Fifty percent of our readers may know and love Ted Allen as a judge on Food Network’s Chopped, and as a guest judge on Top Chef and Iron Chef America. The other fifty may be like me, who has loved Ted Allen since he was “the food guy” on Bravo’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (for those not familiar, he was the food expert in the process of a man’s makeover, while the others were experts on beauty, clothing, design etc). I know Queer Eye may be a blast from the past to some, but to us it’s the thing that makes Allen an innovator when it comes to the food world. He could’ve been the grooming guy, he could’ve been the culture guy, he could’ve been the fashion guy, but no – he was the food guy.
It’s really no surprise Allen was snatched up by Top Chef to be a guest judge on the first four seasons, which culminated into his own role as the host of Food Network’s ever-popular show Chopped. In an inexplicably small amount of time Ted Allen’s chopping block or simply his statement “You’ve been chopped” has become just as scintillating (and frightening) as Padma Lackshmi’s infamous “Please pack your knives and go.” Allen has very well proved that it’s not just about the network, the show, or the food, but about him. He seems to shine in whichever atmosphere presents itself. This includes an interview with us. (I may have jumbled the last few words of it since I was simultaneously trying to think up some sort of casual statement like – ‘So, Ted, drinks next week? Okay sounds good.”) But no, all I got was this lousy interview! Actually, it’s far from lousy – instead it’s an incredible inside look into the man The New Potato simply adores – Ted Allen.
What would be your ideal food day?
It would be a completely empty kitchen with my friend Megan coming over with bushels full of pork shoulder and chilies, and my smoker fired up and ready to go. And the result would be pulled pork – she loves to do that – some fresh tortillas and a pot of beans – pretty simple. Oh and it doesn’t go technically, but since it is in season, I’d do a caprese or some kind of tomato salad.
This reminds me – I forgot cucumber from the store – damn. I’ll just go back later; I go to the store like six times a day.
TNP: We’re a site that celebrates food as a lifestyle. You went from being a restaurant critic to a household name. Was there a certain aha moment in your career when you knew this would happen?
We are the kind of family that, as soon as we finish lunch we are talking about what’s for dinner, and after dinner we’re talking about what’s for breakfast. We organize our lives around food. When did I know what was going to happen? Oh boy…I don’t know that I had a specific ‘aha’ moment necessarily. In Chicago, where my partner and I met and lived for fourteen years, there was a point where it was no longer feasible to sit every night in taverns, because we had jobs with increasing responsibilities. So it started more from cooking with one another at home, and it became a social lynchpin, which for most Americans is true. Not necessarily cooking, but gathering around the table. If I had to say there was a certain moment, it was working at Chicago Magazine, which is a great magazine. Like most city magazines, its coverage is largely based around the restaurant scene, so I got immersed in learning about how to cook different things and the limitless range of cuisines, techniques and ingredients you could try to learn and perfect.
TNP: When you were on Queer Eye, so much of the show was about renewing peoples’ lifestyles for the better. How did food and wine play into this? Does cooking better mean living better?
Of course. Queer Eye was often about trying to make a more sophisticated, well-rounded, grown-up man. Knowledge of food and wine is a big part of that. It’s one of the most enjoyable things there is. It was also about helping the guy get the girl – knowing your way around a menu. And that’s very appealing for anyone you’re trying to date, so that was a big part of it. Even on Food Network, a big part of the appeal aside from entertaining – particularly with competitive shows – is that you learn a lot. And it’s great for kids too. You can park a kid in front of Food Network 24/7 and chances are they’re going to learn something and get inspired.
TNP: What on the show would frustrate you the most?
The other cast members! (Laughs) The other cast members jumping between me and the camera. No, the show wasn’t frustrating, it was more just amazing. One time we had two guys who literally didn’t know how to operate a cork screw. I mean, seriously. And to me it seemed self evident; you didn’t need to know wines but you’d think that was essentially a physical thing. Not to be mean…but you know, I guess someone’s gotta teach you sometime.