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ICA: Flay vs. Hughes

NewICAHeader ICA: Symon/Burrell vs. Cora/Irvine

A special Iron Chef America pits Food Network against the Cooking Channel as Chuck Hughes (Chuck’s Day Off) is the first star from the kid sister network to enter Kitchen Stadium.  Waiting for him will be Iron Chef Bobby Flay, a veteran of 46 battles.  Will experience win out?

Chef Chuck HughesChuck Hughes is a veteran of the Montreal food scene.  He’s been working in “The City of Saints” since he left culinary school culminating in Garde Manger – an Old Town Montreal restaurant he opened with two friends in 2006.

Then came Chuck’s Day Off (read my review HERE) one of those outsourced Food Canada shows that make up a large part of the Cooking Channel’s initial line-up.    Here’s what they have to say about their star, “Chuck was on the fast track to a career in advertising, but somewhere along the way, fell in love with the restaurant business. He enrolled in culinary school, started working in the city’s hottest kitchens and hasn’t looked back since.”

Judges for Battle: Canadian Lobster were John T. Edge, Karine Bakhoum and Stefan Gates.  Chef Flay was once again assisted by Sous Chef Renee Forsberg (who I believe oversees Flay’s Mesa Grill outpost in the Bahamas).  Chef Renee was sporting her signature Pocahontas ponytails.  Also adding heat to Flay’s kitchen was the adorable Christine Sanchez, Culinary Director of the Iron Chef’s company, Bold Food.

If you haven’t already be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Iron Chef Bobby Flay (HERE).

Click HERE for the outcome.

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10 Most Influential Chefs Part 1.

This is a ranking of the chefs I feel have had the greatest influence on the American culinary scene.  When the idea of ranking the 10 most influential chefs originally came to me the first thing I had to do was set out a criteria for my ranking.  Here’s what I asked myself:

  • Have they influenced younger chefs?
  • Have they had an influence on the American table?
  • Have they influenced the US dining scene?
  • Have they influenced home cooks?
  • Have they influenced me?

As with any of these types of lists debate will rage.  I invite, nay!  I implore you to use the comments section to offer your own critiques and substitutions.  Let’s get started shall we?

Michael Symon10. Michael Symon (Lola, Lolita, Bar Symon and The B Spot all in Ohio and Roast in Detroit).  The first controversial entry?  Before you go off thinking I’m nuts check this out.  In 2006 Symon opened Parea next door to Gramercy Tavern in New York City.  Though professional critics liked it (Bruni gave it 2 stars) the cynical New York diners said that Symon wasn’t ready for New York so it closed a year later.  The reality isn’t that Symon wasn’t ready for New York but rather New York wasn’t ready for Symon.  Right now virtually every New York restaurant is exploring the pig – pigs feet, pork belly, chocolate covered bacon – all of it is thanks to Chef Michael Symon.  Read my exclusive interview with Chef Symon HERE.

James Beard9. James Beard (Hors d’Oeuvre, Inc. catering in New York, Hors D’Oeuvre and Canapés, Running Press). Julia Child dubbed Beard the “Dean of American Gastronomy” for introducing traditional French cuisine to a post WWII America.  He is the namesake of the James Beard Foundation as well as the first celebrity chef having hosted the first cooking show in television history.  Beard established and taught at The James Beard Cooking School (New York City and Seaside, Oregon) and he, more than anyone else, is responsible for creating the New York fine dining scene.  Frankly, Chef James Beard should be much higher on this list.  Even though professionals grasp his importance, unfortunately most home cooks are unaware of his place in culinary history.  Chef Beard left us in 1985 but his mark is firmly affixed to every great meal in America.  Beard’s grounding breaking 1940 cookbook Hors D’Oeuvre and Canapés is still available at

Graham Kerr8. Graham Kerr (The Galloping Gourmet, The Graham Kerr Show and countless other TV shows and cookbooks).  Kerr was the third celebrity chef in American history following chronologically behind James Beard and Julia Child but at his peek he was more famous than his contemporaries by a country mile.  His story is interesting, a Scot cooking French cuisine who became famous in New Zealand before coming to the New World to become a star (read more HERE).  Kerr’s jovial personality made him the perfect cooking show host because you didn’t have to care about food to be entertained.  Weight Watchers, in an amazing stroke of hypocrisy, once proclaimed Kerr “public enemy number one” for his high fat, high calorie French cuisine.  Today Chef Graham Kerr is known for reinventing his cooking style with his Mini-Max approach – minimize the fat and calories and maximize the flavor while Weight Watchers is the poster child for overly processed Frakenfoods.

Bobby Flay7. Bobby Flay (Mesa Grill in Las Vegas, New York City, and in The Bahamas; Bar Americain in New York City and Uncasville, Connecticut; Bobby Flay Steak in Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Bobby’s Burger Palace – a regional chain).  Another controversial pick?  Hardly.  Whether you like Bobby Flay or hate him you know who he is and what he does.  He was one of the first Food Network hires.  He was the executive chef of a popular NYC restaurant at age 19.  He was the top graduate in the first class ever at New York’s esteemed French Culinary Institute.  He pioneered the Spanish/tapas craze.  All noteworthy credentials but he makes the list because Flay has done more with Southwestern cuisine than anyone else.  Quite honestly Southwestern maybe the culmination of 230+ years of American food.  It employees the techniques of French cuisine with Southern and Tex-Mex along with a strong native American influence as well.  It’s bold, innovative flavors are the very embodiment of the American spirit and there is no finer practitioner than Chef Bobby Flay.  For more on Flay check out my exclusive interview done in 2007.

Emeril Legasse6. Emeril Legasse (Emeril’s Chop House and BAM in Bethlehem, PA, Emeril’s in Las Vegas, Orlando, Miami Beach and New Orleans, Emeril’s Tchoup Chop in Orlando, NOLA in New Orleans,  Delmonico in New Orleans and Las Vegas, Table 10 and Lagasse’s Stadium in Las Vegas).  Legasse has his fair share of haters and people who believe that he is more character than chef.  However, Emeril is as beloved a chef as this nation has ever seen.  He has set the standard for how a cheflebrity should conduct business, fair but firm.  He takes care of his people ( check out his post-Katrina efforts sometime) and he truly is an amazing chef.  Keep in mind that he convinced the famed Brannan family of New Orleans to turn over the reigns of the Commander’s Palace after Paul Prudhomme left to open K-Paul’s to an unknown Yankee chef from Fall River, MA.  That turned out OK didn’t it?  But the main reason that Emeril makes the cut is because of his TV work.  To put it bluntly the success of Food Network is solely attributed to Legasse’s show Emeril Live which literally put the network on the national radar.  It made the network and his work on the show turned a generation of drive-thru devotees into home cooks.  That is substantial by anyone’s criteria.  Without Chef Emeril Legasse there might not be a Food Network today.

There’s the first half of my list of the 10 Most Influential Chefs.  Check HERE for the top 5 chefs.

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Flay Does it His Way – Interview with Chef Bobby Flay

Originally published in ‘Zalea Magazine in October, 2007.

Bobby FlayFew names in American culinary circles is as polarizing as Bobby Flay. His fans and critics alike can be numbered in legions. For every person who describes him as arrogant or cocky there are a dozen who call him brilliant. Few, however, can debate Flay’s influence on American cuisine. More than any other chef, Bobby Flay is responsible for taking Southwestern cuisine from the dessert resort and depositing it on the table of every American.

Flay’s path to success began as a high school drop out. A native born New Yorker, Bobby was bored with high school and decided it was time to enter the workforce. At the age of 17 he began working as a line cook at Theater District legend Joe Allen Restaurant. Allen was so impressed with the young man’s talent and drive that he picked up the tab himself to send Flay to the newly opened French Culinary Institute.

By age 19, Flay had a degree in Culinary Arts and was the executive chef at Miracle Grill in the East Village. It was there that Flay’s bold Southwestern Cuisine caught the attention of restaurateur extraordinaire Jerome Kretchmer. Flay and Kretchmer teamed to open Mesa Grill in 1991 and a year later were the owners of the coveted Best Restaurant Award given by New York Magazine’s Gael Greene. They have since opened five more acclaimed restaurants in four cities and in two countries.

Flay’s second eatery, Bolo, specializes in Spanish cuisine, a trend that he pioneered in America. Italian restaurant icon Mario Batali has since opened a Spanish restaurant as have Alex Ureña and Frederick Twomey. Flay says that, “Spain has been left off the culinary map in this country. It has been all bistros, French and Italian cuisines. We opened Bolo 13 years ago and people weren’t sure what to think of it at first. The food in Spain is very herbaceous with lots of salty, gutsy flavors.”

Dinner Conversation: 39 Interviews with America's Favorite Culinary Movers and ShakersIn 1993 Flay was named Rising Star Chef of the Year by the esteemed James Beard Foundation. It was the same year that he joined the original troupe for the launch of a new cable network devoted strictly to food. The Food Network debuted with shows hosted by Flay, Batali and network anchor Emeril Legasse. Asked how the industry has changed since the launch of the network Flay says, “The industry has changed tremendously, but food in America has changed even more. It has gotten Americans to open their minds to new ingredients and new cooking styles. People are doing less fast food and learning to cook at home again.”

The following year saw the publication of Flay’s award winning first cookbook, Bobby Flay’s Bold American Food (Warner Brothers, 1994). Six more best selling cookbooks have followed with the latest being Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill Cookbook: Explosive Flavors from the Southwestern Kitchen which was released on October 16th. According to Flay, “It has taken 17 years to put together. It is sort of a greatest hits of the items we have featured on our menu over the years. Some of the recipes will be featured in the shows I will be doing there (in Mobile, AL).”

In 2000 Flay did something no other Food Network chef had ever done – he escaped the “kicked up” shadow of Emeril Legasse to become a bona fide star in his own right. A Japanese television show had become all the rage on US shores; it was a cooking competition called Iron Chef. The Iron Chef team made a visit to New York City where Flay challenged Iron Chef Japanese Masaharu Morimoto in Battle Rock Crab.

During the contest Flay complained of faulty kitchen equipment which many of his critics considered whining. As the last seconds ticked off the timer Flay leaped onto the counter to fire up the partisan crowd. This display did not sit well with the eventual winner, Morimoto who went on record saying that Flay, was “not a chef.” The animosity eventually led to a rematch in Japan in which Flay revamped his celebration and his cooking approach to defeat Morimoto on his own turf. Today the two men are friends and fellow Iron Chefs on the US version called Iron Chef America.

The Chef considers himself a “Texan by marriage,” but says the flavors of the Lone Star State were a part of his cooking prior to marrying Law & Order: SVU star Stephanie March, “I have been cooking Southwestern food since ’88. Blue corn and chilies have always been a part of my pantry so I have always thought of Texas. It is ironic that I am now married to a Texan.”

Though Flay’s style of cooking both personally and professionally is quite healthy he admits that he regularly enjoys ice cream. “I love to eat it, but I shouldn’t. I don’t eat a lot of junk food or fast food, so ice cream is my guilty pleasure.”

Bobby Flay speaking in Mobile, AL.

Bobby Flay speaking in Mobile, AL.

Chefs often come across new ingredients that demand exploration. It is through this investigation that new techniques and even food trends are introduced to American palettes. Chef Flay is no exception stating that right now his enthusiasm is devoted to, “spice rubs instead of marinades. They a do a better job of penetrating the food with flavor.”

Flay first visited our area a few years ago to do a profile on Matt Shipp (chef/owner of Justine’s at the Pillars) for a show called Food Nation. When asked if he planned on reuniting with Chef Matt on his visit to Mobile he said, “I haven’t talked with Matt in a while, but I am going to try and get by Justine’s.” He also expressed an interest in trying West Indies Salad, a Mobile delicacy.

In 1982 Bobby Flay was a high school drop out working as a line cook. Twenty-five years later he is the owner of six renowned restaurants, author of seven bestselling cookbooks, and an Emmy-winning television star. So what does the future hold for the fourth generation Irish-American?

On Saturday November 3, 2007 Chef Bobby Flay will make two appearances at the Mobile Civic Center. He will perform live cooking shows at 11:00 a.m. and at 3:00 p.m. Tickets range in price from $39.00 to $69.00. For more information you can contact the Mobile Civic Center at 251-208-7906 or Ticketmaster (

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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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