By Dorene Internicola
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Celebrity chef, restaurateur and reality television star Bobby Flay is a born-and-bred New Yorker who has made his culinary fortune celebrating the cuisine of the American Southwest.
Flay, who rose to prominence in the early 1990s at the helm of Mesa Grill in New York City, has since forged a culinary empire of reality television shows, cookbooks, high-end restaurants and burger eateries stretching from New York to Las Vegas to the Bahamas.
In "Beat Bobby Flay," his latest venture in reality TV, the 49-year-old competes with another chef for bragging rights to the contender's signature dish.
"I like the competition of it all," said Flay, whose first job, at 17, was cooking at the legendary Theater District haunt, Joe Allen. "I was an athlete as a kid so this is sort of my athletics as an adult. It keeps you sharp."
Flay recently spoke to Reuters about his culinary career, signature dishes and celebrity chefs.
Q: How would you describe your cuisine?
A: I'm known for Southwestern food and I think of myself as an American chef first ... I'm opening a new Mediterranean restaurant in New York called Gato so I would say that I cook American food in half my restaurants and Mediterranean food in the other half.
Q: What is the concept behind "Beat Bobby Flay"?
A: Two chefs come in, they take each other on and then the winner of that gets to try to take me down in a 45-minute battle with their signature dish, so that they know exactly what they're cooking and I don't.
Q: Do you have a signature dish?
A: Probably a shrimp tamale that I did at Mesa Grill for over 20 years. It is probably the dish that people have ordered the most and the one dish that has never been off the menu.
Q: You're famous for grilling. How do you think people can improve their grilling technique?
A: I think people are intimidated by the grill, for some reason. I always say think of the grill as just a burner with grates. So if you're comfortable cooking at a stove, you should be comfortable cooking at a grill. It's basically the same thing. Also I think that people leave things on the grill way too long.
Q: How do you relate to the celebrity chef label?
A: I think the phrase is overused. It's a brand that the media, came up with. TV helps you to have more notoriety, but I would never refer to myself as a celebrity chef. I think of myself as a chef in my restaurant.
Q: What is your advice to young, aspiring chefs?
A: I think young chefs should go back to the basics. Go to culinary school and then work for a chef whom you really like and respect.
Q: Any advice for home cooks?
A: There's so much access online and on television now ... You can get a zillion recipes and videos, things that make the home cook that much better. At dinner parties now the game has been turned way up. People at home are cooking like restaurant chefs, which is great.
Q: What's always in your kitchen?
A: I have a very big spice rack and I always have about four or five different mustards - Dijon mustard, yellow mustard, whole grain mustard.
Garlic Shrimp Served on Grilled Tomato Bread,
serves four to six
1 pound medium (36 to 40 count) shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
12 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup dry sherry
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Grilled Tomato Bread
6 plum tomatoes
1/4 cup canola oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon smoked mild Spanish paprika
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Clover honey, if needed
French baguette, sliced 1/2-inch thick
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish
1. Prepare the shrimp: Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat, add the garlic and cook until soft, about 1 minute. Add the red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds. Add the sherry and thyme and cook until the liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil; season with salt and pepper.
2. Put the shrimp in a medium bowl, add 1/4 cup of the garlic marinade and toss to coat the shrimp. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat your grill to high for direct grilling.
4. Make the tomato bread: Brush the tomatoes with the canola oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the tomatoes until charred on all sides and just soft, about 8 minutes.
5. Immediately transfer the tomatoes to a food processor, add the paprika and garlic, and pulse until coarsely chopped. Season with honey, if needed, and salt and pepper.
6. Grill the bread on both sides until lightly golden brown, about 30 seconds per side. Remove the bread to a platter and immediately spoon some of the tomato mixture on top of each slice. Garnish with chopped parsley.
7. Remove the shrimp from the marinade and season with salt and pepper. Grill until pink and just cooked through, about 1 1/2 minutes per side.
8. Remove the shrimp from the grill to a clean bowl and toss with the remaining marinade and the parsley. Spoon shrimp over each slice of bread and drizzle with olive oil.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney)