Audience cheers and whistles for “Chopped” host Ted Allen when he stepped on stage at the “Taste of Beverly Hills 90210,” under clear sunny skies, were just as loud as for singer sensation Natasha Bedingfield on stage the night before.
The cookbook author, food journalist, and Food Network host and judge remain as articulate and curious as he is on television. He’s a polite and engaging guy who looks you in the eye when talking to you, even when you are an audience member. Ever the personable and pleasing host, Ted entertained audience questions and comments throughout his cooking demo.
Used to toiling alone at work, like successful fellow cookbook author, Anthony Bourdain, Ted still unabashedly shows his awe and surprise that he is so popular with the public, but also the smarts to love the challenge of spontaneous questions. And like Bourdain, the show he hosts is a success as much for the intelligent host as the concept though neither host expected to become a hit.
“Chef” Ted prepared a bruscetta and an avocado mousse dish on the cooking stage, dishes he loves because they have “surprises” in them. In his words, “I especially stuffed items – “you cut into it and, oh! there’s cheese!” Ted prepared strawberries with heirloom tomatoes in one dish; avocado and blueberries in a dessert mousse, which he presented on a plate instead in its avocado shell because that smacked of the “80’s country club style.” During the show he did win new fans for citrus zest (as important as the juice) and Chef Scott Conant’s paste with lemon zest at Scarpetta in New Yorki.
Allen expressed surprise and a little dismay at the Beverly Hills audience’s sophistication. He said mock-ruefully, “I suppose everyone here has an avocado tree in their backyard so you all already know how to pit an avocado.” Still it was certain from the rapt attention throughout, the audience was there to see him, not learn to cook
Allen’s connection with his audience started out with his accolades for local, year round producers. “You guys have such great small local wine and farm producers in Los Angeles and Malibu,” he said . He joked that he answers questions about how to learn wine with advice to taste as many appellations as possible at an event like “20910” and then try to cadge a whole glass – “like I do before going out to eat at a restaurant.”
Somehow in talking about his own show, Ted started out with the observation that judging from their hair and manner, Carson Kressley and Guy Fiori must have been twins separated at birth. He also expressed genuine pleasure that former “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” Jay Rodriquez was now a successful singer and living in L.A., happily paired off. “I miss that show,” he murmured.
What are Ted’s plans? He laughed, “Well, we get paid by the show. It takes 13 months to make one show on “Food Detectives.” We can film a show a day for “Chopped, granted that for the judges and myself it’s a 12 hours and the chefs put in 16 hours.” So, I’m going to leave the science to Alton Brown,” he quipped.
As far as judging on any show, Allen’s standard is “Top Chef’s” Tom Colliccio. He echos the admiration and respect of fellow celebrity judge, Anthony Bourdain, for
“the integrity, the moral center and the gravitas” of “Top Chef” judge Tom Colicchio.
“The people who win on our show are the people who deserve it, just as on “Top chef,” he emphasized. Ted is part of the judging process, which always takes from a half hour to an hour for each course. “And,” he added slyly, “sometimes you have to look past the personalities of some of the chefs.” Still, he summed up, I hate the “chopped” part—even if the chef is a jerk.
Apparently it’s a little different on “Iron Chef.” “You don’t want to see Mario mad,” said Ted, unwilling to explain further. I’m happy doing commentary from the floor. On that show, Allen explained, chefs have to make only one plate for the judges, and they probably are given a list of five ingredients that might be the “secret” one.
And what’s the process behind the mystery ingredients in the “Chopped” basket that the chefs must use to prepare each course? Ted explains. “No, they aren’t picked by a secret cabal of mean people. And I try to talk them into not using jokey items (jelly beans).
There are usually three items that match (say all Asian) and one that doesn’t match- but the staff has to have ideas themselves about possible dishes made from them. Like you’d never think of preparing fish with cheese.
The lady next to me exclaimed, “oh yes. I would.” Ted looked over at us quizzically and laughed. I pointed out that this lady was Susan Irby, “the Bikini Chef.“ And I bet she looks better in a bikini than Florence Tyler,” he quipped. Silence and then almost under his breath, “At least the top part.”
At the LG Electronics Kitchen competition later that afternoon, life imitated TV art as a panel of celebrity chefs joined Ted on the judging panel in the “Taste of Something Better” Cooking Competition, where three finalists vied for the crown of “America’s Top Amateur Chef” and the opportunity to represent the United States in the 2010 LG “Life Tastes Good” global cooking competition in Seoul, South Korea, this fall.
Seated with Ted was tall, rangy celebrity Chef Tim Love of the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Forth Worth, TX, season two winner of "Iron Chef America.” At the other judges table sat Michael Voltaggio, Chef de Cuisine at The Dining Room, Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena (who also did a cooking demo), and "Top Chef Masters" fan favorite, Ludo Lefebvre. They all mugged for the camera, even if it was closed circuit.
From the first, the competition was afire with (staged?) starring from the chefs, especially Chef Voltaggio, spunky, fit host Sissy Biggers, who was working the sponsor angle heavily (with LG appliances you can substitute an old range with a new one by simply sliding it in). The chef teased her that she was the deciding vote in a competition that made him lose. “Well, that wasn’t me because I wasn’t a judge,” shot back Sissy with a smile, to which Michael retorted, “oh yes, the judges were tied and you had to vote.” Sissy just cocked her head moved away.
The judging chefs all took their time deliberating the merits of each dish, and sure enough, just like on tv, sincerely, if dutifully, praised each chef for execution and giving allowances for the pork being overdone because the competitor was the last to plate.
Brett Youmans from Reading, Pa., earned the America's "Top Amateur Chef" title for his orange scented lamb skewers atop watercress and roasted fig salad with baked goat cheese crisps. Runner up Lou Kostura (Belmont California) was awarded first runner up for his crab stuffed pork tenderloin while Paula Manning (Spokane, Wash) took home second runner up for her chicken cacciatore with polenta recipe. The winner took home a complete LG kitchen makeover.
Aside from the timing glitches and the hope that the fantastic site across the lane to the prestigious Beverly Hilton Hotel will be asto-turfed in the future (covering the hot black parking lot) this fantastic FOOD AND WINE MAGAZINE event deserves to be an annual one as Beverly Hills. Mayor Jimmy Delshad promised he would try to make happen. Beverly Hills indeed lived up to its reputation as the “legendary playground to Hollywood stars synonymous with luxury, sophistication, and elegance.”