I’m a Gemini and a mother to a seven-year old. I’ve been cooking for over 20 years. I live a life steeped in food, but also love muscle cars, Formula 1, and sunsets.
I have a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan called Butter. I work a lot with Alex’s Lemonade Stand, which helps fight childhood cancer. And when I’m not working on either of those things, I’m either cooking or judging on CHOPPED or ALL-STAR ACADEMY.
I’m here at reddit New York eating Wheat Thins with Victoria to answer your questions. AMA!
Does Ted Allen ever get to taste the food on Chopped?
ALL the time. He’s a nibbler. smiles. And he likes to stay connected to what the contestants are doing.
My wife and I watch Chopped a lot. I’ve always wondered, on average how long does filming for an episode take place? Is it an all day event or even a few days or just simply resolved in a matter of hours?
An average episode of CHOPPED takes 14 hours to film. One episode per day.
How does the Chopped judges panel resolve disagreements about whose dish to put on the chopping block? Have such disagreements ever become heated?
Deliberations are often heated. We have definitely had a lot of rough moments on the set. Because emotions run strong. And we are all Alpha dogs. I can’t tell you how they are resolved, as I have signed a non-disclosure clause 😉
But it’s very human. And very real. And I think you can feel that when you watch the show.
Chopped After Hours. Seriously, how drunk is everyone?
There might be an occasional glass of wine. Or two.
What are your thoughts on Anthony Bourdain?
I think his book KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL was seminal in its raw, real look at cooking and restaurants. I love his literary voice and thirst to bring the food of all cultures to the forefront. To him, I believe, food, culture and humanity are all synonymous.
What’s your favorite non-Food Network show?
- Breaking Bad
- House of Cards
- Downton Abbey
And WALKING DEAD! It’s a four-way tie!
What’s one dish you love but you would never cook yourself?
That’s a fascinating question.
No one’s ever asked me that.
Pretty much all Japanese food, because the technique behind it, to me, takes a lifetime to learn.
What would your daughter say is the best thing you make?
I asked her, and she said “chicken cutlets.” And brownies. I made her some brownies this weekend.
Have you ever tasted something on Chopped that was disgusting but you had to act professional for the sake of the show/competitor’s feelings?
But cooking and eating food always involves great emotion, from the person who cooked it to the person who eats it. CHOPPED looks easy when you’re sitting on your couch with a bowl of popcorn, but let me tell you, it’s a whole different world when you open that basket, and Ted is giving you that stare.
Do you ever get the urge to force feed Scott Conant an entire raw red onions? ha!
No, I love him. And he loves onions. Just not 80 pounds on top of an appetizer on CHOPPED.
I would spoon-feed him perfectly cooked spaghetti.
What is your favorite meal to prepare when you’re home alone?
I always make carrot soup with far too much fresh ginger. And a lot of fresh jalapeño.
I’m a flavor junkie.
Do you prefer a ribeye or ny strip? What is the best way to cook this protein?
Ribeye all the way! Sear in an INSANELY HOT cast iron skillet, stovetop.
Are there going to be any more Iron Chef America episodes? It appears that Food Network has cancelled the show, even though there is no official mention of it.
I am confident that show will come back. Stay tuned.
Have you ever experienced any challenges being a woman in this profession?
Mom, is that you? Hahaha!
There are so many challenges in this profession, I would hardly relegate any to gender. Put your head down, set up your cutting board, and cook. That’s my plan.
What does Geoffrey Zakarian smell like?
Geoffrey smells like – that is fucking brilliant – he smells like Madagascar vanilla extract combined with 25 year barrel-aged Scotch. And orchids.
To sit next to Geoffrey Zakarian is to know what true aromatherapy is all about. Not only an impeccable dresser, but the most interesting-smelling man in the world.
What’s the craziest risk you’ve seen someone take on Chopped and have it work out?
That’s a bleeping good question.
Can you write that?
Uh… someone made a panna cotta in six minutes the other day, and poured a hot sauce over it to boot!
It defied gravity, and all pastry logic, and was delicious. Not sure if they won. But damn it was good.
Knowing how grueling life can be in the kitchen, would you want your daughter to follow in your footsteps?
No, yes, maybe, sort’ve, sometimes, possibly. I’m going to let her decide.
Who would you rather compete against: Gordon Ramsey or Bobby Flay?
I have to pick Gordon Ramsey. Bobby Flay is a mentor to me, and has accelerated my street smarts and self-awareness.
What were your favorite things about living in France?
The croissants, the smell of strawberries on the street, rotisserie chickens, champagne, the charming aspects of being straight-up broke, cooking my heart out and constantly screwing stuff up… and getting the biggest cultural kick in the ass POSSIBLE.
How would you suggest home cooks start learning how to create nuances and interesting flavors with that “cheffy” quality?
I’m a big fan of cookbooks. A cookbook can be a window into one chef’s sensibility. I also see you watch CHOPPED AFTER HOURS. I think that’s a great resource into understanding how chefs think and combine flavors with technique. And last but not least – cook, cook, cook!
What are you top 5 essential kitchen tools?
Microplane grater, a good attitude, an oyster knife, a sabatier paring knife (price $6.99), and a cast iron skillet.
On Chopped no one ever mentions the food being cold (or too hot). Due to the format of the show, as a judge do you just accept that the food will probably always be cold and must shift your focus on other aspects for critique?
Yes. We never factor in temperature. Would be unfair, as everyone finishes cooking at the same time, but we taste the food person by person, which means the fourth contestant has food that waits far longer than the first.
Aside from Richard Blaise, it seems like celebrity chefs can only appear on the Food Network or shows like Top Chef/The Taste, but not both at the same time. Is this defined in your contract? Don’t these entities realize that they all stand to benefit from a celebrity chef being more widely known/popular regardless of where they have been seen?
Keeping judges and chefs on specific shows retains their uniqueness. Can’t interchange all chefs on all shows, just like you don’t have the cast of the BIG BANG THEORY on GIRLS. Although it would be really great if they did.
What ingredients do you see as being the next big thing(s) on the horizon, and what ingredients do you wish would become more popular?
I wish salt would become more popular. I wish vinegar, mustard, pickles, and capers – what I call “the spark plugs” of cooking – would become the new cupcake for fall. In the meantime, I’ll settle for the right amount of Sriracha and whatever the right amount of Truffle Oil is, as ways people are exploring new ingredients and broadening their view of flavor.
Who washes the dishes on Chopped?
The crew. The crew washes the dishes. And believe me, some days they’re a little cranky.
What is one of your new favorite restaurants in NYC? Anyone/any place doing something that you find particularly inspiring or exciting?
There are so many exciting restaurants in New York. But some are not new. I am always thrilled with the food at Hearth, L’Artusi, Tartulia, and Sotto in particular. But I love institutions like Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, Ferrara bakery, and Di Paolos. Long live little Italy!
What’s your favorite type of cookie?
JESUS that’s a hard question!!
I’m a sucker for an Italian bakery. You know those sandwich cookies that have the jam in the middle, that are half-dunked in chocolate with sprinkles? Those are my favorite.
By the way, I’m telling you my answer!
But I also love a good chocolate chip walnut cookie.
Don’t lie like you like oatmeal raisin better!
Do you like peanut butter? What are some of the dishes that can be made with peanut butter?
I do like peanut butter.
Especially on rye toast with orange marmalade.
I don’t love peanut butter when it’s cooked for a long time, so I like it a lot in a dip, and I like it a lot in a vinaigrette when it’s mixed with roasted peanuts for texture.
Why do you (and the other chopped judges) seem to dislike Truffle
Butter Oil so much?
We love truffle butter. There is only truffle oil. Which has an average of 26 vegetable extracts, NONE of which pertain to a truffle. And when you add too much (which is easy), it can obscure so many other beautiful flavors.
Do you have a guilty pleasure fast food place? Or do you try to stay away from them altogether?
I love In-N-Out burger. A double-double burger with a Neapolitan shake is whassup.
Oftentimes, I really want to cook but I find out I am missing certain ingredients. What are your standby ingredient replacements when you are missing a certain kitchen staple?
I try not to replace, as all that work ends up disappointing. Better to have standby recipes than to have standby ingredients.
What is your favorite junk food?
I really love Oreos, and Cool Ranch Doritos. I also have an unnatural attachment to Pepperidge Farm Tahiti cookies, but those aren’t really that junky. They’re just damn good.
I listened to your interview on Food is The New Rock and loved it! Are you listening to any new bands or recommend some tunes to play while cooking?
Shit, new bands?
We listened to “Jump” by Van Halen over the weekend…Honestly speaking, my taste in music is very eclectic. I listen to a lot of Biggie Smalls, Beethoven, and Aerosmith. I like Haim and SONIC HIGHWAYS, the project the Foo Fighters did.
What books do you think all young chefs and cooks should read to continue to grow and learn?
There are a few books that I recommend.
- Comfort me with Apples, Ruth Reichl
- Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris
- the 1997 JOY OF COOKING
- The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
- Prune: A cookbook by Gabrielle Hamilton
What’s the best cut of meat and preparation method for beef fajitas?
I like a skirt steak, or hangar steak. Has a lot of flavor, but also takes on the flavors of a marinade brilliantly, and doesn’t break the bank.
If you were cheese, what kind of cheese would you be and why?
It’s made in Switzerland. But it has all the qualities of a good French cheese – slightly tangy, slightly salty, great texture, melts and grates well.
What’s your best advice for a newbie food blogger?
I think photography is really important.
A picture is so seductive. As far as the niche thing goes, why don’t you start with writing about what you absolutely love yourself. If people are living something with you, they will believe you, and your following will grow.
What should I make for dinner tonight as a single male in my 20’s? I consider myself a passable cook, mostly just lacking in motivation after work.
Understandable. A long day at work doesn’t always mean I wanna cook when I get home either. Can you pick one day a week where you cook a few things, so you have homemade stuff on days when you’re more tired? I find some braised chicken or a pasta casserole goes a long way.
Date night is coming up! What would you recommend I make for my girlfriend? She loves duck!
I have a recipe for whole roasted duck in my cookbook.
Otherwise, slow-cook the legs in the oven, and pan-sear the breast meat stovetop, until the skin is crispy.
If she doesn’t love you after that…
If you had your own talk show, who would you want as your first guest?
I totally would love my own talk show, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this.
I would have 3 guests on my first episode. Prince (who would not have to do anything but show up to be enough of a guest), Ann Burrell, and Benedict Cumberbatch, because he’s a tasty cake.
How long do you think it took you to get a “kitchen sense”?
That “kitchen sense” takes a lifetime to develop. But I would say it started to feel manageable at the 10 year mark of cooking.
What was absolutely the hardest thing you had to face as a chef when you first started, the challenge that almost broke the Camel’s back so to speak?
I could not stop cutting and burning myself.
My hands were very sore. And I never dreamed it would be as hard as it was.
IF YOU HAD to choose between savory and sweet and what you chose would be all you had for the rest of your life which would you choose? Savory or sweet?
I. Love. Dessert.
End of story.
How do you balance running a restaurant, doing everything for Food Network, and being a mom? Do you have ANY time for yourself?
Doing what you listed above is doing things for myself. But I’m also a night owl. Which means I get my quiet time often between 2-4 AM.
Did you ever have a kitchen accident so bad that it made you consider giving up cooking?
I have been to the hospital in the middle of a dinners shift. Accidents are part of the profession. I have made a sauce so disgusting that it made me wonder if I could be a chef, but that’s another story.
Your Instagram is filled with the most delicious looking dishes, but what are your top three meals of ALL TIME?
The first time my mother made a roasted leg of lamb, with ratatouille.
The first time I ate a macaron in Paris.
And last week when my daughter shared some eggplant parmesan with me.
Any ideas on how to get back into cooking after some years of too much eating out?
Might start with a trip to the grocery store, and a simple rebuild on your pantry. Clean out your cabinet, and start fresh with your staples. That may get the juices flowing again.
You’ve competed on quite a few of Food Network’s cooking shows, which one was the hardest?
Next Iron Chef, without a doubt.
Has there ever been an ingredient pulled out of the basket that you had to go “WTF is that thing?” and quickly Google it?
Of course there are ingredients we don’t know.
And yes, we always read up on them, and taste them, if we’re not familiar.
you’ve been able to see how social media and television has changed the food and cooking industry throughout your career. What are your thoughts on that? What has been the best outcome to this that you’ve noticed?
Food is so visual. From a cookbook, to a TV show, to showing a picture of what someone is cooking in that very moment – we are able to see cooking at every stage. My mom used to copy down every move Julia Child made, and then go into the kitchen and repeat it. These different media give us the luxury of information in all forms. How exciting.