Forget the Hangover – I Survived the Guy Fieri Road Show

Statue of Bunk Johnson Harra's New OrleansWith Food Network Star set to begin its seventh season in just a few hours I am home recovering from my trek over to New Orleans to take in the Guy Fieri Road Show at Harrah’s Casino.  It was an epic adventure to say the least.  Hold your hats because here we go:

First a little geography.  I live in Mobile, AL which is give or take 185 miles due east of New Orleans on Interstate 10, roughly a two hour drive.  The first hour and forty-five minutes was a torrent of seriously technical food conversation between myself and my comrade (i.e. road dawg) Garrick a chef/instructor at a local culinary school.

Chef Garrick and I first met a few months ago in Dauphin Island, AL at a fund raiser for Gulf Oil Spill recovery with Food Network’s Alton Brown as master of ceremonies (HERE).  A month later we were both at another Oil Spill event this time MC’d by one Guy Fieri (HERE).

So anyway, we’re about 15 minutes from Canal Street when my right rear tire blows.  With just 35 minutes until the media meet & greet starts we get to change a tire on I-10, downtown New Orleans – 90 degrees, 90% humidity.  A nightmare right?

We are in the emergency lane 2 minutes when a Louisiana Stranded Motorists Truck pulls up behind us.  Garrick and I now know how our moms and girlfriends have felt every time we opened a stubborn jar lid for them.  That’s putting those casino dollars to good use.

Road-dude has the tire switched out in nothing flat.  We hop back in the cruiser with just enough time to park and get to the meet and greet.  Except the car won’t start.  Apparently when the tire blew it damaged something with the fuel delivery system and the engine can’t get enough gas to turnover.  Road-dude Canal St. in New Orleansagain steps up to the plate but this time even the Mighty Casey strikes out.  She’s dead in the water.  So Road-dude kindly drops us off at Canal St. just a few blocks from Harrah’s Casino – too late for the party but in plenty of time for Guy’s show.

We don’t know how we’re getting home from New Orleans but we’re damned sure going to catch Guy’s Food-a-palooza.  About 20 minutes into the show two ladies come in late and take the open chairs next to us.  One lady in particular catches my eye.  She is quite pretty, with quite lovely curly caramel colored hair and also quite familiar.

I start running through the anthology of pretty women I have seen in my 43 years.  School?  Maybe.  She kind of looks like . . .  nah.  Maybe we worked together at a restaurant.  Is she an actress or model?  I’m usually better at this but I am just a bit distracted by music, a steady stream of alcohol and a nagging inner voice screaming “How the F do you plan on getting home?”

Seriously is that?  No way.

After a very entertaining warm-up act by Woody the Australian flare bartender (that dude can chuck a bottle around, fo sho) they take a few minutes to clean the stage up from the booze-slingin’ and I’m thinking, I should talk to the cute lady, maybe I can figure out where I know her from.  But I’m too late; the show starts.

Guy Fieri at a recent event in Gulf Shores, ALAC/DC blares through the house speakers as first “Panini” Pete Blohme takes the stage, then Rich “Gorilla” Bacchi and finally the Guy himself.  Senor Fieri soon notices that there are a few empty seats right in front and offers them to anyone in the back with the nads to claw their way forward.  The two ladies bolt.  Just as they are taking their new seats at the stage’s edge Guy announces that Susie Fogelson, Food Network Star judge and the network’s Senior Vice President of Marketing has just joined the crowd.

Talk about blowing a golden opportunity.

The show goes on.  They cook, they joke and everyone drinks especially when  another Triple D chef joins them, Stretch from Grinders in Kansas City.  Stretch, donning his Sgt. Pepper best, helps Guy make a 25 gallon cocktail in a giant homemade frozen margarita maker that used two trash compactor motors to crush the ice.  The margarita was tasty, thank you.

Halfway through the show I get a call from my niece who lives just an hour away in Bay St. Louis, MS.  They are on their way and as luck would have it they’ll arrive about the same time the show is scheduled to be over.  Things are looking up.

After the show Chef Garrick and I make our way towards the stage.  The chance to visit again with Guy and Panini Pete is welcome but I want to track down Susie and give her the elevator pitch I should have given her when she was sitting right next to me.  But to no avail as she is quickly whisked backstage.  I’m wearing my VIP pass so I’m certain I could go back stage as well but my niece and her husband are somewhere in the casino.

As it turns out they are standing just outside the theater where the autograph seekers are lined-up to get their brand new Guy Fieri Food Cookbooks signed.  I can’t help but remark to my nephew-in-law that “all this is for a chef.”  My niece and her hubby are a very popular musical act on the Gulf Coast called Heather and the Monkey King.  The Monkey King knows I walked away from a ho-hum music career to be a chef.  He, too, appreciates the irony.

New Orleans Roast Beef Po BoyThe four of us walked around until we found a place to grub out, the Jimani, before heading to Bay St. Louis for the night.  BTW, I had a roast beef po boy – a New Orleans standard – my first non-alcoholic meal of the day.  Heather and the Monkey King had already planned to go to Mobile the next day so all was well.  Don’t worry, City of New Orleans, I’ll be back to get the car on Monday.  Until then, thanks for yet another adventure.  I’ve never been bored in the Big Easy.

I want to thank the National Pork Board for not only sponsoring the Road Show but also for inviting Chef Garrick and myself over to partake. I also want to thank the amazing hospitality of the people of Louisiana for doing everything they could to try and help us out. I also want to thank Stretch and Panini Pete for trying to find us a ride back to Mobile had my niece not showed up. Great guys all.

7 Questions with Alex Guarnaschelli

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know better.

Alex Guarnaschelli has long been a familiar face on the Food Network be it in her popular cooking shows The Cooking Loft and Alex’s Day Off or as a guest judge of Iron Chef America or Chopped  and soon as a contestant on Next Iron Chef 4.  She has been a polarizing figure to say the least.  It seems she is as beloved as she is disliked.  With Chopped: All Stars set to premiere in a few days perhaps we should get to know Chef Alex a little better.

After graduating from Barnard College in 1991, Guarnaschelli embarked on a lifelong culinary adventure beginning with a little time under the wing of the godfather of American cuisine, Larry Forgione.  If the name sounds familiar it should as Larry is the father of the newest Iron Chef Marc Forgione.

With the elder Forgione’s blessing Guarnaschelli took her studies overseas where she matriculated at La Varenne Culinary School in Burgundy.  From Burgundy she traveled France until landing in Paris for a four day study with famed French chef Guy Savoy.  Four years later she was still with Savoy as sous chef at one of his properties, La Butte Chaillot.  She would stay three more years before returning to America to work with the legendary Daniel Boulud at Daniel.

After moving up to sous chef with Boulud she then moved to the West Coast to work with Joachim Splichal’s Patina.  In 2003 she returned to New York to become the executive chef at Butter.  Since then she has made her reputation in the kitchen, as an instructor and even as a challenger on Iron Chef America before her keen palate was tapped as a judge both on ICA and Chopped.

In a fierce five-part tournament, 16 all star chefs battle head-to-head to win the crown as the champion of Chopped All Stars.  Competing in this battle royal are NFNS alums Brad Sorenson, Debbie Lee, Lisa Garza and Michael Proietti, as well as Anne Burrell, Geoffrey Zakarian, Claire Robinson, Duff Goldman, Robert Irvine, Beau MacMillan, Jacques Torres, Nate Appleman and former NIC contestants Anita Lo, Aarón Sánchez, Maneet Chauhan and Amanda Freitag.

Whenever discussions of culinary cuties ensue I am always aghast that Guarnaschelli’s name does not immediately come up.  She is clearly a beautiful woman but her descriptions of food are so sensual I swear they make me blush. When it comes to making food sexy she takes a back seat to no one.

Chef Alex will be a judge for this first of it’s kind event but first she answers 7 Questions.

Chopped All StarsCan you tell us what we can expect from Chopped All Stars?

It’s a week of all stars for charity where all the different celebrity chefs are competing for charities of their choice and the grand prize is a $50,000 donation to the winning chef’s charity.  It’s certainly very dramatic.

A little about you, Alex, how would you best describe your style of cooking?

I would say that I’m in touch with the American classics.  My parents were avid cooks when I was growing up; still are.  It was a lot of the French-American, French techniques and American ingredients ranging from Oysters Rockefeller and Lobster Newburg definitely is a big part of my style of cooking.  I love the green market mentality.  Some one once said to me that’s not a cooking style it’s a shopping philosophy which I thought was a very interesting way of putting it.  So I guess I would say French-American with seasonality being one of my favorite things.

Which chefs have influenced you along the way?

Many but probably the most influential definitely is Guy Savoy in Paris.  He was definitely a big inspiration, still is, to me.  Certainly Daniel Boulud is another big influence and inspiration.  You know you have mentors of many kinds when you’re a chef.  And certainly another big mentor to me is Bobby Flay who has just been very supportive of me and really helped me find my own voice as a chef on television as well as, you know, a cooking style.  I think that’s certainly important to me too.

How important do you think improvisational skills are to being a chef especially in a setting like Chopped All Stars?

When you say improvisation to me it makes me think of many other words like solutions.  As in somebody who can handle any crisis.  You know like when somebody doesn’t show up to work at the restaurant or the grease trap explodes on a Friday night or you have to put together a dish from a basket of ingredients in 20 minutes flat.  It’s all sort of that same idea of improvisation.  So I think thinking quickly on your feet is critical.  Which is why I think Chopped is such a natural extension of being a chef, being a cook.  Only now you’re being filmed and all of America is watching you.

What was the experience of being a judge for Chopped All Stars like?

Yeah, it was amazing.  Think about it.  Just think about that list of names.  Can you imagine?  It was incredible.  It was like watching the Super Bowl.

How would you describe the atmosphere in the Chopped kitchen?

The show is such a power, such a house of cards all the time.  Sometimes I like to think there’s a little mystery on the ground floor of the house you know with the basics.

How do you balance being a judge while also being a colleague with the other chefs?

We’re all professionals.  We all work together.  We’re all sort of similar in that all of us are sometimes the competitors and  all of us are sometimes the judges.  And I think that playing that game of musical chairs as professionals you definitely have a tacit understanding of what that’s going to entail ahead of time.  So it wasn’t really an issue.  I don’t think any of us would have allowed it to be.  It’s for charity.

Chopped All Stars premieres March 6th at 9PM ET on Food Network.


This was an excerpt from my latest Kindle Single “Dinner Conversations” which is an anthology of celebrity chef interviews. Available here

ICA: Cora Vs. Ballesteros

After a week off, Food Network brings us a new Iron Chef: America as Chef Julieta Ballesteros clashes with Iron Chef Cat Cora in the halls of Kitchen Stadium.  It should be interesting with upscale Mexican going up against Greek Cuisine with a Southern accent.  Enjoy Battle: Ricotta!

Chef Julieta Ballesteros is a true original.  Hailing from Mexico and toting a degree from the French Culinary Institute, Chef Julieta has put a signature spin on traditional Mexican cuisine.  Ballesteros combines her Latin flavors and French technique to produce Mexican food that is both innovative and classical at the same time.

Shortly before graduation from CFI, Ballesteros was named the chef of Mexicana Mama, a tiny eatery in Greenwich Village.  It didn’t take long for her big flavors to shine as glowing reviews came in from the likes of Frank Bruni and Gael Greene.  Soon Ballesteros’ star outgrew Mexicana Mama and she headed to Chelsea.

Chef Julieta is the chef/owner of Crema Restaurante which is described as, “a higher concept of Mexican Cuisine.”  The accolades continue with proclaiming, “Makes you want to celebrate” and New Yorker says Creama is “Uniformly Excellent”.  The New York Times calls Ballesteros, “A chef to watch.”

In a convenient coincidence this episode is scheduled to air just two days after Iron Chef Cat Cora made headlines with a statement about the Mississippi Prom Controversy.  Cat, an open lesbian, voiced her support for Constance McMillen and her wish to take her girlfriend to prom.

Judges included actress Claudia Bassols (Spain: On The Road Again), Nina Griscom and a noticeably thinner Karine Bakhoum (KB Network News).

For the outcome click HERE.

ICA: Cora Vs. Ballesteros – Outcome

SPOILER ALERT – the only thing this post contains is the outcome of ICA: Cora Vs. Ballesteros.

Chef Cora defeated Chef Ballesteros in Battle: Ricotta.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up


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