Chatelaine Kitchen

Ted Allen takes our mystery ingredient challenge

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Guest Post by Jen O’Brien I had the great honour of speaking with culinary guru Ted Allen about a week and a half ago when he was in Toronto promoting his new show, Chopped , which premieres in Canada tonight at 10:00pm EST on Food Network. You may know Ted from Top Chef, Iron Chef America, Food Detectives or from his role as “the food and wine guy” on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Here’s a snippet of my interview with him. Check back September 28th for the full interview, entertaining tips and Ted’s thoughts on which wines are best to serve with your Thanksgiving feast. Q: Tell us about your new show Chopped. A: To my everlasting amusement, I’m a game show host now. Chopped is basically a culinary game show. We do have a different twist from other cooking competition shows though, which is that every week we have a different cast of four chefs. They’re not celebrity chefs, they’re the kind of chefs who are behind the stoves in the restaurants of Toronto and New York and Detroit and they’re the people that are actually making the food that you eat. Some of them are high-level haute cuisine executive chef types. And then we also have people from very humble-seeming workaday lunch counter-type restaurants. We’ve found that that mix makes for the best show. We start with four chefs. We have three rounds: appetizer, entrée and dessert. For each round the chefs get a basket of mystery ingredients and here’s the key that makes this contest so hard – the basket has multiple ingredients – three or four ingredients that don’t necessarily go together in an obvious way and they have a staggeringly short period of time to figure out how to make them go together in a harmonious way. I don’t know if people really realize how incredibly hard that is. Iron Chef America is hard…it’s very hard. But on Iron Chef America you get one secret ingredient and you can do whatever you want with it. A good chef, if you give him a mango or a piece of Kobe beef, he’s going to have something in his playbook. But if you give him a piece of Kobe beef and a mango and shrimp and Pabst Blue Ribbon and tell him they have to work together in one harmonious dish it’s ridiculously hard. And that’s entertaining. The winner of the show goes home with $10,000 and the next week there’s a new group of chefs. In this first season of Chopped we have a lot of joke ingredients because we thought it would be funny to make a chef cook with gummi bears or packaged macaroni and cheese, but these aren’t very good products. In season two, which is currently airing in the U.S., we decided it would be cooler to give them challenging ingredients but have them be almost entirely real food instead of packaged products. — Because Ted is a good sport he agreed to take our Chopped-inspired challenge. Here he is opening mystery box number one. In box number one there was a selection of Canadian delicacies: Benedictin bleu cheese from Quebec, Berkshire smoked bacon from Ontario, fresh (though slightly wilted) beets and blueberry flower honey from Quebec. Here’s what Ted said he would do with the above ingredients: I’m going to make a nice light dish out of this with a big salad of wilted beet greens and roasted, diced beets. Then I would combine the honey and the bacon to make honey-glazed bacon bits or “pig candy” as Cat Cora calls it. To make this you slice the bacon thinly, put it on a baking sheet, coat it with honey and bake it until crispy. I would roast the beets and saute the greens. Then I’d sprinkle the salad with some of the bleu cheese and toss it with a light vinaigrette. — I then presented Ted with mystery box number two, the “recession special” full of delectable delights from the shelves of a local convenience store. It’s important to note that Ted is not a huge fan of processed food. “I might cook with this for you but I’m not eating it” was his reaction upon opening box number two. “I’m not a food snob, I love a big greasy burger, potato chips and beer – I eat too much of all of the above – but I want to know what’s in my food.” Here’s what he said he’d do with mystery box number two: The obvious thing to do would be to grill the hot dogs and make some sort of chili-cheese dog, but let’s get a little creative. Okay, I’ll take my food processor and I’ll make a delicate cheesy mousse, I’ll make a hot dog mousse, perhaps a pate. Oh why not just take the whole box of stuff and throw it in the food processor…keep label in there for fibre…if you eat this stuff you’re gonna need some fibre. — At the end of our interview Ted picked up the Berkshire bacon from mystery box number one and asked “Is it legal to travel with bacon? I’m so smuggling this home.” Hopefully that future pig candy made it safely across the border.