Ted Allen’s jetting into Miami from NYC for a quickie 24-hour turnaround, but it’s so worth it.
On Friday night, the newspaper copy editor (gotta love it) turned TV personality will be one of the distinguished guests at a dinner benefiting the James Beard Foundation, helping to promote the culinary arts. The following day, the former Queer Eye for the Straight Guy star and current Chopped host, 48, will lead a cooking demo from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Sur La Table at Mizner Park in Boca Raton.
Tell us about the Culinary Master’s Dinner.
These events are great because the public is invited to attend, and it’s just great for anyone who revels in this art, the culture of cooking. James Beard is important for anyone who is involved in the restaurant business because it’s not easy. Most parents want to save their kids from that life, the almost warlike working conditions. It doesn’t pay well, it’s bad for your feet, there’s alcoholism, divorce, you miss all the holidays and baseball games and stuff. Those are just some of the side effects. That said, there is a camaraderie among chefs that is so tight. They work their butts off. I’m lucky to know these guys.
Why do you think “Chopped” is so popular?
A lot of elements make it work. Our editors cut the show very tightly, and it’s a very durable format. The competition is incredibly difficult. Most cooks have never been on TV before, then you have 10 cameramen following you around the kitchen. Even if we have a couple of competitors who are duds, we can make it enjoyable. It’s a good place to be. We film four episodes a week and have long days, but at the end of it, I get to go home and sleep in my own bed with my kitty cats. A lot of jobs don’t have that luxury.
What about those mystery baskets? Gummy bears just don’t seem like they could ever be tasty in anything hot.
The ingredients, which may at times seem incredibly cruel and random, are just cruel. All baskets are assembled by a group of employees from Food Network’s culinary department. There’s always a riddle inside. Let’s say they give you tomatillos, tofu, gouda and lavash flatbread. Obviously, you’re supposed to make some sort of play on tomato soup and grilled cheese.
There is always an extra plate. Do you ever eat the strange concoctions?
That’s one of the top five questions I get. The answer is no, but I consider myself lucky. I mean, Rocky Mountain Oysters? Ugh. Fans seem genuinely concerned for my welfare and that — because I am not eating what the contestants made — I might not have access to other food [laughs].
Do you do a lot of cooking at home?
I just was talking to Alton Brown on his podcast [ nerdist.com] about this: If too many days go by and I don’t cook, I get irritable. The act of cooking means more to me than sitting down and eating it. I love my kitchen. I love to play music and drink wine. A lot of people call it therapy. It’s something I really miss when I don’t get a chance to do it. If I am in production, and don’t have much time, I use my freezer. If I do a lasagna or a stew or a soup, I make a big pile for me and my partner [Barry Rice], so that way I don’t have to rely on takeout because I get tired of that.
What will you be cooking at your demo?
I’ll have some fabulous and relatively attainable recipes. I think you’re going to love the chicken with prosciutto and sage. Chicken is something every American is comfortable with, and what everyone leans on. It’s not the most original turf, but I think you can dramatically elevate the specialness of such a workaday protein. You take a Tuesday night staple and make it a little bit more like a Friday night.
Tickets for Friday’s event at the Ancient Spanish Monastery in North Miami Beach from $200: 305-751-9641, ext. 101 (http://tasteamerica.myshopify.com/collections/miami). For info on Allen’s free demo Saturday, call 800-243-0852.