Restaurant News & Reviews

For celebrity chef Ted Allen, cooking is a long-simmering passion

TV personality Ted Allen poses at a launch party for his latest cookbook, “In My Kitchen: 100 Recipes and Discoveries for Passionate Cooks,” in New York.
TV personality Ted Allen poses at a launch party for his latest cookbook, “In My Kitchen: 100 Recipes and Discoveries for Passionate Cooks,” in New York. Associated Press

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 Allen’s 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. “I’m trying to support the idea that cooking is something that’s 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 bachelor’s degree in psychology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and a master’s 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 Bravo’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” His success on that Emmy Award-winning show led to judging gigs on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and the Food Network’s “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 show’s 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.

“We’re using ingredients that not every American is familiar with, and it’s 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 show’s concept a bit cruel, Allen said, “Chefs are gladiators. Every chef goes through those kinds of competitions in culinary school.”

Although Allen said he’d 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.”