I can see it as clearly as a hot, steamy bowl of consommé.
Throwdown. Me versus culinary artist, gourmet chef, restauranteur Robert William “Bobby” Flay.
Food Network’s shining series, Beat Bobby Flay, checks all the boxes — gastronomic talents (but underdogs nonetheless) trying to take down The King; bubbly, wisenheimer, trash-talking friends (frequently cooking-master peers) pestering Flay to distraction; challenging ingredients driving keen, timed cuisine competitions (two per show) that start, a la boxing, with a rung bell; blind taste tests; mouth-watering culinary education; and the mega-star himself telling the final contestant to bring it on with their “signature dish.”
Add a dash of the star himself — handsome, personable, approachable, and occasionally beatable (Flay wins 63% of the time … ), and it’s an excellent stop-here for channel surfers and foodies. It is also great fodder for old-school competitors in life and microwave aficionados for all of the particulars noted.
But I digress …
Arrogance Diminishes Wisdom
Round #1. Winner of a lottery of BBF fans, longshot doesn’t begin to describe the hill I’ve got to climb. I’m matched against Al Dente, a self-professed kitchen wizard from Poughkeepsie with a penchant for producing perfect pork and potato platters. AD assertively struts into the cage wearing a wizard’s cap and fanning a wand, casting culinary spells in all directions, especially at an only semi-amused Flay.
I’m introduced as the lottery winner and “big Bobby fan” who knows good food when presented. Wizard Boy actually laughed aloud, and Bobby shot a portentous look in his direction. Baseball cap turned backward, I nervously stroll to my station as if called from the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth, repeatedly tossing a baseball from hand to well-worn glove.
Bobby rises from his chair, reminding us that we have to go through each other for the privilege of getting into the ring with him. Warlock Dude cockily exclaims, “Piece of cake!” applying his exclamation point with a wand-snap of a spell cast in my direction. At this point, I can read Bobby — he clearly wants a piece of lard ass. He asks if I am ready. I can only summon a skittish, “We shall see.”
I’d feared this next staple of the show. From my perspective, Bobby might as well pull from behind his back the secret ingredient “dark horse.” If it doesn’t work on a grill or in a microwave, I’m shish kabob. He pulls out a platter of ground Kobe beef. I’m still in the game.
He rings the bell. Twenty minutes to make Wagyu the star of my dish.
Knowing that this is beef known for its incredible flavor, I decided to skip seasoning except a sprinkling of sea salt and black pepper, go naked in a skillet, and lean on condiments at the end. Half-pounders all the way. Heat skillet on high. Flip ’em only once, add baby swiss, and cover and cook for six minutes to medium-rare. Portobello mushrooms in another skillet, onions in another. Lettuce, thin-sliced gherkins and mayo on the side. Stealing a Bobby trick, I hollow out a Ciabatta bun to house the lineup.
Figuring I needed a side, I grabbed a beauty of a Zucchini, sliced it into medallions, added salt and pepper. A quick whisk of two eggs in a bowl, added Panko, parmesan cheese, and Italian seasoning in another small bowl. Coated coins into the fryer for four minutes. Voila! Brown and crispy beauties. A dollop of ranch onto the plate. Found some beer in the fridge to round out the presentation. Done with 15 seconds to spare.
Malfoy’s arrogance got the better of him. Cocksure and raucously posturing throughout preparation as to how he would “obliterate” Bobby, he was rocking and rolling on Asian burgers with ginger slaw and sriracha-lime mayo when he decided to show off and flip one of his burgers high into the air and catch it on his spatula. He missed, sending the patty spiraling toward the floor. Lunging to grab the wayward beef, Bumbledore’s elbow snapped the skillet’s handle to the edge of the counter, vaulting the other burgers, grease and skillet skyward. His reflexive moves resulted in feet slipping out from under him and burgers hitting the kitchen floor about the same time Open-Sesame’s backside did. Plop, Plop, Plop, Thud. In a fitting twist, his wand, flying higher than all objects, descended like an arrow, center-piercing one of the patties resting on the floor, pointing to the heavens. Bobby laughed so hard he cried. The balcony crowd, initially aghast, cheered.
After the round-ending “ding” and cleanup, judges reviewed Dente’s crinkle-cut fries and my plate. Slam dunk. Kind comments from the judges for my simple creation made me think that I could have taken him straight up, but I’ll take it with theatrics.
Mr. Dente slinked out of the studio without a word, becoming an Internet sensation for his various kitchen flops, with views out the wazoo. Even made ESPN’s “C’mon Man!”
Grinning from ear to ear, Bobby chuckled and congratulated me, asking what my signature challenge dish would be. Without hesitating, “Nachos.” Bobby smiled, simultaneously nodding an “Okay” acknowledgment.
“Starts now … ” sent us scurrying. Bobby was his culinary whirlwind self, pulling a dozen ingredients from the kitchen repository shelves reserved for participants. One could almost hear his mind tapping decades of gastronomic experiences, setting in place a series of tasks. Various creations began taking shape — homemade guacamole and pico de gallo to The Master’s left. Preps center and right of shredded lettuce, cotija cheese, grilled corn, pinto beans, black olives, fresh jalapeño slices, pickled red onions, and cubed steak. Impressive, indeed.
Focused, I snatch the stashed, leftover Wagyu I’d hidden in the back of my studio fridge, grinding and then browning it, adding garlic and onion powders, salt, and pepper. As I’d done a zillion times in the comfort of home, I grab my secret ingredient — a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos. I spread them in layers, full circumference on a decorative plate, apply even distribution of the beef-and-spices combo, sprinkle on a hardy helping of grated sharp cheddar cheese, insert the dishes into the salamander for two minutes … and done!
Bobby’s beautiful plate was in front of the judges first. Comments were positive, one judge noting an excessive amount of heat, another noting the “elaborate” combination of ingredients. Invited to pull my plate to assess, I suppressed a smile when two of the three judges gingerly pulled their first chips to their mouths while hastily figuring out what to do with the 18-inch string of hot cheddar that was strung between plate, fingers, and mouth. Bobby couldn’t stifle his grin when one judge did the time-honored cheese twirl, broke the gooey string, sampled the combo, and noted, “Now that’s a nacho.” Comments for my dish included “simple but classic” and “I’d gladly miss a few plays trying to negotiate this dish.”
Judges submit their ballots. Split decision. Pregnant pause. Iron Chef Flay defeated! Bobby chuckled, shook his head with a you-got-me smile, and elegantly bowed to one of his biggest fans.
It could happen. Have you ever tasted my nachos?