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Mario Batali Reveals Why He Left 'Iron Chef America'

Mario Batali Reveals Why He Left 'Iron Chef America'

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Mario Batali tells The Atlantic why he decided to leave 'Iron Chef America'

“All of a sudden the judges weren't in the food industry."

Mario Batali, the chef–restaurateur behind restaurants like Eataly, Babbo, Del Posto, and several others, was a member of the Food Network family for a decade until his show Molto Mario was not renewed by the network in 2007.

Although Batali appeared on two additional episodes of Iron Chef America in 2008, Batali distanced himself from the competition and was eventually removed from the show’s opening credits. At the time of his departure, Batali had been a member of Iron Chef America for six seasons.

Recently, the chef revealed to The Atlantic why he finally chose to leave Iron Chef America, and his answer, in his quintessentially straightforward manner, is really honest and pretty great.

“All of a sudden the judges weren’t in the food industry, they were entertainment people,” says Batali. "Someone’s going to sit up there and pass judgment on something I spent an hour… to get this delicious, and they’re going to say 'Oh, I wouldn’t have done it like that.' Of course you wouldn’t have done it like that. You’re an actor.” Watch the video below for more — but be forewarned: Batali's language is adults-only.

Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.

Iron Chef Boyardee

About a year ago, a friend called to say he’d scored a pair of tickets to a taping of Iron Chef America. His company provides cookware used on the show, so it was possible for me to go as a guest without revealing my identity.

That, I figured, was an important consideration. I had been told that the Food Network threatened anyone who attended with a million-dollar fine if they revealed anything about the episode before it aired. But there are no worries now the episode finally showed up on TV a couple of weeks ago, and it only confirmed what I’d realized as I sat in the audience last year:

Iron Chef America is more bogus than even I had imagined.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade or so, here’s how the show works: Three chefs—dubbed “Iron Chefs” by some unseen but absolute authority—are called out for cooking contests by upstarts. Each episode is a one-hour duel between a challenger and an Iron Chef in which about five dishes are prepared from scratch, supposedly using ingredients heaped in sumptuous display upon a pair of trestle tables. Each contest focuses on a main ingredient, which is revealed for the first time at the beginning of the show. The contest takes place in a television studio grandly dubbed Kitchen Stadium.

The televised hour is filled with much rushing back and forth against a backdrop of learned discourse and puckish observation from commentators as the dishes are cooked and assembled. Each chef has a pair of sous chefs working under him we are led to believe that these teams invent their recipes on the spot in an amazing display of culinary creativity. At the end of the hour-long contest, the dishes are rushed to a panel of three judges, who taste them, make studied quips, and then score the collection for taste (10 points), appearance (5 points), and originality in use of the secret ingredient (5 points). Each judge is thus responsible for 20 points of the score. Whoever scores the most points out of 60 is the winner.

We arrived at the ground-floor lobby at the designated time, 8:30 a.m., to find a room full of fidgeting guests sipping Fijianese bottled water. My friend was typical of the live audience that the show attracts, which includes publicists, sponsors, cookbook editors, and other culinary hangers-on. Iron Chef America is one of the few shows that originates in the Food Network’s Chelsea headquarters on the West Side of Manhattan (others have included Emeril and Rachael Ray), and it’s the most ambitious production the network undertakes. At 8:45, we were given numbers and ushered into a freight elevator, but before we zoomed up to the sixth-floor studio, the big doors on the other side of the car opened unexpectedly, and we were treated to a view of the loading dock and the overpowering smell of rotting garbage. It was an inauspicious start.

Kitchen Stadium is a large studio with twirling spotlights pointing down from the ceiling. It had banks of fog machines and identical parallel kitchen set-ups for the two contestants: range tops, convection ovens, food processors, blenders, refrigerators, and ranks of miscellaneous kitchenware neatly assembled—all of it gleaming, as if newly purchased, or at least newly donated. There was a pair of supply tables lushly appointed with vegetables, fruits, and spices in clear plastic containers. Food Network employees scurried around like Oompa-Loompas in matching denim blouses, and one severe-looking gal with her glasses down her nose seemed perpetually engaged in keeping an inventory of the ingredients on the tables, scurrying out of the way when the cameras pointed in her direction.

The studio also contained a raised dais for the three judges and a podium for Alton Brown, the kooky and well-spoken commentator who offers factual observations about the ingredients as the show unfolds, and generally provides a running commentary as he poses behind twin monitors that let him examine the dishes being prepared via one of several omniscient cameras that pan around the set. His favorite shtick involves referring to the cameras in the ceiling as if they were operated by monkeys. The joke goes something like this: “Monkey Camera No. 9—zoom in on that plate of turnip greens so we can see it better. Somebody, please give that monkey a reward!” Alton adds zing to the show. He is assisted in his efforts by Kevin Brauch, the Canadian host of The Thirsty Traveler, who leaps into the action on the cooking floor, gathering grunted interviews from the participants and seeking answers to questions posed by Alton.

As we entered Kitchen Stadium, a nearly impenetrable fog swirled around us—the kind that normally bedevils sailors. Our first thought: “My God, they’ve really burned something.” The audience wrangler—a female dressed entirely in black, and whose black ponytail tumbled over a black fur collar, like a character out of de Sade—treated us like blind people, helping us over the snaking black cables that ran between pieces of equipment, then finally seating us at a bleacher in a dark corner. There was a similar bleacher on the other side of the room. Together, they held about 30 spectators.

As far as I could tell from the monitors, it didn’t matter where the guests sat, since you can’t see their faces anyway, enveloped as they were in fog. Only occasionally did a sweeping shot reveal the vague characters on the edges of the room, intended to make it seem like the stadium is thronged. As a TV viewer, I was under the impression that the fog was used only at the start of the show, but the fog machines kept cranking throughout the taping, concealing all sorts of details the network might not want you to see. As the taping progressed, we felt more and more like we were viewing the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Toto pulls aside the curtain and the wizard’s tricks are revealed.

The taping began promptly at 9 a.m., with the first hour spent making shots of the challenger, the Iron Chef, and the Chairman. The latter is a character left over from the original Japanese series who doesn’t have much to do in this version of the show, except to reveal the secret main ingredient with a wild-eyed shout. He also provide segues and arm thrustings here and there. In the original series, this character made more sense: Wasn’t he the rich guy sponsoring the gladiatorial game show? The current Chairman—Mark Dacascos—is a minor martial-arts actor who claims to be a nephew of the original Chairman on the Japanese show, an assertion that’s not difficult to disprove.

Nevertheless, he is always deferentially addressed by the director and other production people as “The Chairman” rather than by his actual name. Other early shots are also attended by eruptions of fog. We soon found out why.

As the cameras rolled, we saw three raised platforms at the end of the studio, one for each of the Iron Chefs: Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, and Masaharu Morimoto. (“Hey, where’s the female Iron Chef?” one of the spectators murmured, noting that Cat Cora, a fixture of the 2005 and 2006 seasons, was nowhere to be seen.) The Iron Chefs posed on their raised pedestals enveloped by fog. Up bound the challenger, chef Fortunato Nicotra of Manhattan’s Felidia, a restaurant that has recently been awarded a very rare three stars by The Times‘ Frank Bruni. He screwed up his face, stroked his chin, and examined all three chefs. This was the point at which he apparently decided which chef to challenge.

But despite the fog, it was obvious that his decision was far from spontaneous. The choice of Iron Chef had clearly been made much earlier, because two of the Iron Chefs standing on the pedestals in roiling clouds of fog were out-and-out imposters. One wore Batali’s signature jams and orange plastic clogs, but jeez—this guy had more hair than Mario and was way fatter, with jiggling, pendulous breasts and a waterfall of fat at the gut level. He was like a parody of Mario, but he played the part with commendable swagger. The Flay impersonator had Bobby’s nose, but a weaker brow and a slighter frame. He seemed reconciled to his sad lot as chef stand-in and wore a hangdog look on his raised platform as Morimoto and the faux Batali posed impatiently, while shots were fussily taken and retaken. A couple of audience members discreetly laughed into their handkerchiefs, perhaps worried about being thrown out for copping to the deception. (Nicotra’s wife, Shelly, told the Voice that her husband didn’t want to comment about the show or the observations that are made in this article.)

After the chef doubles dismounted the pedestals and skulked off, a tired-looking Morimoto—who blinked incessantly and looked bored by the whole proceeding—posed next to the challenger, with the Chairman between them like a boxing referee. The climax of the establishing shots was the revelation of the contest’s main ingredient, which the chefs were expected to use in most of their courses. Heaped on a table, the mystery ingredient—supposedly unknown at this point to the chefs, judges, and Alton Brown—was concealed behind a panel featuring crossed cleavers. A stage-manager type called for more fog as the panel was raised and the product revealed: In this case, it was six handsome three-pound kanpachis, silvery fish heaped on ice. The cameras took innumerable porny shots from every angle—some of just the heads, others of tails—to be edited later. It was apparent that the clear-eyed fish were the real stars of the show.

At this point, the cry “Quiet on the set!” went up, because the actual contest was about to commence. We all sat expectantly on the edge of our seats. The wrangler handed out our last bottles of Fiji water and offered to take us on one last trip to the bathroom. The sous chefs crouched like high-school sprinters, ready to run up and grab the fish. An alarm went off and the battle between Iron Chef Morimoto and Challenger Nicotra began.

The audience watched, enthralled, for the first few minutes. But soon, the profound difference between the show as seen by millions of home viewers and the much longer taping as seen by a handful of studio guests became apparent. On the edited show, Kitchen Stadium is the scene of frenetic activity, with the shots carefully selected to make it seem as if the participants are running around at full speed. There is extreme urgency in their every movement, as chefs and sous chefs jog between appliances, prep areas, and larders. “How will they be able to finish up all the dishes in the allotted time?” is the question that dogs the viewer the most.

Several things slowly dawned on us as we watched the taping. The participants went about their tasks methodically but unhurriedly, as if they had all the time in the world. There was none of the huddling and dialogue among team members that we expected, even though they had to develop a menu from scratch using an unknown ingredient. Like a lightbulb coming on over our heads, we realized that the chefs had known the identity of the main ingredient all along, just as they had known ahead of time which Iron Chef would be paired with the challenger. How else to explain the utter nonchalance displayed by the sous chefs, who fetched ingredients and blended them toasted, fried, and roasted them then plated them like they were enjoying a relaxing holiday in the country. The Food Network has admitted as much, saying in the past that the contestants are given a short list of possible secret ingredients ahead of time so the reveal isn’t a total surprise. But I wonder if that list is really longer than one or two items.

It became obvious that, knowing the main ingredient all along, the chefs had developed a series of recipes the way chefs normally do—through ideation and experimentation, trying and discarding recipes before settling on the collection they intended to make during the show. Hence the self-assurance and lack of mistakes that we saw unfolding before us. We’d been promised moments of brilliant creativity, but what we saw were drones going about their appointed tasks with well-tested recipes, while swooping cameras, flashing lights, smog, and frantic commentary on the part of Alton, the judges, and the floor reporter distracted us from the true nature of the situation. This was no contest—it was a culinary fait accompli. How hard could it be for three chefs, recipes in hand and some ingredients pre-prepped, to turn out five dishes in an hour? It would be a cakewalk for any true professional.

At one point, with only minutes in the real-time hour to go, one of Nicotra’s sous chefs—an attractive and poised brunette named Lara—was seen kneeling next to the ingredient table, stacking and restacking the spice jars so that the one she had used would fit perfectly back in the shelf. Urgency, indeed! Meanwhile, an omniscient and vaguely Japanese-sounding female voice counted out the minutes remaining in the contest, which ended in a blaze of flashing strobes and frenzied commentary. Then the entire operation went slack. I expected the dishes to be whisked over to the judges for tasting, but where were the judges? The finished concoctions—many involving raw fish—languished on a side board as the judges ambled around and production people wiped their brows and relaxed. At one point, one of the judges—Queer Eye guy Ted Allen—strolled over to our bleachers and chatted up the guests like he was running for political office.

There were still three hours left in the taping. What could possibly take up the rest of the time? I wondered. Though they clearly weren’t invented during the show, the roster of dishes was impressive. I’ll recount them based on what I could see from the bleachers, but don’t expect my descriptions to be particularly accurate, since I never came close to the food, and the information provided to the spectators was incomplete and sometimes contradictory—all misinformation and false descriptions on the part of the commentators could later be fixed in the editing room.

I sat worrying about how fresh the dishes would taste to the judges, who seemed in no hurry to get the judging started. Eventually, after 45 minutes or so, they took their seats for the next part of the taping: Kelly Choi, the statuesque host of local TV show Eat Out New York, wearing an astonishing quantity of make-up John J. Nihoff, who is described on the Food Network’s website as “Professor of Gastronomy” at the Culinary Institute of America, though the institute’s website styles him an associate professor of liberal arts and Ted Allen. It was announced to the audience that the tasting of dishes for each chef would take about 45 minutes, and, I wondered, wouldn’t this give the Iron Chef—whose dishes would be tasted first—a tremendous advantage?

I’d felt that Morimoto had something of an advantage all along. The judges were seated much closer to Morimoto’s kitchen area, and the lion’s share of the comments being made by Alton, Kevin Brauch, and the judges seemed to be about Morimoto’s dishes. Meanwhile, the efforts of the challenger on the opposite side of the room garnered far less attention. As the evaluating began, Morimoto was directed to stand next to the judges and give a short introduction to each dish, which was shot from different angles, then ostentatiously tasted by each member of the panel. All the comments from the judges were overwhelmingly positive and fairly nonspecific, as if they really didn’t have much to say. As a restaurant critic, I was infuriated that the comments were so adulatory and repetitive. As the dishes were presented one by one, with much fuss made over each, I noticed activity on Morimoto’s kitchen set. Then it dawned on me: In most cases, the recipes were being executed a second time for the judges, mostly by the sous chefs, but with help from the Oompa-Loompas. I was shocked. If the actual dishes produced during the contest weren’t being tasted, the competitive validity of the whole show was further undermined: What was the point of the race if the dishes were casually recooked for judging an hour later?

From Morimoto came a simple kanpachi tempura served with doctored ketchup a finely minced kanpachi tartare with dabs of five colorful garnishes that looked particularly delicious a partly cooked sashimi with freshly grated green wasabi a fish rubbed with five-spice powder, roasted whole while suspended from hooks in the convection oven—which provided a great visual, and elicited sardonic quips from Alton, who seems to have a taste for S&M (the quips didn’t appear in the final edit) seared kanpachi with daikon in braising liquid and a kanpachi rice dish with raw egg yolk and shreds of nori. As portions of the whole fish were served, Morimoto grabbed a white truffle from his pocket and ostentatiously grated it over the top of each serving. Hey, anything would taste better with fiendishly expensive white truffle grated over it! And the truffle never appeared on the table of raw materials, of course. Were they afraid an Oompa-Loompa might filch it?

Several of Nicotra’s dishes were based on an odd fish-and-mascarpone mousse. In order, they were: a “saketini” served in a small martini glass a tour de force tasting platter with several small dishes, such as fish-mousse crostini, raw fish crudo served on a warmed cedar plank (and flinging off a woodsy odor), and a California roll substituting bread for rice seared kanpachi with fennel salad in yellow-tomato vinaigrette, goosed with a bizarrely expensive 25-year-old balsamic (which also didn’t come from the table) the same mousse wrapped in alternating slices of potato and sweet potato like an enchilada, and rolled inside a slice of speck skewered with a single piece of black squid-ink spaghetti a dome of fish concealing a mozzarella motherlode dabbed with a white chowder sauce flavored with razor clams and—most impressive of all—a roasted kanpachi tail served on a thick tile of pink Himalayan salt, sided with a bottle of single-estate virgin olive oil. The last two ingredients clearly never saw the surface of the ingredients table, either, and were further proof of the predeveloped state of the recipes and foreknowledge of the main ingredient.

The two hours of judging were a colossal bore, and several of the guests found ways of sneaking away. The only thing that kept me there was seeing who won. It was clear to me that in both enthusiasm, creativity, and raw talent, the challenger should have been the winner. Morimoto deployed recipes that seemed left over from the Nobu era Nicotra took more chances. Need I mention that the “secret ingredient” was one that tremendously favored the Iron Chef? I should have had a premonition of the result from the judges’ commentary. Ted Allen had made two pointedly negative observations about Nicotra’s dishes, and had been overwhelmingly positive about everything Morimoto had done. The other two judges had been positive about nearly everything.

When the champion was announced, Morimoto prevailed. As I watched the show one year later, I learned that the contest had been a rout, with Morimoto receiving 59 of 60 points, including a perfect 20 for taste. Poor Nicotra got only 51 points he hadn’t even come close. That afternoon in the studio, Iron Chef Morimoto stood impassively to receive his award, as if he couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there. The audience was never given the actual scores. Instead, it was ushered out immediately and unceremoniously, since a second Iron Chef contest was about to be taped.

Wolfgang Puck

If you can't recall watching any episodes with Wolfgang, it's probably because he was only an Iron Chef for one episode while the show was still a mini-series in 2004. However, he's still credited as being a "retired" Iron Chef, so it's only fair to list him.

It would take me far too long to list every single restaurant that Wolfgang has opened since 2004 (but my favorite is the Disney Springs location). He's been inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame, awarded multiple Michelin Stars, and is set to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this year. He's also heavily involved in philanthropy work.

Basically, he's all around killing it at being a chef. Recently he's been a topic of conversation for dropping the f-bomb on HSN, but only to describe the ridiculous price of cookware. I feel you, Wolfgang.

Batali's Rise as Restaurateur

In 1993, Batali emerged from Italy and landed in New York City where he founded an Italian trattoria called Po. Batali then engaged in a successful partnership with Lydia Bastianich’s son Joseph. Their ventures include, Babbo, Lupa, Esca, Otto, Casa Mono, Bar Jamon, Bistro du Vent, and Del Posto.

Chef Batali has broken out of his New York mold and launched Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mosso in LA and most recently B&B Ristorante, Enoteca San Marco and Carnevino Italian Steakhouse in Las Vegas.

Batali’s cuisine is best described as classic, but simple Italian or Spanish fare—menus loaded with grilled quail, duck, rabbit, handmade pastas and a penchant for ingredients like fennel, lemon, mushrooms, green chilies, and salami and sausage.

The Batali brand is entrenched in fine cuisine today, so it looks like he has come a long way from the short pants and orange Crocs that dominated his Food Network image.

Chef Lidia Bastianich reveals why she cooks: "Food is comfort. Food is memory. It communicates."

By Joseph Neese
Published February 22, 2020 10:30PM (UTC)

("Salon Talks")


Chef Lidia Bastianich is a living symbol of the American dream. A refugee from Istria, this self-taught chef made a name of herself by introducing the country to the regional flavors of her homeland of Italy.

Before Chef Lidia opened her first restaurant in Manhattan in 1981 — and it's still going strong — risotto was not on the map. Julia Child and James Beard came to try the dish, which spawned lifelong friendships and her first invitation to appear on PBS. Bastianich has been on TV ever since.

Ahead of the 40th anniversary of Felidia, Chef Lidia decided to look back on her extraordinary journey. The result is her latest cookbook, which shares her flagship restaurant's name. Inside the pages are the storied history of the Italian eatery, as well as its most timeless recipes adapted for the home chef.

When Chef Lidia recently appeared on "Salon Talks," she revealed the reason why she cooks. To find the answer, she recalled her earliest childhood memories with her grandmother in Italy. Watch my interview with Chef Lidia Bastianich here, or read a Q&A of our conversation below.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Salon: You have been writing cookbooks for 30 years, but this is the very first time that you shared recipes from your flagship restaurant. Why was it time now?
Chef Lidia: We opened Felidia in 1981, and that's where I became a young chef. I started there. Even though we had restaurants before, I was not the chef. So I'm the chef, it's Felidia, it's 1981. And we're still going very strong. And that's usual for a restaurant to last that long, so I thought it was maybe about time that we pulled it all together. Why are we still there? What are the recipes that we cannot take off the menu? And in a way, you say, 'thank you' to the team that made Felidia what it is because it's all about team.

You're the owner of multiple restaurants in New York. There's Becco and Del Posto, plus Felidia and the whole Eataly chain. Felidia has been open for 38 years, which is a very long time. Most restaurants in New York close after about five years. What's the secret to your success?
It's been a long time. I guess maybe it's passion. I love what I do. I think the welcoming that we have from our guests, our customers. Feeling relevant maybe out there with the food. I'm conscious about good food. I'm conscious about enough food. I'm conscious about people that don't have food. And so, for me, all of that is very essential and important, and I think I bring it to the restaurant. Even though a restaurant is a business, it's a store where you sell food, and hopefully you make a little bit of a profit and you move on. But I think for me, Joseph, it was much more, and it still is and I think people feel that.

So as you mentioned, you were the sous-chef at your first two restaurants, and then you took the reins at Felidia, which was your biggest venture yet, but at the time there weren't many women doing that job. So how did you break down the walls?
Well, you're absolutely right. The first restaurant in '71 was in Queens, and we hired a chef, and I became the sous-chef for 10 years. I said, "OK." Because I loved cooking, I cooked with grandma. I cooked during school and in restaurants. But I said, "I've got to learn this — how to run a restaurant kitchen." And for 10 years, I worked as a sous-chef in our restaurants that we had in Queens.

And then, when we opened Felidia in '81, I felt that I was ready. And being a woman — I was a young woman, a young mother, a chef cooking Italian food. But you know, Joseph, I began cooking the regional food of Italy. The food in America — the Italian food — it's mostly Italian American food. And it's delicious, but that's different. That's the food of the immigrants — how they settled and what they found and how they cooked with the ingredients that they found.

And in '81 I said, "You know what? I can get a lot of the ingredients. I'm going to cook the regional foods of Italy." Italy has 20 regions, so there's plenty of diversity. And if you've traveled to Italy, you know that the food there is somewhat different. And I think that sort of caught everybody's attention. I was doing polenta, risotto, jota, things that were not known all that much. And I think that brought the attention of the press, and you know, your journalists are curious.

And I believe you did tell me though, the risotto was a favorite of Julia Child, right?
Yes. One of the highlights was when Julia Child walked in with James Beard. Now, we're talking about grandiose people — they physically were also two big people. And she came in, and she wanted my mushroom risotto. She was curious. She wanted a good Italian risotto. And ultimately when she ate it, they came back again and she wanted to learn how to cook it. And so she came over to the house. We became friends, and we were friends until her very end.

And that helped spawn your career at PBS, correct?
It certainly did. She had the Master Chef series going, and she had The French Chef. She says, "Lidia, I would like you to be on my show." And we did two episodes, and of course, one of them was the risotto. And I loved being with her cooking with her, of course being on camera and kind of talking to the camera. It was exciting. And ultimately, the producer says, "Lidia, you're pretty good. How about a show of your own?" And Joseph, that's how it started. And PBS — I love being on PBS, and I still am on PBS 20 years later.

How amazing. Do you have any great stories about James Beard to share?
James Beard. Well, he was a wonderful man. He was a man that when he talked about food — and he was a big guy — you kind of felt warmed. You kind of felt like you're being hugged by the words of food. How he spoke about food. How he wrote about food. And now he was curious too, because he knew some French food, and he was all about American food. So Italian food or him was also new, but he was leading the stage for Julia.

It sounds so strange to think about it now, but Italian food was still a new thing then, essentially. Well, the type of Italian food that we were bringing to the states.
Regional Italian food was a new thing, It was — really. The risottos, the osso bucos. Something that's very common, the cacio e pepe. It's very common now.

So speaking of your celebrity friends, your career working in kitchens goes far back. You worked at 15 at a Walken's Bakery, and it was owned by the father of Christopher Walken, right?
We came as immigrants to Astoria, Queens. And right across — catty-corner across from where I live was Walken's Bakery. And I came here as a young 12-year-old — so junior high school. And I needed a little pocket money, so there was the German bakery, and they had delicious products.

And so, I lied. I told them I was 16, because I was a big girl. And I asked if I could get a weekend job — like Friday night, or Saturday and Sunday when I was off from school. And they gave me a job, and I began as a sales girl and then got into the back baking. They were three brothers: Ken, Glenn and Christopher. And they would come on the weekend, and they would help. Christopher, especially. He was in charge of the delivery of the wedding cakes.

And are you still friends today?
We are. We're still friends. He's a good cook.

That's great to know. So you gave up the reins as head chef at Felidia, because you developed a problem with your knees, correct?

What is that like? Do you miss being in that position?
Well, I think after 18 years — I was 18 years behind the range, Joseph, as we say it. And it was getting a little difficult physically. And so I said, "OK, maybe I should find somebody." And it wasn't easy, Joseph. It wasn't easy to give my baby to somebody. But ultimately, I called a friend in Piemonte, and I told him that I'm looking for somebody that could replace me — to collaborate with. I don't want somebody to do my cooking, and I give him the recipe, I wanted to collaborate with someone.

And he said, "Lidia, I have the right young man for you." Fortunato Nicotra, who is born in Sicily but was raised in Torino, because even in Italy there's a lot of immigration up to North. Torino was the Fiat factory, and his parents found work there.

So he had the tradition — regional tradition of Sicily, of Southern Italy — which I love. And he was educated and worked in restaurants up in the North. He even went to Germany. He worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant. But he was young and very talented. We communicated, and he was ready to kind of look at me as maybe a mentor or maybe as a mother. And we said, 'Let's do this together.' And I couldn't be happier, because he had all the energy that's sort of was slowly going out of me, if you will. And he's still there 20 somewhat years after.

And he's the coauthor of your book, correct?
That's the idea of the book, because this is my thirteenth book. So why now, Felidia? And this is maybe because it's coming closer to 39-40 years — to give credit to the people that helped make Felidia what it is. Because as you said, for a restaurant to continue to be busy, somebody had to work very hard at it. And it's about the team, and especially Fortunato has been carrying it on for more than 20 years now.

And he was very excited about being part of a cookbook — getting involved in the recipes — because you know, Joseph in a restaurant, even though these are all traditional, simple, straightforward recipes, when you put them in the restaurant, you kind of kick them up a notch, so they say.

These are recipes that we are not able to take off the Felidia menu. But taking the recipes and making them a little retro and making them home cook accessible — that was the project. So the people that could come to Felidia and find these recipe — the luxury and the deliciousness of them — can go home and actually cook them at home.

You've been in the industry for a long time. With that comes both highs and lows. I read that you said you were quite "devastated" when the news about Mario Batali came out. Was that a tough time for you?
It was a very tough time. It was an extraordinarily tough time. I was not all that close with him. I certainly didn't socialize with him. It was hard. It really hurt me and not only as a professional — as a woman chef. But it hurts my emotions, my sentiments. It was against all I stood for.

I want to talk about your family, because they're front and center in the book. And when you're talking about your restaurant and how it's really a collaborative project, your family played a big role.
You write that your passion for the kitchen comes from your grandmother and your childhood in Italy. Can you talk a little bit about that? How did she inspire you to cook?

Well, Joseph, I was born in Istria, so Istria is a little peninsula on the east of Venice. It's no longer Italy. It is now Croatia. But after World War II — Italy lost the war — the Paris Treaty designated the borders. And Istria was given to the newly-formed communist Yugoslavia. Now we were ethnic Italian, and we got caught. I was just born around the time we got caught behind the Iron Curtain, and life was difficult.

My mother was a school teacher, my father a mechanic, and they were in the city — in the little city — but she put my brother and myself with grandma in the countryside. And food was scarce, so grandma provided the food for the whole family — not just us.

This courtyard — we had chickens, we had ducks, we had goats. I would milk the goats in the morning with grandma. That was my cappuccino in the morning — coffee. We had two pigs. Every November there was the slaughter. We made sausages, we made prosciutto, we made the blood sausage. I remember mixing all the blood after the animal was slaughtered right away. The blood was cooked immediately. And I would mix in that, put a little of polenta, cornmeal in there, some raisins, some chocolates if she had them.

And she would send me, of course, to the garden. "Go get the potatoes, go get the beans, go get the sage." Then the seasonality of it. She would take me also to forage, I loved that. Springtime forage for, well, the asparagus, for nettles. Fall time for mushrooms, and ultimately, then we cook. She cooked, and I was there whether I brought up the warm water or whether I just helped her shape the gnocchi. I was alongside.

And Joseph, when my parents decided in 1956, "OK, it's time to move on," we went to Trieste because that was right on the other side of the borders, where we have family left. But they didn't allow the whole family — just my mother, my brother and I — because they knew that the whole family would not return. So they left my father as a hostage. And about a week after my father escaped, he was shot at, they sent dogs, everything. But we ultimately made it.

And there we are in Trieste. We were with some family in Trieste, but I realized that I'm not going back and I haven't said goodbye to grandma, to my goats, to my friends. So I think that food for me kind of remained that connector. I started cooking, because bringing the smells, the aromas, the taste brought me back to that courtyard with grandma and I missed her so. And I kept on cooking and remembering all that she taught me and then the passion for communicating with food, and sharing food and so on. So I think that my passion for food began there, and then of course ,the training that went thereafter.

You took the words out of my mouth. I think when I cook, for example, it directly correlates to my mom and my grandmother. My mom's deceased now, but some of my fondest memories of my childhood are cooking in the kitchen. My grandmother taught me how to cook. She's an immigrant from Mexico, so it connects me not only to my culture but to my childhood. And I think I'm still feeding that inside me.
You'll always feed it. And it's going to be your comfort zone ,and it's going to be your zone when you're longing for something. Food is comfort. Food is memory. It communicates. So if you think you're going to change, no. You're going to keep on doing that and do it because it feels good sometimes. Doesn't it?

Joseph Neese

Joseph Neese is the Managing Editor of Salon. You can follow him on Twitter: @josephneese.

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Third Coast Cuisine

When the Food Network first imported the Japanese cooking show Iron Chef, foodies everywhere were dying to see Emeril Legasse, then the face of the Food Network, head to Tokyo to go head-to-head with an Iron Chef. A few years later when Food Network announced plans of producing an American version of the Japanese hit foodies again wondered if "Bam!" would echo through Kitchen Stadium. Those original Iron Chefs were Bobby Flay, Morimoto and Wolfgang Puck. Puck left and was replaced by Mario Batali and Cat Cora, but no Emeril.

So food fans clamored, maybe Emeril will "kick it up a notch" against one of his pals? That never happened. Then they added Michael Symon but no Emeril. In fact, other than reruns, Legasse has all but disappeared from Food Network. He took his act over to the sister Fine Living Network. Parent company Scripps was hoping that Emeril Live could do for FLN what it did for Food Network. It didn't. Fine Living is headed for the scrap heap this spring in lue of the new Cooking Channel.

And while Food Network was searching for yet another new Iron Chef, Jose Garces', Legasse has been busy. First there was Hurricane Katrina which effected Emeril's three New Orleans restaurants (Emeril's, NOLA and Emeril's Delmonico) and his corporate headquarters, Emeril's Hombase. More importantly Legasse's new home in Bay St. Louis, MS was completely destroyed by the storm surge. There was much rebuilding to be done.

After getting his New Orleans locals back on their feet, Legasse then turned his attention to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Mississippi saw far more damage from Katrina than New Orleans, yet the media all but ignored the good people of the Magnolia State. Legasse did not. Mrs. Legasse that is. A native of Gulfport, she insisted that her famous husband open a restaurant in her hometown to help with recovery. He did. Emeril's Gulf Coast Fish House open in the Island View Casino in 2007.

Today Legasse has seven restaurants along the Third Coast (in addition to New Orleans and Mississippi he has three in Florida - two in Orlando, one in Miami). Having learned a valuable lesson he has also opened six other restuarants that are far from near hurricane country, Bethlehem, PA (2) and Las Vegas (4).

In addition to expanding his empire, the famed chef has also added another TV show, Emeril Green on the enviromentalist network Planet Green. On Emeril Green he trades in his trademark pork fat for wholesome, organic food. He also has a radio show, Cooking with Emeril, on Martha Stewart's satalite station Martha Stewart Living Radio.

After nearly two decades of being America's favorite chef, Emeril Legasse is finally stepping into Kitchen Stadium. His appearance is timed with the release of his latest book, Emeril 20-40-60: Fresh Food Fast. It also brings Food Network full circle. Bobby Flay and Mario Batali were virtually unknown outside of the New York dining scene when Legasse was the Food Network's anchor. Drawn in by the theatrics of Emeril Live, viewers soon began watching other shows and before long the network had a metaphorical mir a poix in Flay, Batali and Legasse.

On January 3rd, Legasse will team up with Batali to take on the team of Flay and White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford. Rumor has it first lady Michelle Obama (of White House Kitchen Garden fame) will make a guest appearance.

The 3 Best Recipes In America, According To Mario Batali

Snow tires? Check. Long underwear? Check. Pot roast? Check. These three items are key to making it through the coldest season&mdashand even if you live in a place where the first two aren't necessary, we highly recommend the third. It's one of those warm, slow-cooked dishes that's practically synonymous with "Sunday dinner," and is also a quintessential way to turn inexpensive ingredients into a meal that's ultimately more than the sum of its parts. This recipe uses chuck roast, but you can use any tough cut of meat, from brisket to lamb shanks to short ribs. The ingredients list also includes carrots, onions and potatoes (along with some wonderfully velvety gravy), so it's truly a one-pot meal.

Get the recipe: Yankee Pot Roast

Traditionally, New Orleans' famous red-beans-and-rice dish was something you ate on Mondays, since that was usually laundry day, when no one had time to cook. We'd happily hunker down with a bowl of fluffy white rice and creamy, meaty red beans any day, though. The dish takes on a smoky taste thanks to a ham hock, which you simmer with the beans (there's also chili powder, thyme and bay leaves, as well as chopped bell pepper and celery). Dash of hot sauce on top? Don't mind if we do.

Get the recipe: Red Beans and Rice

When comfort-food cravings collide with a hankering for the spicy flavors of Mexican cuisine, there's nothing better than an old-fashioned tamale pie. The base is sautéed ground pork, chorizo, jalapeños, corn, tomatoes and spices then comes a thick cornmeal mixture and finally, shredded cheddar. Bake this tri-layered wonder until the crust is set and nicely brown&mdashand although it's wonderful after resting for just 15 minutes, Batali swears it's even better the next day.

Disgraced by Scandal, Mario Batali Is Eyeing His Second Act

On a gloomy Friday afternoon in February, Mario Batali sat down for coffee at the Marlton Hotel, a few blocks from Babbo, his restaurant in Greenwich Village. His guest was the food consultant and writer Christine Muhlke.

Mr. Batali had called the meeting, as he has with several other people whose opinions he trusts, to figure out how his life and career might recover from a disastrous turn.

In December, a series of news reports about the celebrity chef began tumbling out. Several women described a decades-long pattern of abusive behavior both in his empire and at restaurants owned by friends that ranged from lewd, drunken propositions to physical groping, including one incident at the Spotted Pig in the West Village in which a woman appeared too intoxicated to respond.

Mr. Batali, 57, said he didn’t recall all the reported episodes, but immediately apologized. His popular, prolific social media feeds largely fell silent. ABC pulled him from its weekday talk show “The Chew.” Food Network canceled plans to remake his first program, “Molto Mario.” Eataly, the Italian food emporium in which he has a minor stake, took his products off its shelves. He stepped away from daily operations in the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, which has 24 restaurants and nearly 2,100 employees.

Several powerful men, in several industries, have had their worlds kicked out from under them as the #MeToo movement has gathered momentum. As many have removed themselves from public sight, forfeited business interests or sought treatment, a question lingers: Is a comeback from such disgrace possible?

Mr. Batali, who has never been known for his patience, is asking that question — actively exploring when or whether he should begin his. Friends and associates say he is floating ideas, pondering timelines and examining whether there is a way for him to step back into his career, at least in some fashion.


Mr. Batali declined to be interviewed, saying he was “still figuring out my stuff.” Those who have spoken with him recently said he appears to be deeply introspective and seeking counsel on what his future might hold, both personally and professionally.

Mr. Batali is examining what he has called his blind spots and considering how life might look when he is not, as he told one person he consulted over the winter, “the lead singer.” He told a colleague that he is simply trying to learn to be the wallpaper in the room and not the room itself.

Nonetheless, Mr. Batali has sketched several scenarios that put him in the driver’s seat but cede some control, people he has spoken with recently say. One is creating a new company led by a powerful woman chief executive. In early February, he broached the idea with Federica Marchionni, the former president of Dolce & Gabbana, who was briefly the chief executive of Lands’ End.

This month, he is traveling to Rwanda and Greece to work with refugees as a private citizen. He is thinking about creating a program in which chefs can join him a few times a year to help displaced Rwandans as they return to their country.

On the other hand, Mr. Batali has said, he might just move to the Amalfi Coast.

He is still wrestling with the future of the restaurant group that he started with his partner, Joe Bastianich, in 1998 when they opened Babbo. The two men are communicating through lawyers these days, negotiating a complicated buyout that is difficult but, both sides said, not acrimonious.

“The process of his divestiture is going really well considering how complex it is,” Mr. Bastianich said last week. “The real point of beginning will be when he departs from the company. That’s ground zero. It’s about creating a post-Mario world.”

Five Weeknight Dishes

Emily Weinstein has menu suggestions for the week. There are thousands of ideas for what to cook waiting for you on New York Times Cooking.

    • This coconut fish and tomato bake from Yewande Komolafe yields a gorgeous, silky ginger-coconut sauce.
    • This tasty recipe for sheet-pan chicken and potatoes by Lidey Heuck is really nice without being fussy.
    • This vegetarian baked Alfredo pasta with broccoli rabe is inspired by pasta Alfredo, but with green vegetables added.
    • Kay Chun adds asparagus and snap peas to this spring vegetable japchae in this vegan take on the classic dish.
    • You could substitute chicken or another type of fish in this summery grilled salmon salad from Melissa Clark.

    When Mr. Batali’s name comes up among groups of food professionals over drinks or between sessions at conferences, some say that if any of the men caught in the current wave of sexual harassment scandals can forge a path back, it might be Mr. Batali.

    He still has legions of fans and colleagues who admire and respect his generosity, culinary knowledge and charisma. Many still post their interpretations of his recipes on Instagram, ask him for selfies on the street or urge his return to “The Chew” on Facebook. His restaurants continue to attract customers.

    Still, there seems to be no end to late-night television jokes at his expense. His movements around New York are fodder for tabloids and tweets, some suggesting that his past behavior bordered on criminal.

    Few food celebrities want to be connected to him publicly. Privately, some suggest the time has come for a more nuanced approach to replace the scorched-earth policy toward men who have harassed women — one that allows something resembling redemption.

    But for Mr. Batali, that door may not be open — at least professionally.

    “Retire and count yourself lucky,” said Anthony Bourdain, a longtime friend of Mr. Batali’s who has not spoken with him recently. “I say that without malice, or without much malice. I am not forgiving. I can’t get past it. I just cannot and that’s me, someone who really admired him and thought the world of him.”

    Others, including people who have worked for him, say the absence of his food knowledge and his palate would be a loss. Melissa Rodriguez, who took over in 2017 as the executive chef at Mr. Batali’s most acclaimed restaurant, Del Posto, often asked him to come to the kitchen to taste new dishes and share his advice. “He’s been nothing but a generous individual to me,” she said.

    Ms. Rodriguez said she never considered leaving the company after his treatment of women came to light. “The biggest concern is for my staff,” she said. “I have a huge staff, and I am not in the business of abandoning people I spend more time with than my family.”

    People whose opinion Mr. Batali has sought are counseling him to take it slowly, and to consider whether he and his family want to endure all that would come if he stepped back into the food business.

    Ms. Muhlke, a former editor at The New York Times Magazine and Bon Appétit, said her advice to any accused chef would be the same: “Leave the field,” she said, “and let us do the work needed to build something better.”

    Ms. Muhlke would not discuss the details of her February meeting with Mr. Batali, but said “my advice to these chefs and restaurateurs is that this is not a scandal, this is a paradigm shift. The old ‘wait it out and return appearing humbled’ prescription no longer applies.”

    Christine C. Quinn, whom Mr. Batali supported during her 2013 run for New York City mayor, is now the president and chief executive of Win, the city’s largest provider of shelter for homeless families. She is a friend of Mr. Batali’s, and one of the advisers he sought out this winter. She, too, told him to take things very slowly.

    “My advice for him has been since Day 1 to recognize the severity of what has been leveled against him and recognize how absolutely and completely unacceptable his behavior was,” she said.

    If he does start a new company, she said, he should give the reins to people who can drastically change the culture that both allowed and hid his behavior.

    “I do give Mario a ton of credit for reaching out to people like myself, and not calling for us to stand with him,” Ms. Quinn said. “I think that bodes well.” She, like others who have spoken with him recently, believes that he is slowly coming to understand the impact of his behavior and the reasons it happened, including his relationship with alcohol.

    “I think he is trying to find a way to engage in real redemptive behavior,” Ms. Quinn said, “but only time will tell.”

    Forged Bios, "Shadow Kitchens" and Some Accidental Porn: 25 Shocking Secrets About the Food Network

    Food Network/E! Illustration

    From its early days as a home for beloved, if traditional, "stand-and-stir" instructional cooking programs to the pop culture behemoth it's become, the Food Network has never not been interesting.

    The cable network, which just celebrated its 25th birthday, has spent a quarter-century introducing the world to the foodie movement, making superstars out of chefs and home cooks alike, and inspiring home cooks to be a little more adventurous in their own kitchens. And along the way, it's also generated its fair share of headlines. But what you don't know about the network, the little secrets and fascinating facts that have piled up over the past 25 years, just might be enough to eclipse all the entertainment Guy Fieri, Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis, and the rest of the gang have cooked up for us.

    From accidental porn to the insane original concept for Chopped, the Food Network has proved that an old saying just might need an update. If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. And if you can bring the heat, you better be on Food Network.

    In honor of the network's big birthday, we're bringing you 25 of the most fascinating secrets that we've learned about Food Network over the last 25 years. Bon appétit!

    Chopped's a pretty straightforward of a concept: Four chefs compete in three rounds, creating dishes making use of four required ingredients found in a basket, until only one is left standing. But the Ted Allen-hosted series didn't start out that way. As revealed in Allen Salkin's 2013 book From Scratch: Inside the Food Network, the initial concept, inspired by Deal or No Deal, involved a silhouetted tycoon would plan a dinner party, and his butler, "a snooty John Cleese type," would pit four chefs against each other for the privilege of cooking the dinner. After each round, a chef would be eliminated by a panel of judges (including Rocco DiSpirito), and their dish would be fed to a Chihuahua named Pico. Luckily, then-programming head Bob Tuschman rejected the idea and producers decided to scale things back into the wildly successful series we all know and love today.

    Just under four years after the network launched, it found itself in some seriously hot water when viewers tuning in to Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger's Too Hot Tamales were treated to over a minute of hardcore pornography as narration from the two chefs (incidentally, it was instructions for a Latin risotto) continued to play. "We were stunned and dismayed," Mary Sue and Susan told the L.A. Times said in a statement. "We have a broad viewing audience that we really care about and we hate to think of the shock or embarrassment this may have caused any of our viewers."

    The network claimed in a statement that only 10 seconds of "uncleared and inappropriate footage" actually aired and it was "absolutely unintentional on the part of the network. Although we are investigating the cause of the disturbance, including the possibility of tampering, our first and most important effort is taking all steps necessary to ensure this never happens again. We sincerely apologize to our viewers for this serious breach."

    Disgraced chef Mario Batali was one of the Food Network's earliest stars, but he had a rocky start, as revealed in From Scratch. The first sentence he ever spoke on air was a major flub: "I'm Mario Batali, chef and co-owner of Pó restaurant, an Italian village." And then in one of the first episodes of his classic series Molto Mario, he accidentally tore up his knuckles while grating some cheese. Bleeding and in pain, but unable to do anything in the moment due to the network's "no do-over" policy, he thrust his hand into a bowl of tomatoes and crushed them until commercial break.

    The Next Food Network Star has found the network several newcomers over the new years who've gone on to become staples of the channel. Joshua Adam Garcia of season three is not one of them. He made it all the way to the finals when, just before the final vote, he was forced to withdraw for lying about his background. Among his many claims that were proven untrue, Garcia (who went by the militarized nickname JAG) said heɽ served time in Afghanistan (he had not) and had graduated from New York Restaurant School (again, despite attending, he had not). The Marine Corp Times further reported, which Garcia himself confirmed, that he had actually left the Marine Corps eight months ahead of schedule after being demoted from corporal to private. His exit allowed for eliminated finalist Amy Finley to return to the competition, which she wound up winning.

    Ever watched an episode of The Kitchen and wondered how on earth all of those prepared versions of the dishes you just watched get made wound up waiting for hosts Katie Lee or Sunny Anderson in the oven? The answer would be the "shadow kitchen" in Food Network Headquarters above Chelsea Market in New York City, a gigantic space with five separate kitchen areas so chefs can prepare the food for several shows at the same time. "Typically, between 15 and 20 people are involved just for the culinary elements of a basic cooking show," Michelle Betrock, a publicist for the network, told the Pittsburgh Trib in 2009. Culinary producers plan all the "swap outs" that you see take place in the episodes of your favorite shows. "We don't want the TV crew to have to stand around and wait for three hours for the osso bucco to cook," Susan Stockton, senior vice president of culinary production, joked. As revealed in From Scratch, product made in the shadow kitchen is also on hand in case something is burned and needs to be swapped out for the cameras. After all, celeb chefs are only human.

    Despite being a fan favorite and Food Network staple since her first cooking show, Barefoot Contessa, premiered in 2002, Ina Garten insists that she rarely, if ever, sits back and watches herself in action. "I never watch cooking shows, certainly not mine," she told People in 2017. "Not a chance. I would never do another show. I think I'm terrible! I'm glad other people like it, that's all I can say."

    "I sometimes watch it for content but it's just painful! [Laughs] It's just painful. I couldn't even tell you what I'm most self-critical about — it's everything," she elaborated with Huffington Post earlier this year. "I just keep thinking, What were you thinking when you said that? or, You forgot to say this!"

    Despite the fact that she showcases her beloved Italian cuisine, as rich and tasty as it can be, on her various shows on the network, Giada De Laurentiis manages to look absolutely fit. As she's told, she attributes that to eating "a little bit of everything and not a lot of anything. Everything in moderation." However, in 2014, a source on her show told Page Six that, while filming, the chef never actually eats anything. "When she is making drinks and food that she has to drink or eat, they have a dump bucket that is brought out the second they cut," the source said, explaining that she spits the food out before filming resumes. While other sources have confirmed such a practice is commonplace for food shows, a rep for De Laurentiis shot the story down, telling the outlet, "That is absurd and completely false. She absolutely eats her own food while filming."

    Rachael Ray is viewed as nothing less than a consummate TV professional these days, but when she was filming the pilot for 30 Minute Meals on the set of Emeril Live, she nearly set the whole place ablaze. Not realizing that he skillet had been reheated for her thanks to the handy producers looking to save time, she went to put oil into the pan and huge flames shot up. "I set Emeril's kitchen on fire," she remembered on a 2017 episode of her eponymous talk show as guest Emeril Lagasse laughed.

    Few people seem as genial and inoffensive as The Pioneer Woman star Ree Drummond, but the food blogger-cum-media personality found herself in hot water when a second season episode rerun caught the attention of Lynn Chen and Lisa Lee, founders and editors of the Thick Dumpling Skin website and podcast, five years after it first aired. In the episode in question, after admitting that she wanted to prank her husband Ladd, she gathered the rancher, his friends, and her sons in the kitchen and served them some Asian hot wings fresh out of the oven. As the men look on warily, shaking their heads at the offending chicken, she pulls out a second dish of Buffalo wings and announces, "I'm just kidding, guys! I wouldn't do that to you."

    Her son's response? "Now those are some wings."

    "Why must we watch non-Asian cooks who can't pronounce 'Sriracha' and don't have a chopstick drawer show us how to make our own dishes?" Lynn and Lisa posted on Thick Dumpling Skin. "And how come, when they do, we have to watch as their entire family mocks it—like in this episode of The Pioneer Woman?"

    Despite Iron Chef America presenting the idea that each episode's challenger selects the Iron Chef they will battle on the spot as all active Iron Chefs standby on stage, chef Peter Kelly, who battled Bobby Flay in an episode of the show, revealed after the fact that he actually chose his opponent weeks earlier. And those other Iron Chefs in Kitchen Stadium? They're merely "actually silhouetted stand-ins," he revealed.

    If it sometimes seems like Ina Garten is always wearing the same outfit when you tune in to Barefoot Contessa, that's because she is. The Cook Like a Pro chef is never not without her denim button-down shirts and that's for a very good reason. "I don't like wearing an apron when I'm working, so I find a denim shirt or a corduroy shirt and I buy 25 of them," she told HuffPo. "It's like a uniform and I don't have to worry about it. They can all just go into the washing machine. At night I get dressed up — I don't wear a denim shirt at night — but when I'm working, I always wear like a brown corduroy shirt or a blue denim shirt.

    Remember Restaurant Stakeout, the reality show that ran from 2012 to 2014 and featured restaurateur Willie Degel as he visited restaurants across the country at the request of the owner and installed hidden cameras so he and the owner could spy on the employees and determine where the business' troubles actually lay? Turns out the whole thing was pretty fake. The owner of one New York restaurant told The Journal News that "none of it's real," while another revealed producers hired a waiter to drop food and drink on the job so they could be fired, told rea employees how to behave, and had everyone "change clothes every couple of hours" to pretend it was a new day.

    Remember how we told you that Iron Chef America usually has its match arranged prior to filming? That happens because the secret ingredient foisted upon both challenger and Iron Chef isn't so secret after all. As Peter Kelly revealed, weeks prior to filming, producers presented him "three possibilities: swordfish, pork or cowboy steak. So I come up with three separate ingredient lists — only one of which they'll actually purchase for the battle." And before filming began, he was able to figure out which ingredient had been chosen thanks to the other ingredients that had been purchased for him.

    Despite accusations of scripted antics on some of their other shows, Cutthroat Kitchen is so above board that they have lawyers on set to make sure everything goes down exactly as it appears. Chef Joe Arvin, who competed on the show in 2014, confirmed in an interview with Chef's Roll that despite producers "highly" encouraging "the competitors to bash each other," there was no "planned drama" and the show had to follow "all California law regarding game shows."

    "Therefore, we had a lawyer on-set to ensure that all rules were being followed and there was nothing too ⟺ke' about the contestants," he continued. "It was extremely strict in regards to providing a real world vs. Hollywood produced experience."

    Before Guy Fieri won the second season of The Next Food Network Star and went go on to build his empire and essentially become the face of the network to this day, he made an early attempt at primetime fame that didn't fair so well. According to From Scratch, "he had auditioned to be on a pilot for a barbecue show in 2004 that went nowhere, so it took some coaxing to get him to try again." He eventually sent in an audition tape using his nickname "Guido," in which he demonstrated how to make a sushi roll, and the rest is history.

    Chopped may only have a 42 minute run time, but the day it takes to get that episode in the can is much, much longer than that. As winner Kathy Fang revealed to Delish in 2016, if you make it all the way to the end, your day begins at 5:45 a.m. and ends around 8 or 9 p.m. And by the end of everything, the hunger is real. "Even though I was surrounded by food all day, I was running around so much I didn't even think of eating," she explained. Her first meal came during her final interviews, recapping the entire day, when the production crew offered her a plate of lentils, spinach, and samosas.

    While the late, great Anthony Bourdain was best known for his Travel Channel series No Reservations and, later, his CNN series Parts Unknown, his first television show was on Food Network. In A Cook's Tour, he did much of the same, traveling the globe and sampling cuisine. In season three, he wanted to travel to Catalonia, Spain to film in eBulli chef Ferran Adria's kitchen, but the network balked, pushing for cheaper domestic travel instead. Bourdain quit over the disagreement, produced Decoding Ferran Adria on his own, and that became the pilot for No Reservations.

    On the eve of Robert Irvine's big premiere with Dinner: Impossible, Marc Sommers, whose company produced the series for the network, warned the chef about his official bio, which to the former Double Dare host, appeared a little embellished. In it, Irvine claimed to have cooked with both Presidents Bush at heir inauguration dinners, as well as "royalty, presidents, and high-ranking dignitaries" aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, according to From Scratch. Marc said he might want to make sure it was accurate, but the muscular chef gave him the brush off. A year later, the truth began to come out, revealing that not much of what heɽ claimed was entirely above board and the network replaced him with Michael Symon on D:I. He was reinstated in 2009 with an edited bio page and has maintained a presence on the network to this day.

    In 2007, Emeril Lagasse was recovering from the cancellation from his longtime series Emeril Live when the network approached him about joining Iron Chef America as one of the Iron Chefs. According to From Scratch, the network saw it as an opportunity for the chef to rebrand himself as "gritty, electric, and inventive," but the congenial Emeril saw it as a demotion and passed on the offer. Three years later, however, he would find himself in Kitchen Stadium competing alongside Mario Batali against Bobby Flay and White House executive chef Christeta Comerford.

    The infamous "bam" that Emeril Lagasse has been known for since his debut on the network? It originated as a way to keep drowsy crew members awake! The chef's restaurant schedule meant that they had to film eight episodes of Essence of Emeril a day. "Inspired first by the need to keep the cameramen awake, Emeril started yelling as he added ingredients to dishes — ➺m!'" Allen Salkin wrote in From Scratch.

    "And then from there, it just continued bamming," Emeril told Eater in 2015, confirming the story. And the rest is history.

    Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay may seem like best buds these days, co-hosting The Next Food Network Star, but there was once an eight month spell where the former would not speak to the latter. As she revealed on the podcast Beyond the Plate earlier this year, the falling out occurred after she teamed up with Bobby to take on Rachael Ray and Mario Batali on Iron Chef America in 2006. "We lost and he thought it was funny," she explained. "He didn't think it was any big deal that we lost. I did not talk to him for eight months‚ eight months! I did not. Nothing. Silence."

    The way Bobby handled the loss, or didn't, to be more accurate, really rubbed Giada the wrong way. "He didn't say, ‘Hey I'm sorry that we lost,' or ‘Hey, you know we'll do it again,'" she added. "Nothing. He's just like walked away and I thought, you're a jerk and I'm never—I never want to be around you again. Now of course we're best buddies and we hang out but…"

    For years now, Guy Fieri has traveled the country to find, say it with us now, America's greatest diners, drive-ins and dives. But what happens once Triple D is done filming at your establishment and the bleach-blonde chef is ready to depart? Turns out he leaves a little piece of himself behind. A stencil that features the chef's recognizable visage, along with the message "Guy at here," the FN logo, and his signature, is pulled out and painted on the wall. "At first it was like, 'Oh man, I wish he hadn't done that.' But I can't be mad. The whole thing ended up being so amazing, we love it now," Adam Sappington, owner of The Country Cat in Portland, Ore. told Thrillist in 2016. "People take their picture in front of it, and it's like another notch in their Triple D belt. It's like, 'This is the 256th place we've been to!' It's pretty cool to be a part of that."

    Giada De Laurentiis isn't the only one who's been rubbed the wrong way by Bobby Flay's behavior in Kitchen Stadium. In 2017, he shocked everyone on Iron Chef Showdown by stripping off his apron mid-competition to reveal a shirt that read "THIS IS MY LAST IRON CHEF BATTLE EVER." Producers were stunned and, according to Vanity Fair, when they told the chef as much, he replied, "I know. That's the point." He later told People it was a joke, but one that clearly didn't land. He didn't return to the show and, as of this year, was explaining it away as being fatigued with the demanding show.

    Despite the delays in getting Chopped contestants' plates to the judges, thanks to production and the need to get all the shots just right, regular judge Amanda Freitag insists that she and her cohorts do actually get to at least preview the food as it was plated. In a 2010 interview with Reality Blurred, she revealed, "We definitely look at all the plates before we taste them." It's done so the judges know "how the sauce is supposed to have been" and things of that nature. "If it's a whipped cream that's in a beautiful [shape], we're going to remember it that way. When we're eating, we never stop to be as fair as we can," she added.

    Despite spending their first brand-building decade with instructional shows designed to make home chefs out of us all, you'll notice that much of Food Network's primetime line-up these days is comprised of competition shows like Guy's Grocery Games, Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen, with the more educational programming relegated to weekend mornings. And that's how they want it. "Our job is not to teach people how to cook. Our job is to make people want to watch television," Kathleen Finch, who oversees FN, Cooking Channel and nine other networks as Discovery Communication's chief lifestyle brands officer, told Grub Street this year. "When we find talent that works, when we find a format that works, the viewers tell us through ratings, and then we just keep making more of it."

    Top Chefs: The Best Thing I Ever Ate at a Golf Course

    Batali often has the shanks. He just calls them “osso buco,” the braised veal dish that stars at a number of his restaurants. On the golf course, though, he favors lighter fare. Take the shrimp tacos he scarfed at El Dorado Golf & Beach Club in Cabo San Lucas during the filming of the Haney Project in 2012. Or the oysters his buddy, Emeril Lagasse, grilled up last year at Cascata in Las Vegas during the golf charity event that Batali hosted. “Delicious,” Batali says. Those shellfish, not the shanks, were the cause of his slow play.

    Thomas Keller

    Executive Chef, The French Laundry, Yountville, Calif., and Per Se, New York City

    Several years ago, the three-Michelin star chef (below) swapped his kitchen whites for a collared shirt and lit for a few rounds of golf in Ireland, most memorably at Old Head, the course renowned for its vertiginous location atop a sheer-sided ocean promontory. From the clubhouse dining room, the water views were stunning. What they pulled from the Atlantic was just as sweet. “The first night there, we had black sole, which is actually Dover sole, with steamed spinach, boiled potatoes and a nice Chablis,” Keller recalls. “It was all so good, we ordered the same thing for lunch the next day.”

    Ming Tsai

    Chef-owner, Blue Ginger, Wellesley, Mass., and host of Simply Ming on American Public Television

    An unreformed golf addict, Tsai rarely passes on a chance to play. He also doesn’t miss out on many meals. His favorite club grub? Don’t get him started. “The turtle soup at Pine Valley is spot-on,” he says, “and the burger dog at the Olympic Club (below) is so inspired, I put it in my cookbook, Simply Ming.” He loves the “tasty, wood-fired pizzas” at Kukio on the Big Island of Hawaii, and the Thai cheese steak sandwich at Cascata in Las Vegas, “which they deliver to your cart with a click-in room service tray.” But the course cuisine he knows best is at his home club of Charles River, just outside Boston, where Tour pro James Driscoll cut his teeth and Tsai plays these days to an 8.3. He’s partial to a sandwich called the Sand Trap, “which is a crazy good, tuna-melt like panini on pita, with bacon.” It holds him over. At least through nine.

    Roy Yamaguchi

    Executive chef and owner, Roy’s (28 locations worldwide)

    Like most golfers, Yamaguchi gets first-tee jitters. But those butterflies don’t flutter in an empty belly. “There’s nothing better than a fresh, hot breakfast sandwich before you head out for a morning round,” the chef says. He’s particularly fond of the one at Spyglass Hill in Pebble Beach, Calif. Though the restaurant isn’t much (it’s a shack, really, squeezed between the 9th hole and the parking lot), the sandwich is a stunner, Yamaguchi says. “Applewood-smoked bacon and egg, layered in a ciabatta roll with melted cheddar.” A few big bites, then he’s off to the daunting opener, a long dogleg par-5 that eats up almost everyone.

    Alex Stratta

    Executive chef, Tapas by Alex Stratta at Tivoli Village, Las Vegas former Iron Chef Italian on Iron Chef America

    What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, including Stratta’s post-round lunch. “Food always seems to taste better after a morning of golf, but I especially love the chicken and steak satays at Cili at Bali Hai Golf Club.” Bali Hai sits on the Strip, but its white sand bunkers and swaying palm trees evoke the Indonesian island of enchantment for which the track is named. Stratta says the food is transportive, too, which is why he sticks around when it’s time to eat.

    Richard Reddington

    Executive chef/owner, Michelin-starred Redd, Yountville, Calif.

    Reddington was raised in Rochester, N.Y., so when he speaks of “white hots,” he doesn’t mean the putters. He’s referring to a humble item is hometown is famous for: unsmoked hot dogs that retain the color for which they’re named. An enthusiastic golfer as a kid, Reddington downed a lot of mid-round dogs. The best, he says, were at the Country Club of Rochester, a beautiful track with a knack for the white wieners. “At the turn,” he recalls, “we would always get a white hot and a drink called the Wedge, which had vodka, grapefruit juice and Fresca.” By then, of course, he was of legal drinking age.

    Masaharu Morimoto

    Sushi chef extraordinaire and the original Iron Chef

    At Waialae Country Club, on Oahu, the 13th green is patterned after the famed Biarritz hole in France, the 8th is an homage to the Redan hole at North Berwick and the 16th mimics traits of the 6th at National. The cooking reflects wide-ranging influences, too, drawing on currents from around the Pacific Rim. Morimoto, a Waialae member with eclectic tastes, almost always opts for the same clubhouse special: oxtail soup. The meat is rich and fork-tender but the broth is bold and bright, flecked with cabbage, peanuts and Chinese parsley, and side of grated ginger for extra spike.

    Louis Maldonado

    Chef, Spoonbar, Healdsburg, Calif. Top Chef contestant

    Maldonado doesn’t keep score on the course. But he keeps track of what he eats, which is easy, since he always orders the same thing. “I’m a big fan of golf course patty melts,” he says. Though he doesn’t have a favorite, he remembers his first one fondly. It was at Lone Tree Golf Course, a modest public track in Antioch, Calif. “Playing golf was a Sunday ritual for my dad and my grandfather, so I would go out and meet them on the back nine.” Even then, he wasn’t counting strokes. He didn’t bother counting calories either. “My dad and grandfather thought I was there for the golf,” Maldonado says. “But really I was there for the patty melt.”

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    Watch the video: The Real Reason Joe Bastianich Left MasterChef (August 2022).