It’s a ballsy proposition for a show: an American chef invites (dares!) reputed champions of a particular dish to a one-off cook-off. Only Bobby Flay would be so brave, even though he may never have cooked the dish before.
This is the premise of Throwdown!, a Food Network show already into its eighth season and the title of Bobby Flay’s tenth book. Episodes showcase cooks famed for a specific dish who think the Food Network is featuring them for an upcoming show. Unbeknownst to all is that Flay pops in to challenge them to a cook-off with expert judges determining the victor.
Bobby Flay wrote Bobby Flay’s Throwdown! with his two assistants, Stephanie Banyas and Miriam Garron. Subjects are arranged chronologically by season with the dish’s name and the cook’s mini biography alongside it. Included also are Bobby’s game plan strategies that often involve enlisting expert help and the ensuing triumphs (and debacles) that result from tweaking the dish.
To say that the cooks who appear on Throwdown! are qualified would be an understatement. Most of them are multi-awarded for their dish (at least three cooks are American BBQ champions), some are even former chefs who’ve worked in acclaimed restaurants; one is even a former employee of Flay’s , who beat him in the falafel Throwdown! episode. And in a nod to our national pride, there’s even a Filipino priest who competed and won against Flay with his renowned Funky Fusion Fajitas.
It’s interesting to read how Flay and his two assistants (Banyas and Garron) experiment in the Food Network’s test kitchen before the cook-off. Because the chef is deeply steeped in Southwestern cooking, most of his dishes are of that bent. Thus, a toasted cumin crema on his 12-Chile Chili; smoked chicken pot pie with a sweet potato crust; and an eyebrow-raising fried chicken and wild rice waffles with pink peppercorn butter. Most of the featured cooks’ dishes are straightforward – and as Flay writes, “… good cooks are at their best when they’re not over-thinking what they’re doing … but instead making their particular specialties the best they can be.” Recipes for pulled pork, and a warm chocolate bread pudding with an imaginative bacon crème anglaise (you’ve got to read about it to believe it!) make me want to run to the kitchen. I’m only disappointed that Throwdown!’s! more “infamous” (i.e. hotly contested) recipes such as that for Levain Bakery’s chocolate chip cookies weren’t included.
Though Flay’s record is 31 wins, 1 tie, and 65 losses at the end of the seventh season, he has recipes that slay the sturdiest of resolves – macaroni and cheese carbonara and a take-no-prisoners caramel apple cheesecake, the picture of which makes me want to abandon all decency and lick the page. And speaking of pictures, Bobby Flay’s Throwdown! doesn’t disappoint in quantity. There are pictures of both Flay’s and the cooks’ dishes in addition to on-location photos, the pixelized nature of some only adding to the authenticity of the experience. This is a big and beautiful book that captures the electricity of the show and the thrilling diversity of regional American cooking. This is a book to cook from and be inspired by, even if you’ve never seen an episode of Throwdown!.
Bobby Flay’s Throwdown!
By Bobby Flay with Stephanie Banyas and Miriam Garron
Clarkson Potter, Oct 2010.
Available at Fully Booked.