I really advocated with the producers, is Hometown Favorites. It’s really interesting to see what people are cooking across the country. I liked the idea of promoting local food and local cuisine. Comfort Food satisfies pretty quickly so I feel a little heavy after that. That’s a lot of mac and cheese!” 

If you had to add one category, what would it be?“Fish. That’s because I love eating fish. I’d love to see more seafood. I think people are super-intimidated by fish and there are so many categories and cool things to do with it.” 

Katherine wants everyone to remember, “It’s gotta taste good. It’s gotta say wow, I want that second bite.” Presentation and originality play a part, and technical skills have to be correct, but she is looking for “a recipe people will want to prepare at home.” 

“I love my job! I like to be hands on in the kitchen. As a cook I get to play in all different genres and I would never want to give that up.” 

Ultimate Recipe Showdown airs Sunday nights at 9pm Eastern on Food Network.

posted by funfoodwithmonica at 12:16 pm  

Friday, January 29, 2010

Chef Anne Burrell of “Worst Cooks In America” talks to Monica DiNatale


Chef Anne Burrell first entered our homes with Mario Batali in 2004, on the hit Food Network show “Iron Chef”.  She is currently hosting both “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef” and co-hosting “Worst Cooks in America”. Each week Chef Anne, along with Beau MacMillan do their best to transform 12 of the worse cooks into culinary stars. Sunday we’ll learn who represents Chef Anne in the final challenge: cook a restaurant quality meal to esteemed food critics to win the $25,000 prize.

As with most great chefs, Chef Anne began her career as a waitress and soon fell in love with the restaurant business and the art of cooking. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America she spent a year studying at the Italian Culinary Institute while working at La Taverna del Lupo in Umbria and La Bottega del’30 in Tuscany. Upon arrival in New York City, her passion led to a teaching position at the Institute of Culinary Education. Chef Anne graced the New York City kitchens at Felidia, Lumi , Italian Wine Merchants and most recently, Centro Vinoteca. 

Today Chef Anne spends most of her time on Food Network teaching us all to be better cooks. I spoke to her about her latest challenge.

Did you enjoy the challenge of transforming these cooks?  Of course! When I started I was so unprepared for the real part of a reality show. It hadn’t even occurred to me the crying and the participant’s real nervousness. They were really trying to do something and not having it go well. This is really real. That makes you care for the people even more.

What techniques would you like to see your team master? Mise en place. Read your recipe and get all your stuff ready before you start cooking. That makes cooking so much less stressful and so much more fun. Get all your onions cut and your herbs cut and then you can clean as you go and you’re not cluttered and disorganized.

The biggest problem is “they get in their own heads and psych themselves out and get nervous. It’s a stressful situation. There are cameras everywhere. ”

Were you ever as bad as the contestants on “Worst Cooks”? I was never that bad. I definitely had some mistakes in my career but I always decided to consult a cookbook. It doesn’t have to be that stressful. The recipes that I teach my team, I have written. They are somewhat simple. Take a deep breath and relax. Food is like a dog, it smells fear.”

When you are cooking remember to “get in there and try it, you will make mistakes. Read your recipe.”

How confident are you to have one of the contestants represent you in the final challenge? I can teach anyone to cook a dinner. They have done a good job of overcoming the challenges. After Sunday they will be as ready as they can be.

Your teaching background must have helped you with “Worst Cooks”.                                                                                                                        Absolutely. Being a teacher…it’s so funny… it all comes back to “everything happens for a reason”. All the parts of my career, there is always a place where they come into play.

Chef Anne’s most important tools include “one good knife and sharpener, a good cutting board, and a descent work space.” She admits she wants to return to a New York kitchen soon and is “currently in talks with people.”

With Valentine’s Day around the corner Chef Anne does have a suggestion. “If you want to get into your husband’s heart I would recommend short ribs.”

The two part finale of “Worst Cooks in America” is Sunday and Monday, January 31& February 1, 10pm on Food Network

posted by funfoodwithmonica at 5:05 pm  

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

“Worst Cooks In America” Interview with Chef Beau MacMillan & Monica DiNatale


As a foodie, I am always looking for the next great cooking show to help achieve my goals. I hope to master the basics and come out smelling like Mario Batali. Well move over Top Chefs and make room for “Worst Cooks in America”, premiering January 3rd at 10pm on Food Network. If “cinnamon meatloaf” and “cottage cheese mac” sounds offensive or, like something you’ve tried, this is the show for you. It’s not just a catchy title. They have searched the country for the worst cooks America has to offer. Chefs Beau MacMillan and Anne Burrell will do their best to transform the 12 worst cooks, and get them ready to serve a restaurant quality meal to top food critics. In the end the winner takes home a $25,000 prize.                                                                         

Chef Beau MacMillan is no stranger to competition. He first appeared in the hit series, “Iron Chef America”, ultimately claiming victory over Bobby Flay. His culinary career began at the age of 16 in his hometown of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Later he studied all over the country, including Vieille Maison in Florida and Hotel Bel Air in California. Together with Chef Charles Wiley, Chef Beau opened Elements restaurant in 2001, after developing the cuisine for Sanctuary, on Camelback Mountain, in Arizona.                                         

Chef Beau tells young culinarians that the true fun is in the cooking. He spoke with me about his latest challenge on “Worst Cooks”.

Is there one technique that you are hoping to teach your team in order to carry them through the competition? If I had to reduce it that much it would be focus and organization. In a nutshell, really getting them to be aware and be conscious. Cooking isn’t rocket science. If you start with great ingredients and you execute, usually you can have good results.

Chef Beau feels the most difficult things to master are reduction sauces and emulsifications. “When people get too complex in a kitchen, that’s when you see the biggest meltdowns.” But adds, “No guts, No glory! I’ll try anything!”

What part of your training helped show contestants the most with this unique type of television show? The way I was trained, these guys would have been, unfortunately, under the firing range by some of the French Chefs I worked for. But you know I learned a lot of patience and that was a key attribute. They’re [contestants] whole basis on being a cook comes down to flavor and there’s so much more involved. We put them in situations where they had to rely on their memory or they had to hone their skills on timing, multi-tasking, they had to do every day things that go into being a cook…organization and cleanliness. It was completely overwhelming.

But don’t despair; Chef Beau does believe that anyone can cook. “I’m a believer. I think you can turn people into good chefs. The key ingredient for success is desire. My real goal was to make everyone in that boot camp love cooking.”

What was the hardest technique for you to learn as you grew into a chef?  I was always good at roasting meats. It kind of took me a long time to master the sautéed station. That was one of my challenges. It was a matter of putting in my time and I knew right away that I was willing to accept that. It took me 6-7 years of getting beat up in kitchens before people were coming to me to solve issues.

How important is the knowledge of spices? Wow.  It’s another ace up a chefs sleeve. If you have a grip on spices, it’s just another weapon in your arsenal.

Most contestants had never handled knives. Some never tried shrimp. Combining several different cans of soup into one dish was a gourmet meal for one contestant. “There were a few cuts…and disasters…but I don’t want to give them away.”

“I hope people will love the show. Food Network let me be myself and do things to inspire these guys. I can’t make you a great second basemen until you love the game. You gotta swing for the fences!”

You’ll be amazed how bad some of the cooks truly started here! “Worst Cooks in America” premieres Sunday, January 3, 10pm on Food Network.

posted by funfoodwithmonica at 1:52 pm  

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

“The Next Iron Chef” Interview with Monica DiNatale & Chefs Garces and Mehta

 Monica DiNatale “The Next Iron Chef” Interview with Jose Garces and Jehangir Mehta

In the world of Food TV, it doesn’t get any bigger than “The Next Iron Chef”. Sunday night Seamus Mullen lost the battle leaving Jose Garces and Jehangir Mehta as the last chefs standing. The final 2 will meet at Kitchen Stadium, Sunday on The Food Network, to compete for the supreme culinary title “Iron Chef”.

Since opening his first restaurant Amada, in Philadelphia in 2005, Chef Garces has opened 4 other restaurants in Philadelphia and is the executive chef at Chicago’s Mercat a la Planxa.  In 2007 Chef Mehta opened Graffiti in the East Village of New York City after gracing the kitchens of Aix, Mercer Kitchen and serving as pastry chef of Compass.

Chef Mehta and Chef Garces spoke with me about the “Iron Chef” challenge, their inspirations and all things food.

Is there any preparation for “Iron Chef” knowing you won’t have the ingredients until the last minute? Is it as spontaneous as we see on TV?

Chef Garces I think the preparation you have is years of knowledge in the restaurant business and dealing with similar situations, obviously with not as much magnitude, but having the knowledge and background information is the best prep for any challenge.

 Chef Mehta Thinking about what you have to do very thoroughly and then making it work for you in a spontaneous fashion is what I think is important. Instead of just jumping into something, just think about it and then act like a very thoughtful army. It is spontaneous, it is what you see, but again you do have something to think about while you’re cooking…what you want it to be could change to something else.

Both Chefs agreed that professional training is imperative and that being open to all cuisines makes a well-rounded chef. Chef Garces admits that beating Bobby Flay on “Iron Chef America” gave him confidence but he still relies on his training. “There’s not much you can do to prepare…years of training will get you through.” Come Sunday he is “focused and ready to win.”

Chef Mehta sees “Iron Chef” as a challenge and feels that it’s helpful to take risks. ” I will prove myself and try to get the job. I will put in my ultimate best.” Surprisingly, he confessed that he had not seen the show previously.

What would be some of your dream ingredients and is there anything you don’t enjoy cooking? Why?

Chef Garces As a chef I appreciate and love all ingredients and our task is to make everything taste good. Whether it’s grasshoppers, sea cucumbers or jellyfish, our task at hand is to make these things taste good.

Chef Mehta For me, Indian spices would be the first thing that comes to me. There is always something that you would gravitate towards but that does not mean that you can’t come out of your comfort zone and make things happen. It’s like food, some will make you dance versus some which will not.

Compared to other “Iron Chefs”, Chef Garces sees himself as a cross between Bobby Flay and Michael Symon due to his love of spices combined with rich flavors. Chef Mehta feels connected to Masaharu Morimoto because of his ability to focus on one thing at a time. He also admires Mario Batali because “he convinces you to like something before you’ve tasted it.” 

What is the biggest challenge of the show?

Chef Garces Being away from my family was the hardest, one of the hardest, parts of the show and being able to block that out and still focus on the competition was the most challenging.

Do the strengths of other competitors create problems for you?

Chef Mehta The minute you think about someone else’s style, then you’ve lost. I’m not bothered by what other people can do, I’m just bothered by what I can do and what I can get to the table.

Chef Mehta, as an acclaimed pastry chef, what is your favorite dessert?

Chef Mehta I think if I didn’t say ice cream everyone would kill me…but I don’t think ice cream is my favorite. I would make something with fruit.

In Philadelphia and New York respectively, where do you dine if you’re not at one of your restaurants?

Chef Garces I love Osteria for a moderately expensive Italian meal. A friend of mine, Marc Vetri is the chef there. On the inexpensive side I like a middle eastern restaurant called Sahara Grill.

Chef Mehta I really like The French Laundry [San Francisco] as a restaurant. In the city [New York] I would say Per Se because of the attentiveness to the whole meal. The whole meal as an experience is very important. It’s not just the food.

Yes, both chefs would like to compete against one another again. As far as flavors they want to see more of, Chef Garces wants us to know that “meat by-products like liver and kidney are delicious if cooked right.” Chef Mehta would like to see more recipes for pomegranates because of “the enormous health benefits.”

After the show, they both want to get back to their families (Chef Mehta’s wife gave birth while he was away) and concentrate on being great and influential “Iron Chefs”.

Both men have a lot to be thankful for this year. Chef Garces is making his famous deep-fried turkey on Thanksgiving while Chef Mehta will dine on lamb.

Tune in Sunday 11/22 at 9 pm ET on the Food Network to meet “The Next Iron Chef”.

Episode 7 Recap -

Finale Sneak Peek -

posted by funfoodwithmonica at 9:37 am  

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mercadito Cantina is Worth The Wait


Patricio Sandoval’s mod taqueria in the East Village is ready and worth the wait! If you are looking for a mix of traditional with a modern twist, this is your place. Along with traditional guacamole you can feast on chipotle with pineapple & mint or sandia with watermelon & chile habaneros. Whatever you choose, you will not be disappointed. Patricio uses only the freshest ingredients and it shows. I found the combination of flavors literally dancing on my palate.

Menu offerings include yummy tacos (more than 10 types) on homemade corn tortillas, marinated grass fed skirt steak and braised organic chicken barbacoa style. The pescado tacos with tilapia and chile poblano were my favorite.

The bar menu designed by The Tippling Bros. will delight you as well. Try the Bloody Mary with tric-quila, tomato, horseradish and habanero. It’s clear in color and delicious.

Mercadito Cantina (212-388-1750) is located at 172 Avenue B, between 10th and 11th Streets.  

posted by funfoodwithmonica at 2:56 pm  

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Cat Cora’s New Show

monica_cat.jpgI had the honor of attending the premiere party for Cat Cora’s new show “Disney’s What’s Cooking with Cat Cora?” at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Cat will teach families how to cook, plan meals and eat together. Some kids have never eaten a vegetable but Cat makes it fun and delicious. Cat offers recipes and solutions to take you out of your average dining routine. To watch a full episode of this show, tune into Disney Travel on Demand on Cablevision channel 650. You can’t help having a good time when Mickey Mouse arrives! 

posted by funfoodwithmonica at 6:03 am  

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