chefography

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.

Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef – PT 10

This is the latest installment in a continuing series that documents my personal quest to become the host of my own cooking show. Since this is a relatively new “career,” there are no vocational programs or community college courses to prepare me for it. From what I have seen, the two most important elements in securing such a position are passion for food and plain old dumb luck. Born with a passion for food, I set out to make my own luck.

Big Timin’ It

Since I began actually writing about food for a living, my life has been going well. Not only am I making seven and a half times as much per article with Current than I made for that first one published by Lagniappe, but the food editor for the latter has begun to mimic my style. My work, it seems, has created a buzz as the cuisine articles are what’s driving the success of both ‘Zalea and Current.

One summer day I get a call from ‘Zalea’s editor. Two appearances have been booked for October featuring cooking demonstrations from Food Network Chef Bobby Flay. The magazine is a sponsor of the event and, therefore, has been granted an interview with the Iron Chef to help promote the event plus his latest publication, The Mesa Grill Cookbook. I have been picked to conduct the interview.

Meanwhile, the meeting with the production company went well. Over wings and beer I meet the other members of Wade’s team. We hash out our different ideas for a cooking show called Coastal Cuisine and we are all on the same page as far as concept. The only thing standing in our way is financing. We need advertisers.

Each of us sets out to make contact with potential advertisers, something that is easy for me since I am already traveling the area talking to winery owners, chefs and shopkeepers anyway. If I feel the potential for selling advertising for the show, I get the contact information to Wade; he’s the money man. The wheels may be moving slowly but they are moving.

Finally the day approaches for the interview with Chef Flay. Because of my history in the entertainment industry, I am never phased when I get around famous people from that world. I performed publicly for the first time when I was five. Had the lead role in a play when I was 10 and have done a smattering of TV over the years. I’ve shared the stage with some of New Orleans’ legends and gotten a standing ovation at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville. I’m in my element around entertainers. World class chefs, on the other hand, are a different matter.

Bobby Flay is a very influential chef and I count myself among the influenced. His bold style when it comes to the spicy flavors of the Southwest speaks to my natural tendency towards foods with strong, accretive flavors. I have long admired his blend of simple proteins and complex sauces. I guess it can be said that he presents his New World creations with a French accent.

There is also the public image to contend with. Flay has long been labeled arrogant and intense, a typical cocky New Yorker. Not a New Yorker in the way that Rachael Ray or Mario Batali are New Yorkers, people who’ve moved to the city and adapted. No, Flay was born in Gotham and has lived virtually his entire life there. And I am a food writer from Mobile, Alabama who has learned the bulk of his food knowledge from watching TV chefs like Bobby Flay.

A wave of anticipation rushes over me as the world’s most famous area code appears on my cell phone. I answer and hear a woman‘s voice, “Chef Bobby Flay for Stuart Donald.”

“This is Stuart.” I reply.

“One moment.”

“This is Bobby.”

Chef’s Story: Bobby Flay

Originally posted at Edible TV on January 15, 2008.

For Christmas I was lucky enough to receive a copy of a series that until now I knew nothing about. Chef’s Story is a series of in-depth interviews of prominent chefs hosted by Dorothy Hamilton, founder of The French Culinary Institute (FCI) in New York City. Among Hamilton’s esteemed guest have been prodigies like Marcus Samuelsson, and icons like Daniel Boulud, even the odd cheflebrity like Cat Cora, Anthony Bourdain, and the subject of my DVD, Bobby Flay.

Anyone who has seen Food Network’s Chefography knows that Flay was in the first graduating class at FCI and was in fact named the outstanding student in his class. Most people know that he is from Manhattan, took over his first kitchen at the age of 19, and that he is married to Law and Order: SVU star Stephanie March. But did you know that Flay once lived in Arizona, or that he once shot 42 half-hour shows in six days?

Hamilton leads off her interview by addressing Flay’s stature and drawing attention to the importance of his Spanish restaurant Bolo. She points out that Bolo was the only Spanish restaurant to have three stars from the New York Times, “making it the most acclaimed Spanish restaurant in New York City.” She also points out that Bolo opened before anyone else was doing Spanish. Bolo has since closed because the building that housed it was sold and is being torn down to make room for a luxury condo tower, but its importance is felt every time a menu features paella.

But Southwestern cuisine is what Flay is known for. However, many may not know that the New Yorker spent some time working in restaurants with Southwestern pioneer Jonathan Waxman and he further expanded his repertoire when he, “got on a plane and worked in a bunch of kitchens around the Southwest.” Many would argue that Flay is now the bell cow of Southwestern cuisine.

Flay also discusses his short lived series Food Nation and what an impact it had on him professionally. He cites that on Food Nation he wasn’t cooking, he was learning. Or as he put it he, “traveled the whole country through food.” He admits that Midtown eatery Bar Americain was born from the travels he did on the show and the many different styles of cooking to be found across the nation.

Hamilton is a knowledgeable and amiable host and as a whole the thirty minute program was brilliant and insightful. But the bonus features on the disk were just as good. For one, the complete interview did not air on TV. On the DVD you get to see it in its entirety plus you also get to see a Q&A with a group of FCI students and there is also a bonus cooking segment as well. This was my first introduction to Chef’s Story but I can assure you it will be occupying an ever increasing portion of my DVD collection.

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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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