Is this the ultimate "Cake-Off"?

If you are a fan of either (or both) Cake Boss Buddy Valastro or Ace of Cakes star Duff Goldman, you are in for a treat. We just discovered that the two are set to face off against one another in a new six-episode Food Network series. The show premieres Sunday, March 10 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network. 

cookbook covers

Simply titled 'Buddy vs. Duff', the program features the two cake artists competing in a series of challenges that will test both their baking skills and decorating prowess. Judges include Food Network regulars Sherry Yard and Keegan Gerhard, who will appear in all episodes, alongside guests judges ranging from magicians Penn & Teller to baking expert and Cupcake Wars judge Florian Bellanger.

The premiere episode will feature the two bakers creating family recipes in the "Bake-Off" round and showcasing their decorating chops in a car-themed challenge in the "Cake-Off" round. If you enjoy seeing elaborate and towering cake creations, be sure to tune in to this new program. 

How chefs deal with ingredients they won't eat

We all have a few foods that we just do not care to eat, and chefs are no exception. Unlike the rest of us, however, they often have no choice but to use ingredients they find distasteful. Some chefs find alternatives to the despised items, while others search for ways to make the off-putting flavors more palatable. Elisa Ludwig of the Philadelphia Inquirer asked several chefs how they cope with ingredients they do not like, and the answers are enlightening


I was surprised by some of the foods that the interviewed chefs disliked. Mark Tropea of Philly restaurant Stir hates raw tomatoes. "I'll be honest. Even the ripest, most unusual heirloom doesn't do it for me," he says. He finds ways to work them, however, along with anchovies, another ingredient he finds distasteful. He uses anchovies in salad dressings, tapenade, or bagna cauda, where its flavor can be subdued with a heavy dose of garlic. 

Co-op chef Paul Silva similar find anchovies off-putting and he's no fan of  blue cheese, either. He's learned to tame the cheese's strong flavor by adding items like creme fraiche and fresh herbs to the dip his restaurant serves along side wings. "Sweetness helps, too. We put honey and corn syrup in the [chicken] wings, so that kind of cuts down on the pungency," he says.

Eric Hall of La Scala has two foods that are a no-go personally, goat cheese and olives. However, he doesn't let that stop him from using the ingredients in his restaurant. "I realize most people like goat cheese, so I don't discriminate against it on our menus due to my own tastes," he says. "And since I know its flavor profile, I understand what will balance it." 

Padma Lakshmi talks food and more

You probably know Padma Lakshmi from Bravo TV's Top Chef, but there is a lot more to her than just judging Quickfire challenges. She's also written or co-written several cookbooks, including 2016's The Enyclopedia of Spices and Herbs, which we reference frequently in our Spice Support columns. E. Alex Jung of Vulture recently caught up with Lakshmi for an interview in which she talks about Top Chef, her writing career, and her love of food

Padma Lakshmi

Jung notes that Lakshmi has played the role of "culinary ambassador" for years, attempting to demystify Indian cooking for a Western audience. "People are so into turmeric and ginger and all of that. It's been very gentrified and hipsterized," she says. "If it opens Americans to new flavors and ingredients that are more natural and healthy, that's fine."

Lakshmi, a former supermodel, had trouble being taken seriously in her role on Top Chef. She doesn't find it difficult to reconcile her modeling career with her culinary career, however. A disparaging article from the second season of Top Chef that focused on her appearance rankled Lakshmi, but she makes no apologies for her cheeky 2009 commercial for a fast casual restaurant. "Food is sexual, so I'll stand by my goddamned commercial. I don't care!" Lakshmi declares. She is receiving the respect she deserves for her culinary knowledge, she says. Recently David Chang met with her to ask her about Indian food, and she is working on another book project. If you are curious about what is going to be in that next volume, you'll have to keep wondering - Lakshmi won't say what the book is about. 

The most popular cooking show by year

Food Network's first broadcast aired in 1993, but the history of televised cooking programs stretches back decades prior to that. Before television was invented, there were cooking programs on the radio. People have watched and listened as a variety of hosts taught them how to make dishes both simple and complicated since the 1920s. The history of these programs is a fascinating tale, and Taste of Home demonstrates with a compilation of the most popular food shows through the years

Cookbook covers

When radio was in its heyday there were programs of every type, including a cookery show - 'The Betty Crocker School of the Air' was broadcast from 1924 all the way through 1951. At first, local talent at each radio station would perform as "Betty Crocker," but after NBC picked up the show in 1927 Marjorie Husted became the voice of Betty. Starting in the mid-1940s, the BBC cooking show hosted by Philip Harben, simply called 'Cookery', was king of the airwaves. 'Cookery' was the only televised cooking show for nearly a decade. 

The idea of a flamboyant host for a cookery program certainly predates Guy Fieri: Fanny Cradock, whose show ruled in the 1950s, was definitely a character. Of course Julia Child was queen of the airwaves in the early 1960s, paving the way for a succession of popular chefs and home cooks who had shows from the late 1960s through the 1980s. You'll recognize most of the names here: legends like Graham Kerr, Delia Smith, and Jacques Pépin. The slideshow serves as an excellent reminder of the quality of televised cooking shows all the way up to the present day. 

Norman Van Aken's advice to aspiring chefs: read cookbooks

Chef Norman Van Aken is known as the founding father of New World Cuisine, a celebration of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, African, and American flavors. He is also credited with introducing the concept of "fusion" to the culinary world. His restaurant, Norman's, was nominated as a finalist for the James Beard Foundation's "Best Restaurant in America," and the chef has also been a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist for "Best Chef in America." So when Van Aken offers a suggestion to young cooks, they pay heed.  What is the chef's number one piece of advice to those aspiring to follow in his footsteps? Read cookbooks

Norman Van Aken

Van Aken thinks that young chefs spend too much time looking at screens instead of poring through cookbooks, and he thinks that's a shame. "They don't read. They barely read. They watch things," he said. "And I know that it's very tempting just to watch it on the tube or on the internet. And they don't sit down with a book and make notes in the book or make notes in a notebook next to the book." The chef offered his extensive cookbook library to his staff  as a resource but was dismayed that few of them took advantage of it. 

While he thinks there are good cooking programs on television (he appeared twice on Anthony Bourdain's shows), Van Aken thinks that most of the televised competitions are confusing to young chefs because they don't reflect the realities of cooking. He also believes that reading books is less distracting that reading an online article. "I think it's about not the constant interruption that comes across through the electronic methodology, which is that you could be reading about something, whether it's making a sauce or the historical aspects of a dish - and then your email comes in," he says. 

Andrew Zimmern in hot water over recent comments

It's been a rough start for Andrew Zimmern's new Minneapolis-area eatery, Lucky Cricket. Early reviews have been less than glowing, and the television food star has also received criticism about offering a dish from another chef without getting permission to do so. Worse yet, in a recently-aired interview, Zimmern disparaged much of the Midwest's Asian food offerings, drawing the ire of restaurant owners. 

Andrew Zimmern cookbook

Zimmern, who rose to fame eating things unfamiliar to most Western palates in the popular show 'Bizarre Foods', made a controversial comment in an interview earlier this year at the Minnesota State Fair. "I think I'm saving the souls of all the people from having to dine at these horses - - t restaurants masquerading as Chinese food that are in the Midwest,"  he told Fast Company

Chefs and owners of Asian restaurants in the Twin Cities and beyond did not take kindly to the remark. Food writer Ruth Tam sums up many of their thoughts, saying "[He] has the noble cause of 'saving' white people from eating bad Chinese food. When Chinese people make Americanized Chinese food for white people, Zimmern calls it 'horses - - t.' But when he does it, it's 'unique.' "

Minneapolis and St. Paul area chefs have organized several 'Horse---' popup restaurants since the interview was published on November 20. The popups are an attempt to stimulated conversations around the issues of cultural appropriation and casual racism raised by the remarks.  Zimmern has apologized for making the statement, and says he hopes to make amends.  "...I regret so much the flippant way I described the restaurant. . . . Words matters, and the imprecision of that matters. My imprecision matters," he told The Washington Post. 

Diana Henry's interview with Nigella Lawson

We hope all of our members have (or had) a joyous holiday. Keeping with the holiday spirit, today we won't be writing much but we invite you to listen to a special program that features two of our very favorite authors. Diana Henry sits down with Nigella Lawson to discuss the 20th anniversary of Lawson's How to Eat, and about her life in food. Pour yourself a cup of tea or coffee, sit back, and have a listen

Diana Henry and Nigella Lawson

Worry less, bake more

Does the idea of Melissa Clark and Dorie Greenspan chatting about cookies for an hour during holiday baking season sound absolutely perfect? If so, we have great news - the pair of cooking mavens recently sat down at NYC's The Greene Space for a discussion of cookies and baking, and it's available for everyone to watch free of charge. We'll provide a few highlights below, but there's a lot more in the entire discussion. 

Dorie Greenspan and Melissa Clark

While Dorie says she strives to be very precise in her recipe writing, she notes that after writing 1,500 recipes, she's come to the conclusion that recipes are very forgiving. (As an aside, the reason she knew how many recipes she has written is because of EYB - and now our complete author index for Dorie is 3,140 recipes!) After seeing the greaqt results that people were having with her recipes even though they made changes, Dorie became convinced that there is "wiggle room" in baking recipes. As Clark says, "people should worry less, and bake more."

When Clark asked Dorie about the aesthetic of her former NYC cookie store, where all of the cookies were the same size and very neatly stacked, Dorie explained how it came about. She says she used to make "the most baroque" desserts like croquembouche, "with all the cream puffs and the caramel and the burnt fingers," but after a while she grew tired of making such fancy desserts. "In cooking and in baking the ingredients themselves can be so beautiful that I'd rather change the shape of something" than try to construct elaborate desserts, she explained.

You may have noticed that in Dorie's Cookies, many of the recipes call for making the cookies in a ring or a muffin tin. Using a muffin tin changes the texture of the cookie, she explained. She enjoyed the textural change so Greenspan modified the recipes to accommodate the physical constraints placed on them. Dorie also talked about the challenges of baking gluten-free cookies. Any of the recipes in Dorie's Cookies that are gluten-free are naturally so, not because she designed them to be that way. She tends to send people to different authors if they are looking to have a particular kind of cookie made into a gluten-free version.

Clark asked a question of Dorie that many of us have wondered about, "Why the cookie passion?" It goes back to Dorie's childhood. Her mother didn't bake, but as Dorie said "boy did she know how to buy a cookie." Since there were always high quality bakery cookies in house, and she came to really appreciate and enjoy them. She also baked cookies for her son, Joshua. She was immersed in cookie baking for years, but when it came time to write her cookie book, Dorie was initially worried about writing a single-subject volume. She feared that that she would run out of ideas. Her concerns were unfounded, because she discovered that "the more you think about one thing, the more creative you are." Because you are so focused on cookies, for example, everything becomes a cookie. She related the story of tasting a friend's cocktail (a Bee's knees), and thought "that could be a cookie!"

There are many tips sprinkled throughout the discussion and the Q&A session after the talk. For example, Dorie explained the reasons she uses unsalted butter. The obvious reason is that you have greater control over the salt, but that's not the only issue. Unsalted butter generally has more butterfat than salted butter (ranging from 1-2% more), resulting in a richer flavor in your baked goods. Dorie and Clark demonstrated a technique for making sure you don't get any air trapped in your slice and bake cookies (about the 53 minute-mark). Dorie also provided a great tip for a hostess gift - make two rolls of a slice-and-bake cookies, bake one to eat now and provide a wrapped, frozen unbaked roll and a pretty tray for the hostess to bake and serve later. 

Chef José Andrés nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize

Chef José Andrés can add another accolade to his storied humanitarian work: he has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Earlier this week, it was confirmed that the chef had been nominated for the prize by Democratic congressman John Delaney. It's not the first time Andrés has been recognized for his tireless relief efforts - in February he was named the  Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation. 

jose andres cookbook

The Washington Post obtained an excerpt of the nomination"Because of Mr. Andrés's work, millions of people have been fed," Delaney reportedly wrote. "This is the most basic human need and Mr. Andrés has proven to be world-class in this essential humanitarian field."

The chef remained characteristically humble about the nomination. When asked for his response by WaPo, he replied "Oh wow. They nominate everyone." Not quite - the average numbers on nominations in a year is around 350. Congratulations and good luck, Chef Andrés!

Cookbook author Patricia Quintana has died

We learned today of the passing of cookbook author and Mexican "culinary royalty" Patricia Quintana. She was a renowned international chef and an expert in Mexican gastronomy who studied cooking all around the world. For more than twenty years she was dedicated to rescuing the culinary heritage of the country and her research enabled her to travel throughout the different regions of Mexico.

Patricia Quintana

With her sensibility and experience, she created numerous avant-garde dishes, without losing the essence of Mexican traditions. Her culinary art was featured and published in more than fifteen books, among them The Taste of Mexico, Feast of Life, Puebla, Kitchen of the Angels, A Journey through the Kitchens of Mexico, and Jade Powder. She collaborated on numerous television programs and wrote many articles on cooking for newspapers and national and international magazines. Quintana tirelessly promoted indigenous Mexican cuisines. 

She received many accolades for her work, both in cookbook writing and through her restaurant and catering company: the "Silver Spoon" prize, awarded by the magazine Food Arts; the "Golden Laurel" award by the Mexico-Spain Association, and the "Restaurateur of the Year Entrepreneur of the Year" awar , given by the National Chamber of the Restaurant and Spicy Food Industry in Mexico.

Quintana's friend Maricel Presilla remembered her in a Facebook posting. "For those of us who followed her long culinary career and were lucky to see her in her element, at her big old home and cooking at her Mexico City restaurant Izote, researching and writing about the foods of the country that informed her identity, leading tours and sharing recipes and her vast knowledge of Mexican cooking with friends and colleagues, her loss is a painful blow." Quintana was 72.

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