Flavor and discovery are just two key ingredients in Ted Allen’s new cookbook.
“In My Kitchen” is collection of recipes that Allen has been cooking in his own kitchen. “It’s about flavor. It’s very diverse. It’s got Mexican, Thai, French, spaghetti and meatballs, turkey burgers, some stuff that is ambitious like lamb stew – for people that love to cook,” said Allen. “Every recipe contains a discovery.”
Allen hosts “Chopped”, a cooking competition show on The Food Network featuring four rising chefs in a timed race to create a three-course meal from mystery items. One chef is “chopped” by a panel of three judges each episode and in the end one becomes the winner. As someone who loves to cook, Allen designed his book for people that enjoy rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty in the kitchen. “I get irritated if I can’t cook for a couple of days. I’ve always liked cooking, but I’ve turned the corner now. Instead of using recipes, I go to the store and see what looks yummy.” He advises home chefs to taste constantly and ask – what else does this need?
Allen debuted his second cookbook in Carmel as guest speaker at the Carmel Clay Public Library Crème de la Carmel fundraiser. Attendees were treated to samples of his recipes and appropriate wine to complement the meal. “Mom has been harassing me for years to do an event for the library. She is an avid customer.”
Like most children, Allen got the first taste of cooking from his mother who always encouraged her children to cook, “I think Mom just wanted to get out of the kitchen,” said Allen with a chuckle. “You know you raise these kids for 10 to 12 years and you get work out of them for them for six years. So, you get what you can before they go off to college.” According to Allen, his mom is famous for her BBQ pork chops and shared that as a kid he hated lima beans. “My dad used to force me to eat them. I’d pop one in my mouth and chase it with water so I wouldn’t have to taste it.”
A 1983 graduate of Carmel High School, he does not get back to Carmel very often. When he does visit he is usually at his mom’s house enjoying her meals, but is excited about the variety of unique restaurants and places to purchase fresh foods. “I hear great things about Joe’s Meat Market,” said Allen. “The butcher is back. Thank God! And the flavor is worth it.” Recently, he was inducted into the Carmel High School Alumni Hall of Fame. “I had a tour of the school and it was utterly unrecognizable and beautiful. I was very pleased to see that one thing still looked the same – the basketball arena.”
After graduating from Purdue University, Allen headed to Chicago to write about food and wine for various publications and is currently a contributing writer to Esquire magazine. In 2003, Allen got his first break into television when he attended a callout in New York City at the then small Bravo cable network. “A friend told me about this audition and I arrived in this sweltering hot room with 500 other men.” Allen was cast as the food and wine specialist, along with four other individually talented men, for “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”. The show was based on the premise that gay men are more stylish than straight guys. The “Fab Five” were challenged to take a messy guy and help him clean up his act.
He attributes part of the success of the show to Carson and Tom and their comic relief. “The five of us clicked so nicely. Makeover shows were somewhat new and this was the first show to have five openly gay guys,” said Allen. “It was profound. The best episodes were when you could tell the guy was uncomfortable with us at the beginning. As the show progressed he realized we were there to help.”
After 99 episodes, “Queer Eye” ended and Allen transitioned to “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef”, foodie shows that kept him on TV. “It’s very exciting to do TV. You reach a very large audience and get paid well.” Now, he hosts “Chopped” and recently won the James Beard Media Award. “We try very hard to get women chefs. It’s a very male dominated career and a very difficult career path,” said Allen. “Casting for the show is very difficult. We don’t know what their stories are until they happen.”
According to Allen, chefs are ideal friends, “If you don’t have a chef friend, you’d better get one. They are among the most generous people I’ve ever been around.”
Allen’s days on “Chopped” are long, often running 12 hours. Ten cameras shoot tape for nine hours to get all of the necessary angles and action. When he does have downtime, you can find him in his state-of-the-art kitchen.
“If I have a Sunday afternoon free, I crank up the stereo, open a bottle of wine, invite all of my friends over and we cook. That’s what we love to do,” said Allen. “You can live 200 lifetimes and you can’t taste all the deliciousness in the world, but you can have fun trying.”
More about Ted Allen: http://www.tedallen.net
To order a Cookbook: http://www.tedallen.net/in_my_kitchen.html
Ted’s Advice on pasta prep:
Salt water generously
Bring water to a rolling boil
Salt changes the chemistry of the water.
It should taste as salty as chicken soup.
Never rinse pasta. Never.
You want the starch on the outside of the pasta
The starch allows sauce to stick to the noodles.