Dayton gets ‘chopped’

Dining diva talks chow with Food Network star Ted Allen

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Ted Allen, the host of Food Network’s Chopped, will visit Dayton April 19 as the honorary chair of the Ohio AIDS Walk; photo: Food Network

Ted Allen wears many hats – including a chef’s toque. He’s a longtime journalist, having written for Esquire magazine for many years; an author with two cookbooks under his belt so far; and a TV personality. He found fame as the food and wine expert on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and as a guest judge on Iron Chef and Top Chef. Currently he can be seen on the James Beard award-winning Food Network series Chopped, and on the recently debuted All Star Academy.

I chatted with Ted about the latest hat he’ll be wearing: Honorary Chair of the Ohio Walk for AIDS, a three part event taking place in Columbus, Toledo and Dayton. I asked him about the event, as well as about his life in food.

What’s your connection to Ohio?

Ted Allen: I was born here, and my husband Barry’s parents live in Columbus, so we love Ohio. We are back here often to visit.

And why this particular charity event?

TA: AIDS is still such an important issue – people mistakenly think it’s a thing of the past but that’s really not correct. Young gay kids think of it so differently than they did a decade ago, and that’s why we still need to continue to educate. The face of AIDS has changed as well – it’s women, it’s people of color, it’s not just a gay man’s issue.

I know you’re passionate about this issue, and now I want to ask you a little about a few of your other passions: First, your career. You have a background in journalism and wrote full time for Esquire magazine for many years.

Yes I did. I was inspired to go into journalism by public radio actually. I loved listening to the in-depth stories they did and it really influenced my career path.

How did you end up on TV?

A friend who was living in New York City told me about an upcoming audition for this new show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I thought, “Wow, that sounds great,” so I decided to try out. I ended up auditioning several times before I found out that the producers had settled on Carson Kressley and me immediately and were just trying to find the right mix with the others. The run of the show wasn’t that long, but it was pretty successful, and so I had some time to do other shows like Iron Chef. I was a guest judge for over 40 episodes. Also I did a lot of guest judging for Top Chef on Bravo. Then I got to do the four part series Best. Ever., which was kind of a guide to classic foods across America. So that’s how it all started.

You currently have two Food Network shows going – the hugely popular Chopped, and a new show that just started.

It’s called All Star Academy, airing on Sunday nights. It’s a competition for amateur chefs, who are each mentored by a professional chef. I’m working with some great people on this: Alexandra Guarnaschelli, Bobby Flay, Michael Symon and Curtis Stone. And we’ve got some great guest judges.

There’s been some criticism that Food Network has gotten away from teaching people how to cook. What do you think about that?

Well the reality is that with YouTube and the Internet anyone can learn how to cook anything, and TV is entertainment. But, those shows – the instructional ones that really focus on the craft of cooking are still there, just maybe not at prime time. And food TV really has really gone a long way in creating a generation of people who are interested in food and cooking. I mean, people still buy cookbooks even though they can see something online.

Speaking of cookbooks, you’ve authored two so far. “The Food You Want To Eat. 100 Smart Simple Recipes” and “In MY Kitchen: 100 Recipes and Discoveries for Passionate Cooks.” Is there another one coming?

Wow, it’s so much work, but I would love to write another one! I’ve actually been thinking about it. It’s funny, I look back at some of the recipes from my first book and I know I’d do things a little differently now. Like the amount of cumin I had in one of my chili recipes – much too much! The longer I cook the less interested I am in the bells and whistles. I’m really interested in food that’s balanced and simple. I’d like to do a book where I have complete control. Like with more pictures of food and fewer pictures of me! So yes, there will be another one.

Was your mom a good cook?

Yes, she was and is a really good cook, although she always rolls her eyes when I say that! Not fancy, she would insist. We always had salads, and a lot of vegetables.

Any foods you hate?

I can’t say hate because I love tasting new things will try anything. If I had to say, one of the hardest things to appreciate is the gelatinous texture prized in a lot of Asian cuisines.

What about favorite foods?

Definitely cheese. Anything with mustard in it. Hmm. Maybe Eggs Benedict. I absolutely love that!

How about food trends you are fed up with?

Bacon in desserts – that’s really played out. And overly sweet desserts.

I’m puzzled by food trucks. Like how to use Twitter to find where they are if you only have like a half hour for lunch. It’s not that they’re not good, just impractical.

Food trends you like?

I love that people are demanding better food-fresh herbs, olive oils, organics.

Would you ever want to open your own restaurant?

No! [Laughs] Actually I did think a number of years ago about opening a gastropub. You know, limited but nice food, and having a steady income stream from the bar. Seemed like a good idea. Then I asked a friend in the industry and he said, “Yeah, great – just what we need is another jerk opening a place who won’t be there to run it!” He was absolutely right.

If Ted Allen ever did open a gastropub it would no doubt be a resounding success both critically and with the public, as it’s been with everything else he’s done. If you’d like to meet Allen, here’s your chance. As the 2015 Ohio AIDS Walk Honorary Chair, Allen will host a brunch on Sunday, April 19 for all Grand Walker/Rider participants. Register at that level and you’ll have the chance to help with the fight against AIDS, and enjoy a fabulous brunch with Allen.

The 2015 AIDS Walk Greater Dayton takes place Sunday, April 19. For more information, or to register, please visit AidsWalkOhio.com.

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Paula Johnson
Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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