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Interview with TV Chef Bobby Flay

F&W talks to Bobby Flaw, star of Throwdown with Bobby Flay, Boy Meets Grill and Iron Chef America, all on the Food Network.

What was your first big break on TV? How were you discovered?
"I was a guest on Food Network shows when the Food Network first started, like 12 years ago."

Was it your goal to be on TV?
"No. They needed chefs and guests and they had no money, so basically, they were using New York City chefs who could come by taxi."

Really? What were your first shows?
"I did a show called Chef du Jour, which was basically a week of a chef in front of a stove. They used Chef du Jour as basically an audition show. So that’s probably why they thought I could do the TV stuff."

Which restaurants did you have at that time?
"Mesa Grill and Bolo."

What do you love about being on TV?
"I love that you’re able to reach lots of people and teach, whether it’s a small little tip or a full meal or somewhere in the middle. I think it’s good to be able to inspire people to cook food like you do."

What are some of the best recipes you’ve made on-air, and why?
"Obviously, the easiest recipes are the most successful when it comes to the home cook, because they’re not intimidated by them. If I’m doing Boy Meets Grill, and I do something very simple like grilled hamburgers or steaks or chicken, those are the most sought-after recipes. If I do something like grilled quail, it has less appeal because people think to themselves, I don’t even know what quail is! or Where can I get quail?"

Are there any specific recipes that you’ve gotten a really great response to?
"Anytime I have my wife [actress Stephanie March] on the show with me, people love it. And that’s part of it—it’s not just about the food; the entertainment value is incredibly important. You can be the most technical cook and not have an audience if it’s not entertaining to the viewer."

What has your wife cooked on the show?
"The last time she was on she cooked my birthday dinner. It was filet mignon, jalapeño-cheese grits and a buttermilk-custard pie."

Are there any tips you have for making the best steak on the grill? How to, maybe, not overcook it? Or something that you think would help everyone while grilling steak?
"For steak, you need high heat and you need to let the grill do its job. Leave the steak alone. Let it get nice and crusty. Flip it once, and don’t overcook it. Everybody says, ’I have problems overcooking steak on the grill,’ but just take it off earlier! Grilling is really common sense. It’s very simple. You should think of a grill as a burner—it just happens to have grates. You shouldn’t be intimidated by it."

What makes the best burger?
"The condiments."

What are your favorites?
"I like things like horseradish, mustard and salsa, and I like giving people different choices of cheeses—you should have blue cheese and a sharp cheddar cheese, maybe goat cheese. My favorite thing to do for a burger show is to create a burger bar where you have the burgers, the buns and all the condiments, and you let people make their own."

Do you make your own condiments?
"Oh yeah. Absolutely. It could be anything from grilled onions or mushrooms, avocado relish, putting chipotles into ketchup to give it a smoky flavor, anything along those lines."

Why are chipotles especially great for ketchup?
"Chipotles to me are a one-of-a-kind pepper because they’re smoked jalapeños, so they’re fiery and they’re smoky. It’s good to use chipotles in salsas or soups or condiments-that works really well. To me, they always really pick up anything you put them in."

What distinguishes you from other TV chefs? What draws your audience to you in particular?
"I think it’s a couple different things. I think it’s important to have a point of view. What I do in the restaurants and what I do on television are very different. When I’m in the restaurant and I’m in my chef’s whites, it’s all about the particular cuisine of the restaurant. When I’m on television, I think that I appeal to the everyday guy, ’cause that’s who I am. The guys who go to the football games on the weekends are my viewers, for sure. I think that all the grilling stuff is obviously very guy-oriented, but it also appeals to women who want to cook for their husbands or boyfriends."

What is the worst experience you’ve had on TV? Any disasters?
"Probably on Iron Chef America. I’ve been electrically shocked, I’ve cut my finger off and I’ve burned lots of things there. Last time I was doing it, I burned a bunch of mango chutney. You just lose sight of it. You’re trying to cook all this food in 60 minutes. Boy Meets Grill is a different animal. I think Iron Chef is probably the most challenging: In 60 minutes it’s just go-go-go, nonstop, so there’s no forgetting anything there."

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