Guy’s Grocery Games, 98% Excited, 2% Scared or is it the other way around?


Anyone else remember Michael Bay’s 1998 movie Armageddon starring Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Owen Wilson and several other stars?  The scene I am thinking of is when Oscar Choi, played by Owen Wilson, is getting strapped into the space shuttle and is describing how he feels.  

I applied for a spot on season two of Guy’s Grocery Games, the insanely cool cooking game show on the Food Network and happily got a call back.  If there are any folks who have never seen it it is pretty much Chopped mixed with a touch of insanity.  I almost crapped on myself when they did the Aisle Four game.  I think it was aisle four.  Whatever aisle number doesn’t matter.  What does is that you had to race to the candy aisle and cook a meal out of it.  Or the frigging bag switch? Only a madman with a twisted sense of humor does that to another human being. Owen Wilson correctly describes exactly how I feel on the very hopeful verge of getting onto that show.  “I got that excited scared feeling.  98% excited and 2% scared, or maybe it’s the other way around.”

I am going to represent the crazy anonymous folks that choose the restaurant business to carve out a living.  I suppose it was cooking or end up in some random padded cell to bounce off of in my straitjacket deep into my twilight years.  If I had to describe to my three year old son Beaumont what I do for a living it would simply be: “Daddy wears pajamas with a tall paper hat (lovingly refereed to as a Culinary Condom by Garrett Blackstock in the wildly popular BBC program ‘Chef’) experiencing moments of perfect calm punctuated by periods of unspeakable madness.  I race to get food cooked for 40 to 280 people depending on how many people walk in unannounced, barking out orders for an hour and half interlaced with obscenities and adolescent random comments about penises that would make Red Foxx blush, and perhaps legally classify me as having Tourette’s syndrome.  Sorry son, Daddy is a madman.”

Sorry to burst the bubble of those of you who think of Chefs as a serious bunch of artists and craftsmen wearing clinically white pristine Chef coats quietly contemplating each and every combination that goes on your plate. When I did my stage for one of the world’s greatest Chefs to grace the planet, Chef Joel Robuchon, I thought to myself now if there ever will be a serious kitchen this has got to be it.  By the end of the first service I saw all the same shenanigans I have attributed  to the lowly kitchens I have crewed (or maybe crude).  Oh we are a crazy bunch of culinary clowns, but damn I love it and wouldn’t do anything else!

I sent the casting agency my information followed by a short clip I filmed after a cocktail.  I suppose I should add part of my bio as a form of introduction to the 19 second clip that follows.  It also may explain my character a bit better and perhaps why my sister is still in therapy 51 years later.  “Chef François grew up in a very French household in Chicago.  His earliest attempts at cookery began with the filleting of his sister’s goldfish at age two and a braised rabbit dish made with his pet rabbits at age seven.  He eventually stopped cooking his pets and went to the highly esteemed New England Culinary Institute where he graduated top of his class in 1985.”  Do you think there is another profession anywhere in the world where you can write that you ate your pets and somehow it is perceived as a benefit?  I guess I was way ahead of the tail to snout foodie movement.  GEEZ LOUISE! Or as my French family might gasp “Mon Dieu.”

Moroccan Donuts with Harissa Hot Chocolate

Moroccan Donuts

Who doesn’t love a great donut?  Mmm, those sugary feathery light deep fried puffs rolled in sugar warming your belly and soul.  Donuts are pure magic.  They transport me back to an earlier time when food could cure all that has gone wrong in life.  Donuts, confectionery alchemy at it’s best.  Flour, sugar, butter and eggs transformed into sweet delectable pillows.  Donuts, proof that God does exist.  All this donut talk has nearly caused me to short out my keyboard from the anticipatory drool.  I do understand why I am fat.  I love food and quite honestly food loves me.

I won’t kid you, making these donuts at home will take some skill and patience.  Anyone can do it.  Just set aside some time, follow the recipe and prepare to enter Food Nirvana.

Makes Four Servings:

Moroccan Donuts

1 /2 cup        Milk

2 1/2 t.           active dry Yeast

3 cups            all-purpose flour

8 T.                  cold unsalted Butter, cut into 12 pieces

1/4 cup         Sugar

1 t.                   Sweet Paprika

1 t.                   Cinnamon

Pinch             Cayenne

1 t.                   Sea Salt

2 large           Eggs

2 large           Egg yolks

Heat milk in a small saucepan until it is just lukewarm.  Your body temperature is 98.6 degrees.  If you stick your finger into the milk it should be just slightly warmer then you.  Pour the milk into a small bowl and add yeast. Use a spoon to stir in 1 cup of the flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until it is bubbly and slightly risen, about 20 minutes.

In a food processor, combine the butter, sugar, spices, salt, eggs and egg yolks. Pulse till butter is finely chopped and equally distributed throughout the mixture.

Add yeast mixture and pulse to mix. Add 1 cup of the remaining flour and pulse until the mixture is smooth. Scrape down the bowl. Add the rest of the flour and pulse again until well-mixed. Let the dough rest in the food processor for 10 minutes.

Weigh out two ounces pieces and roll into a log shape.  Pinch the ends together, put in a warm place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and let rest till it doubles in size.

Deep fry in 350 degree oil till brown and crispy on both sides.  Roll in granulated sugar mixed with cinnamon.  At the restaurant we are lucky to have deep fryers.  At home I use a large heavy gauged pot filled half way with vegetable oil.  I use a deep fryer thermometer to check temperature.  Be careful not to crowd pot with too many donuts because they will cool the oil and cause the donuts to soak up more fat.  Drain donuts on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels.

Harissa Hot Chocolate

2-1/4 c          whole Milk

¼ c.                Water

4 oz                grated Valrhona bittersweet Chocolate (Manjari)

¼ c.                Sugar

1                      Cinnamon Stick

1                      Star Anise

1 t.                   Harissa, or to taste

Pinch              Saffron

Combine everything, boil, pour into a mug.  Caution this hot chocolate is rich and full of flavor.  Your favorite powdered version will not taste good anymore.