Time is of the essence on the popular Food Network competition show Chopped.
Contestants have just a few minutes to prepare meals using an array of mystery ingredients ranging from breakfast cereal to gummy bears to boxed macaroni and cheese that will wow the celebrity judges and win a $10,000 prize.
At home in Brooklyn, however, Chopped host Ted Allen likes to take it slow.
I get the most excited about food that you simmer and braise and bubble and roast for hours and hours, Allen, 47, said. I would rather roast a pork shoulder over charcoal at 250 (degrees Fahrenheit) for eight hours than pound out a scaloppini in three minutes.
That philosophy is at the heart of Allens new cookbook In My Kitchen: 100 Recipes and Discoveries for Passionate Cooks, published by Clarkson Potter in May. In it, he reveals some of his favorite food epiphanies in recent years, from strawberry-tomato bruschetta to grilled green beans drizzled with spicy harissa.
In an era where it seems like every book out there is trying to get you out of the kitchen as soon as possible, I want to approach food from the perspective of loving to be in the kitchen, said Allen, who published his first cookbook, The Food You Want to Eat: 100 Smart, Simple Recipes, in 2005. Im trying to support the idea that cooking is something thats done out of love and creativity.
Born and raised in the Midwest, Allen credits a college friend with introducing him to his first serious gourmet fare: individual beef Wellingtons.
Rather than the culinary arts, however, he pursued a career in journalism, earning a bachelors degree in psychology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and a masters degree in journalism from New York University. Allen worked as a senior editor and restaurant critic at Chicago magazine before joining Esquire magazine as a contributing writer in 1997.
Then, in 2003, Allen became the official food-and-wine connoisseur for Bravos Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. His success on that Emmy Award-winning show led to judging gigs on Bravos Top Chef and the Food Networks Iron Chef America.
These days, Allen is best known as the James Beard Award-winning host of Chopped, which premiered in January 2009. His other television credits include Food Detectives, The Next Food Network Star and The Best Thing I Ever Ate.
On Chopped, over the course of three elimination rounds, contestants must create three courses appetizer, entrée and dessert using the contents of the black wicker baskets before them, plus basic ingredients from the shows pantry.
A typical basket might contain parsnips, limoncello, soda crackers and sharp cheddar cheese, or baby bananas, black-eyed peas, poblano chiles and ostrich steak.
Were using ingredients that not every American is familiar with, and its sparking curiosity, Allen said, noting that Chopped has helped raise the profile of mascarpone cheese, lavash flatbread and other tasty treats.
Although some might find the shows concept a bit cruel, Allen said, Chefs are gladiators. Every chef goes through those kinds of competitions in culinary school.
Although Allen said hed never compete on Chopped pitting him against professional chefs would be like swatting a fly with a Howitzer (cannon), he joked he agrees that hosting the show has boosted his cooking acumen.
Chopped has made me a much better cook, Allen said, partially because he gets to hang out with Alexandra Alex Guarnaschelli, Geoffrey Zakarian, Marc Murphy and other culinary masters. I spend 12 hours (a day) doing nothing but talking great food with chefs.