Brad Sorenson

Best of “Chopped All-Stars” Tweets WK 1

Chopped All Stars

All this month the Food Network is airing a new charity version of hits hot cooking contest Chopped.  The special addition entitled Chopped All-Stars pits some of your favorite Food Network chefs plus NFNS 5 alum Debbie Lee against one another for the chance to win $50,000 for the charity of their choice.

Chopped All-StarsIn 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 (Chopped judge), Claire Robinson, Duff Goldman, Robert Irvine, Beau MacMillan, Jacques Torres, Nate Appleman and former NIC contestants Anita Lo, Aarón Sánchez (Chopped judge), Maneet Chauhan and Amanda Freitag (Chopped judge).

I spoke with Alex Guarnaschelli recently about this event so be sure to read her thoughts HERE.  Through out the week of Chopped All-Stars, I’ll be live Tweeting each show and will post some of the best Tweets I encounter here and adding new snark with each episode.  And I won’t be alone.  You can follow the action life HERE.

Week #1 – NFNS Alum:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/FoodNetwork/status/44550170448375808″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/StuartDonald/status/44550800403480576″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/Kellykoop/status/44558778984710145″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/LegallyBrunette/status/44553833837363200″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/ChopTedAllen/status/44587355511853056″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/IbCarlyCammille/status/44580703119224832″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/purplereign005/status/44580121574768640″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/text100/status/44580258384576512″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/PattiVarol/status/44578568805695488″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/pastorjaredm/status/44580086346809345″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/ChopTedAllen/status/44582066716803072″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/sassifilli/status/44584765583654912″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/black_canary02/status/44589905162145792″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/Kellykoop/status/44585871973957632″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/ChopTedAllen/status/44585212499341312″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/guarnaschelli/status/44590108065796096″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/mvpchef/status/44591636763779072″]

Check out the best Tweets from week 2 HERE.

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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

7 Questions with Tom Pizzica

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

In the history of Next Food Network Star few people have captured America’s heart like NFNS 6 runner-up Tom Pizzicia. Tom’s down-on-his-luck story was brightened by his genuinely jovial attitude.  In case you don’t recall Tom was unemployed when filming began, another victim of this never-ending recession.  Something about his Teddy Bear lovableness resonated with NFNS viewers like no one in the show’s past.

Also in the history of NFNS no one has ever prepared a dish as bad as the “bacon steak” Tom made as the centerpiece of his Iron Chef challenge.  A dish so bad that Food Network VP Bob Tuschman officially proclaimed it the worst recipe in the history of the show.  You would think with that kind of praise he would have surely been bounced early in the series but the reality is he dang near won, a tribute to his resilience.

I recently spoke with Pizzica’s friend and fellow NFNS runner-up Herb Mesa who spoke well of his pal mentioning, “. . . what I loved about Tom, Tom’s creativity.  Tom would swing for the fences.  When his food was on it was amazing. . .”

Luckily, the Food Network has discovered that just because someone does not win the competition doesn’t mean their viewers have washed their hands of them.  Aaron McCargo Jr. won NFNS 4 and the series that comes with it but contestants Adam Gertler and Kelsey Nixon have their own shows as well. The same is true for NFNS 5 runner-up Jeffrey Saad.  The same appears to be true for NFNS 6 as Aarti got her series by virtue of being the winner but Mesa and Tom are still both part of the FN family.  Herb writes a blog for the Food Network web site and Tom is set to host Outrageous Foods.

Tom Pizzica is also set to answer 7 Question:

1.  How old were you when you first started to cook?

Tom Pizzica of Outrageous FoodI think I may have cooked up my own placenta!  But really I remember being about six or so and helping my mother with the occasional dinner parties she would throw and I remember being about seven and cooking up my first solo batch of fried eggs and toast while my mother was away on business and my step father was asleep in the bedroom. I immediately was hooked because it was such a great sense of freedom.

2. You’re working on a new show for the network entitled “Outrageous Food.”  How does it differ from the special that Aaron McCargo Jr. hosted last spring?
It’s actually going to be the exact same show with a different host. The special was done to whet the appetite of viewers and to see how well it would do, I guess it did well because they gave us 8 episodes. It’s produced by Page Productions who are the same masterminds behind the networks #1 show Diners Drive-ins and Dives so I know I’m in good hands.

3. Which chefs have influenced you the most?
I think my favorite is Jaques Pepin as far as the “famous” chefs go but for the most part its the talented unsung heroes that whipped my butt and taught me how to be a good cook that are the celebrity chefs and not some dudes that wrote 17 books that I’ve never met.

4. When you look back at the last year or so of your life what goes through your mind?
The scene from “Old School” where Will Ferrell’s character busts out that incredible argument at the debate and then goes “what happened?! I blacked out.”

5. How many times a week does someone ask you about “bacon steak?”
Oh the bacon steak…how I love thee. I get hit up on facebook all the time about it. I love it. It’s been perfected at home via my trusty pressure cooker. I actually want to hit up the Executive producer of “Next Food Network Star” and see if I can make a guest judge appearance where the challenge is to make the best bacon dish. I love that I took the title from Gertler for having the single worst dish in Food Star history! It’s all fun.

6. You and Brad Sorenson both strike me as pranksters. Were there any practical jokes that the cameras didn’t catch?
We were all too tired for shenanigans like that. Ya know that tired where things cease to be funny and become annoying. We did do a lot of jovial trash talking to each other that wasn’t shown however.

7. After “Outrageous Food” premieres what’s next for Big Chef?
Hopefully 15 more seasons of Outrageous Food! But I’ve been on the road so much that the immediate future after the premiere is hanging with my new wife and close friends, a lot of couch surfing and catching up on “Jersey Shore”!!!

Fellow food blogger and 7 Questions alum, Hagan Blount worked with Tom on the set of Outrageous Foods so check out his blog of the scene.  Sneak Peek Sunday, October 31, at 10p/9c; Show Premiere Friday, November 5, at 10p/9c

Inside Look: Next Food Network Star’s Herb Mesa

The Next Food Network Star is the highest rated show on the network each year.  Viewers are in love with the annual motley crew of Wannabe TV Chefs vying for the life changing experience that comes with winning the show.  Just think, Guy Fieri was just another restaurant owner six years ago.  Now he’s chilling at T.G.I. Friday’s with the Aflac duck.

This past August we saw the crowning of a new star, Aarti Sequeira.  Many critics declared this to be the weakest group of contestants in the history of the show.  However, it did produce four of the strongest candidates in the history of the show in eventual winner Sequeira along with Brad Sorenson, Tom Pizzica and Herb Mesa.

In the early years of NFNS you never saw the non-winners ever again.  But that changed after season 4.  A season that was also packed with talented candidates, four of whom had genuine star potential but oddly enough none of those four won.  That’s when the network started integrating this talent into the fold.  Since then we have seen contestants like Kelsey Nixon, Adam Gertler and Jeffrey Saad getting their own shows on either the Food Network or kid sister The Cooking Channel. That bodes well for those who fell short of the ultimate goal this year.

Sorenson, as a reward for winning a challenge during the contest, has landed a series of 30 second helpful hints spots on the Cooking Channel.  Tom has also been tabbed to host a show called Outrageous Food (the pilot starred NFNS 4 winner Aaron McCargo Jr.) which seems perfect for his personality.  But what about Herb Mesa?  What has he been up to?  Let’s find out.

So, Herb, what are you doing today?

Herb MesaA couple of hours of work.  Then a little rest.  Then a couple of more hours work.

Can you briefly describe the process from initial entry until show time?

OK.  So let’s say the process took, probably from start to finish, I guess from my first audition until I actually went on the show about six to seven months.  And then once we shot the show it almost took a year for the whole process to be over with.

What emotions did you experience when you first arrived at the set in Los Angeles ?

You know it’s one of those feelings where you don’t know what to expect so it’s excitement, nervousness.  But since you really don’t know what to expect it’s kind of hard to describe.  Cuz you don’t know; you don’t know what to expect.  For myself I’d never been in an experience like that before.  I didn’t know what to expect so I didn’t know what to feel.  I was excited; it was something new.

So how has the exposure from Next Food Network Star changed your life?

Oh my God, my life hasn’t been the same since the show started.  It’s really weird to be recognized.  It’s nice to be recognized everywhere you go.  At least once a day or twice. In the super market, you go to a restaurant and little kids come up to you and say, “You’re that guy from Food Network.  I love you,” then run away.  It’s been really neat in that aspect.

And then as far as like opportunity-wise if you look at my Fabebook and my web page I’m constantly doing stuff now.  I’m involved in a lot of good organizations.  I’m with the Boys and Girls Club.  I just did a fund raiser last night with Make-A-Wish, Dishes & Wishes.  I mean I really keep myself busy, the Braves game.  I’m constantly working on different things.  I’m doing a tri-athalon for kids with Tourette’s on Friday.   I mean it’s just endless opportunities.

I’m working with a company.  I’m a consultant for restaurants.  So I pretty much just come in and reinvent restaurant menus for them so I am definitely keeping busy.

Does everybody ask you to do push-ups?

A lot of people do ask me to do push-ups.  People always says you don’t look that big.  You looked bigger on TV.  That’s not very nice [laughs].  I also get a lot of, “You’re a lot better looking on television.”  I’m like, “Thanks, buddy.  Thanks a lot.”

People say, “Oh my God, I loved you on the show.  You shoulda won.”  I mean, they’re not going to say, “You shoulda lost.”  So, thank you for being so polite.  Some will say, “I was rooting for ya.”  You know what?  I was rooting for me, too.

The other day Aarti mentioned on her Facebook page that you were doing some work on the Food Network web site.  What are you working on?

I have a weekly blog that I come out with of healthy snacks.  The first week I started it was back-to-school stuff.  I did a chicken curry wrap, oatmeal chocolate chip and and uh I forget what the other things was.  I did my version of potato week food which was burgers and potato salad.

I’ve been getting a really good response by people from the Food Network web site.  So it’s been pretty cool.  I’m very excited. I feel like even though I didn’t win my own show they are keeping me around.  I feel like they’re going to keep me around.  They’re going to keep me around until I do get my own show.

Do you plan on watching the new season of The Next Iron Chef?

Yeah, that’s one of my favorites.  I love that show.  It’s inspiring.  It’s cool to see chefs work at the best of their ability.  I personally got to do my own Iron Chef competition on the show.  That was probably one of the coolest things ever.  I mean, I got to cook in a Kitchen Stadium and got judged by Cat Cora, Michael Symon, Bobby Flay, Morimoto.  I mean that’s rock star.  And I did well.

I think you kind of got the short straw in that challenge because you went up against Aarti and as it ended up the two of you had the best Iron Chef performances.

Herb MesaI just think I was on the bottom luck because I gave good TV face.  I was very dramatic.  I think they liked watching me suffer.  “Watch Herb suffer.”  Every week I did the live Tweet thing and I had people every week convinced that was the week I was going home cuz I was on the bottom five times.  And every week I was like, “Thank you, folks, for coming out but this isn’t my last show.”

It was funny.  Tom said, “Herb, you’re like a cat, you’ve got nine lives.”  At least I didn’t get the worst dish in the history of the Next Food Network Star.  Which he did on that Iron Chef challenge.

I guess that speaks to the pressure of that kind of competition wouldn’t you think?

Yeah for sure.  But what I loved about Tom, Tom’s creativity.  Tom would swing for the fences.  When his food was on it was amazing but when he was off it was off.  I had the same thing.  My food was good days and bad days.  When it was on it was on, when it was off it was off.  But it’s different, you’re cooking under a whole different kind of pressure.  It’s not like cooking at home.

I’m sure this has happened to you – someone walks up to you and says, “I’ve auditioned for the Next Food Network Star.  What should I prepare for?”

I would tell them to be themselves.  No matter what just be yourselves.  No matter what.  Have an idea of what you are getting into and have an idea for what you want your show to be.  Don’t walk in there and all of a sudden try to come up with a culinary point of view.  You need to have an idea of what you want your show to be before you walk in the door.

On Thursday October 7th, Herb Mesa will be the Special Guest and Chef at a boutique benefit for The Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta.  To purchase tickets click HERE.

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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.

Stu’s Latest Kindle Single is Just $2.99

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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