Double Standards for Chopped All-Stars

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains mild spoilers for ep. 1 of the new season Food Network’s Chopped All-Stars. If you’re a stickler for spoilers, leave the kitchen now.

If you’re a fan of Food Network’s reality TV competition, Chopped, then you’re no doubt you’re relishing the new season of all-stars which started this past week. The show pits the biggest names of the network head to head in the Chopped kitchen to see who stands above the rest. The All-Stars edition is a great opportunity to see how talented chefs deal with the pressures of limited time and crazy mystery ingredients in a creative and professional manner. Or so one would think.

In the first episode of Chopped All-Stars, two of the competing Iron Chefs, Marc Forgione and Michael Symon each drank from a bottle of coconut rum they were given and then proceeded to pour the ingredient from the same bottle into their pots. As any fan of the show can tell you, whenever competing chefs commit a cooking no-no like this, they are always called out by the judges at the end of the round. Always. Judge Scott Conant is a stickler for cleanliness and has made many competitors feel 10 inches tall after having tasted from a spoon and then used the very same spoon to stir their creations. Mysteriously, during the all-star edition no one called out either Forgione or Symon for their un-professional behavior.

Another tidbit that’s just as telling is Iron Chef Cat Cora’s use of raw red onions in one of her dishes, an ingredient Conant is infamous for hating. His dislike of red onion is legendary on Chopped but for some reason he didn’t seem to mind Cora’s use of the onion at all. These details are nit-picky to be sure, but are important none-the-less. Speaking as a fan, it rubs my rhubarb to know the Food Network’s talent is put on a pedestal instead of the chopping block where they belong.

What’s Wrong with the Radish?

Something’s wrong with the humble radish. When I was a kid I remember these funny little root vegetables burning my face off from just a single bite, but lately I’ve found they have no more kick than a cramped kangaroo. Part of me suspects that the heat of the modern day radish has somehow been bred out of it for a wider appeal to mainstream American consumers. A quick check of Wikipedia reveals that there are no less than 10 common varieties of radishes. The Cherry Belle is the version most often purchased in North American grocery stores. From the taste and smell of them they must be some of the blandest radishes on the block.

I first became addicted to radishes when I was very young. My aunt grew them in her garden and would often give them to me and my cousins to chomp on along with freshly dug carrots. Aunt Lorraine’s radishes were strong enough to put hair on your chest and I loved them to death. I also remember the veggie from the Passover celebrations in my church. Part of the ritual involved eating “bitter herbs” and although radishes were probably not historically accurate, I distinctly remember eating slices of radish on pita bread while listening to Fiddler on the Roof. Come to think of it, I’m not sure why our Catholic parish ever celebrated a Jewish event, but I’m glad we did because that’s where I learned to love radishes.

These days radishes might as well be turnips or potatoes because they have about as much flavor. I’ve searched high and low for radishes with heat and not found any in years. The topic came up at lunch today with the guys from work and David suggested checking out the locally grown radishes of the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market. I’ll be heading there this weekend to do some research and hopefully return home with my hot-headed pearls. If all else fails, you can be sure I’ll be sending away for my own super-hot radish seeds next spring. By hook or by crook, the heat will be on!

Wishful Dining

I’m going to apologize right up front to the scores of local folks who will read this post and complain that I’m poo-pooing the Triad’s dining scene. This post isn’t about the lack of dining quality in the Triad, it’s about the lack of establishments that meet the criteria to be on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Several weeks ago, a producer from Triple D emailed local bloggers to ask for suggestions about places in the Triad that might be right for the show. Ed Cone put up a post to ask for input and many people chimed in. The trouble is, none of these people actually seem to watch the show.

If they did they’d know that there are very few, if any restaurants in the area that Guy Fieri should be visiting. That’s not to say the diners, drive-ins and dives in Greensboro, High Point and Winston aren’t good, many of them are. Take one of my favorite sandwich places, Jams Deli, which is just up the road from my office on Friendly Avenue. I love Jams very much and I and the guys at work enjoy eating there at least once a week for lunch. Yesterday I noticed a sign on Jam’s window asking for people to email Guy and suggest Jams to be on the show. As much as I love Jams, they too, seemingly have never watched Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. If they did they’d know Jams isn’t Triple D material.

The eateries that are featured on the Food Network show have at least three things that make them TV worthy. First, they make all their food from scratch. Last time I checked, Jam’s doesn’t make their french fries, hot chips, onion rings, buns or rolls from scratch. Second, they usually have waiting lines out the door at all times of day. The closest place Triple D has featured, The Penguin Drive-In in Charlotte, NC typically has a 20-45 minute wait to get a table any day of the week. Third, they serve interesting food. Over at Cone’s, Liv Jones suggested Johnson’s in Siler City for their yummie burgers. While I respect Liv’s opinion, Siler City isn’t the Triad, and Johnson’s burgers have nothing on burgers featured on Triple D. The places the producers are looking for have notable items no one else has. Like homemade fried pickle chips or a giant hot dog affectionately called “The Homewrecker”.

Same goes for almost all of the other places I saw suggested at Cone’s blog: Country BBQ (it’s good, but it’s also standard NC fair) Beef Burger (ate there 2 weeks ago, absolutely over rated, not all food made from scratch), Texas Tavern (in Virginia, not the Triad, no interesting food items). About the closest I think would meet the show’s criteria is Yum Yum. Because it’s a college hangout, it’s always busy and people rave about the place, but I don’t know if the food is made from scratch or what.

At this point I can sense you really are upset with me. Upset because I’m not begging the producers of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives to come to Greensboro and film their show. Trust me, I’ve watched every episode and no one would love for them to come here more than me. I would just love to be able to point them at a place like Henrietta NY’s Dibella’s Old Fashion Subs and say “This is the place you’ve been looking for!” But I can’t. If there was a place in the Triad that deserved to be on the show, I’d be eating there every single day. Of course there are plenty of places in Greensboro I’ve never been, so go watch a few Triple D clips and get a sense for the kind of food they showcase. If you still think you know a place that can measure up, suggest it in the comments. I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong, wrong, wrong on this one. In the meantime, I’m heading to Charlotte to check out Penguin. Who’s with me?

Apple Freak

Lately I’ve found myself addicted to apples. No, not the kind that I usually write about, but an actual piece of fruit. You know, the kind you eat? I only recently discovered Gala apples and ever since I first had one at Panera Bread a few months ago, I can’t get enough of them. Ask any of my friends if I’m the type of guy that can be seen with a heart healthy snack in his hands and they would likely belly-laugh and tell you to go away.

Lately I’ve been warming up to the idea of eating more fruits and vegetables and the unassuming Gala apple has been leading the charge. If you’ve never had one, next time you’re in the produce section try and pick one up. They are softer than most apples with a thinner skin and a slightly sweeter taste than most. Developed in New Zealand in the 1920s by orchardist J.H. Kidd, Gala apples are a cross between a Golden Delicious and Kidd’s Orange Red. They resist bruising and are quite easy to eat. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy apples give them a try. They’ve easily become my new favorite snack and they could become yours too.

I’m turning Japanese!

A few months ago I came across a great website called Cooking Cute. The site gives tips and tricks for creating imaginative and beautiful bento box lunches. I’m a big fan of all things Japanese and am fascinated by the level of detail and creativity on display there.

One of the typical ingredients in a Japanese bento box are hard boiled eggs, but not just any old eggs. Cooking Cute shows how to use plastic egg molds to shape your lunch into cute objects like cars, fish and stars. Turns out you can’t get them in the U.S. (at least that I found) and so I turned to eBay and ordered them directly from Japan. Click the image to visit my Flickr page and see how the whole thing turned out.

The process is relatively simple and straight forward. Hard boil some eggs as you normally would, but peel them while they are still hot. This turned out to be the most difficult part. You have to get the eggs into the molds as quickly as possible, while they are still pliable. Be careful not to burn yourself! This part should definitely not be done by children. Next, stuff them into the molds and lock them shut. If there is overflow, don’t worry, you actually want as much egg in the mold as possible. Next, float them in an ice water bath for about 10 minutes to set and cool them. If all goes according to plan, you’ll have a cute bunny where a plain old egg used to be!

Egg molds can be great fun, especially if you have children in the house. It’s a nice project that isn’t nearly as messy as creating Easter Eggs. Just be sure you buy extra large, jumbo eggs. If you don’t, some of the parts of the mold don’t get filled and you’ll end up with failed eggtemps (sorry!). Check eBay for the latest egg molds and then get ready to bring a little slice of Japan into your kitchen.

New ‘Dinner’ Is Impossible To Swallow

Food Network’s Dinner: Impossible used to be one of my very favorite shows on television. The reality series about chef Robert Irvine tackling increasingly difficult culinary challenges with absurd time limits made for great drama. The show was a bright spot in a network lineup filled with Americanized knock-offs of genuine hits and talentless hacks who think big boobs and native pronunciations pass for cooking ability. Then, early in 2008 it was revealed that the show’s host, Irvine, had padded some of the more impressive parts of his culinary resume. This, combined with some bad business decisions by Irvine surrounding two new St. Petersburg, FL restaurants, led Food Network to can Irvine in favor of Michael Symon of Iron Chef America fame.

Viewers got a taste of the new Dinner: Impossible on July 20th, with a special advanced viewing of Symon as host. The results were not encouraging. Symon stumbled through his first challenge like a freshman CIA student, all the while annoying us with his goofy giggle. You might be tempted to chalk this unpleasant outing up to beginner’s nerves. But Symons deals with high pressure cooking situations every time he does battle in Iron Chef America’s Kitchen Stadium. No, it seems clear that Symons isn’t compelling or likable enough to shoulder Impossible without Alton Brown riding shotgun.

Even though Robert Irvine didn’t actually work on Princess Diana or Prince Charle’s wedding cake, it turns out he was perfectly skilled to host Dinner: Impossible. Irvine was a tough, but fair chef who brought out the best (and worst) in those he worked with. Whether he was cooking in -30 degree temperatures for the ice hotel episode or giving a set of his prized knives away to soux-chefs who inspired him, Robert Irvine made Impossible what it was. I don’t particularly care if Food Network didn’t bother to check his credentials before they hired him, I throughly enjoyed watching him cook under pressure. The suits that canned Irvine have proven once again that what viewers want, and what network executives want are two very different things.

The official start to season 5 of Dinner: Impossible with host Michael Symon starts August 20th, 2008. However, the show’s producers had better get Symon’s buns in gear or they may find viewers souring on DI, permanently. Personally, I think they should have given the gig to Guy Fieri. He turned in a fun and memorable performance as a guest chef on Dinner: Impossible last season and would strike the perfect balance between challenge completion and humor the show so desperately needs. Even an aging Emeril Lagasse would have been a better choice than Symons to helm the show. If I had to choose between Emeril’s “Bam!” and Symon’s silly cackle every week, “Bam!” wins hands down. I can’t believe I just wrote that.

Sushi In LEGOs

This is the kinda thing you wish you had thought up first. The incredible creation seen here combines two of my very favorite things: LEGOs and sushi! LEGO master “Big Daddy” Nelson says this took him about a day to put together. I just love the detail of the shrimp and the realism of the tray and chop sticks. Click the photo to surf on through to his Flickr page to get a better view. Bravo Big Daddy!

Hat tip: Fanboy.com

Restaurant Graveyard Additions

Back in March I wrote a post about some of my favorite local restaurants that, for one reason or another, have kicked the bucket. As much as we’d love for our favorite hangouts to thrive and flourish, unfortunately this isn’t always the case. A city is a living, breathing thing and businesses are born, live, and then eventually they sometimes die. If you live in a place long enough, you see it happen all to often and in today’s tight economic times, it seems to be happening more and more. Here is a short update of two places that I used to frequent that have gone to what I call, Greensboro’s Restaurant Graveyard.

Imperial Gourmet – Vanishing International Buffet

Until a week ago, Imperial Gourmet was located near the intersection of W. Wendover Ave and Stanley Road here in Greensboro. If you drive by on your way to Home Depot or Best Buy, today you’ll notice only an empty lot. Bulldozed to the ground, Imperial Gourmet was the only real option for chinese dim sum in Greensboro. Before it opened back around 1998, one had to travel as far away as China One in Durham for pork sticky buns and turnip cake. Sadly the food had been declining in recent years and the owners couldn’t decide if they wanted to offer Japanese Sushi, Chinese-American fusion or authentic dim sum, none done well. Despite having a prime location on one of the busiest roads in Greensboro, Imperial Gourmet exists only as a memory and now even China One is closed. The search or good dim sum in the Triad starts anew.

Giacomo’s Italian Market – Beware the Ghost of Simply Italian!

The intersection of Hilltop and Highpoint Road must be cursed. It previously claimed my favorite drive thru of all time, Simply Italian, and now it has murdered another local favorite, Giacomo’s Italian Market. While Giacomo’s isn’t a traditional sit-down restaurant, it did offer some of the best quality Italian food anywhere in Greensboro. I’ve written about the chain’s other location on New Garden Road and their wonderfully delicious sub sandwiches before. And while I had not visited the Highpoint Road Giacomo’s for several years, I have no doubt it was the location that finally did it in. Highpoint Road has been dying slowly for years as traffic and development shifted west to Wendover Ave, leaving several businesses in dire straights. Giacomo’s Italian Market was only the latest casualty in a long line of eateries that went up to dining heaven. Hopefully the New Garden location will survive for years to come.

Restaurant Death Watch Update

I’m pleased to report that my original picks for Restaurant Death Watch are still here and kicking. Of the three, I most frequently visit Mykonos Grill and I have to say every time I eat there the place is jumping. So much so that I think they could stand to move into a larger space, but then again I don’t want to upset the delicate balance that they have going so I’ll just squeeze in when I can.

Panizzo’s Cafe & Bakery

– This fun little cafe has some of the best lunch fare and baked goods anywhere in town. Unfortunately when I and the guys from work visit for lunch, the dining room is usually close to empty. I’m not sure what’s keeping the place from being successful, but if things keep going the way they are, I fear a new addition to the graveyard any time now. Keep your canolis crossed. UPDATE: Talos just learned that Panizzo’s is closing for “renovations” soon. Hopefully these are renovations of the temporary kind and not “permanent” if you know what I mean.

What about you? Have any favorite restaurants that bought the farm? Feel free to add yours in the comments below. Misery loves company!