New show travels America, highlighting regional ingredients, local chefs’ grilling skills
Grilled Smoked Bologna and Yellow Mustard Grilled Slaw Sammies. Illustrates FOOD-GRILL (category d), by Bonnie S. Benwick (c) 2014, The Washington Post. Moved Monday, July 7, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey)
“American Grilled” on TV _ competition plus cooking with local products. Grilled Bison Hanger Steak. Illustrates FOOD-GRILL (category d), by Bonnie S. Benwick (c) 2014, The Washington Post. Moved Monday, July 7, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey)
All eyes are on the giardiniera.
After making the cut and practicing with likely ingredients, after surviving two quick rounds in which Cracker Jack, Vienna Beef franks, smoked cheese, deep-dish pizza dough and kielbasa had to be charred into cohesive, edible submission, it has come to this: A contestant has left a jar of Italian pickled vegetables – a must-use ingredient – untouched. In tortured unison, onlookers count down the final seconds.
The tension in the air is as thick as a two-inch T-bone, which also happens to be a mandatory ingredient – the one that commanded most of the contestant’s attention. Does the contestant realize it yet? See the forgotten relish that might end up costing a cool 10 grand?
It’s not happening on some highfalutin studio set. The competition in this new show, called American Grilled, has wound tight through 11 hours of a changeable Chicago spring day, outside the main entrance to Wrigley Field.
Its host is no buttoned-down big shot. Anchoring the judge’s table is David Guas, all sideburns and denim and muy macho voice. Back at his Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Va., weeks after filming in 13 cities, he’s able to admit that, yes, there was something “pretty bad-ass” about the experience.
“I had this surrogate, adopted family” that was the production company, the usually humble chef says. “The more they shot, the more they understood who I was.”
If the chef fits . . .
Whether or not America needs another competitive cooking show, programmers keep stuffing time slots with them. Those that feature spatula wars outdoors, with fire, have coast-to-coast appeal, perhaps because they highlight regional styles. Or because we, the people, are drawn to smoke. In any case, the brains behind American Grilled on the Travel Channel are certain they’ve got a contender.
“It’s my favorite show,” said Patrick McManamee, the Travel Channel executive producer responsible for fun fests such as Xtreme Waterparks and Bikinis & Boardwalks. Headset disengaged for the moment, he is on location at Wrigley, an eager adviser at the command-monitor setup dubbed Video Village. “When I saw David grilling burgers in a guest shot on Today, I knew he was our guy.”
The concept: American Grilled rolls into town. Guas is the sole recurring member of a judging panel that includes a barbecue personality and a relevant local figure. (The judges and production company heads have gotten acquainted at dinner the previous night – required each time, deemed a “brilliant” move by Guas.) Four self-proclaimed “grilling geeks” from the area must cook with products from local purveyors and can draw from a pantry of staples and carefully curated, local fresh foods. Video footage and references to the city will reinforce the network’s brand.
Neil DeGroot is another reason why McManamee is so keen. Watchers of TV credits have seen DeGroot’s name scroll by on eight seasons of The Biggest Loser. He has earned two Directors Guild of America awards; a bystander on the set, even for a day, can see how many hats DeGroot wears, and how well he wears them. For this gig, he’s executive producer of Original Media, the production company hired to film American Grilled.
He and McManamee “spitballed and theorized” about the show; could someone even complete a grilled dish in 20 minutes? DeGroot recommended unexpected locations and made sure that Elayne Cilic, with whom he’d worked before, was brought on as his co-executive producer. Other places on American Grilled besides Chicago: Annapolis; Charlottesville; Asheville, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Pensacola, Fla.; Louisville; St. Louis; Savannah, Ga.; New Orleans; Memphis; Austin; and Latrobe, Pa.
“The city itself is a character. The show is regional and the food is local,” DeGroot said. “That’s what sets us apart.” He was also adamant that the process be “organic.” Contestants cook in real time. They suffer no character arcs or trash talk. Judges decide who wins.
Guas and DeGroot, who with his wife owns a farm near North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains and feels passionately about the farm-to-table movement, hit it off right away.
“He’s a stress eater,” Guas says, referring to the way DeGroot absorbs pressure yet stays calm and loose and very much in charge.
As comfortable as Guas is on the small screen – he has appeared on Today 20 times since 2001, plus on various Food Network gigs – hosting has not been a cakewalk.
“The first three cities were bumpy,” he says. Shooting for American Grilled began last summer, and Guas was hired a mere two weeks prior. A format in which he chatted up contestants during each round was scrapped. It was too distracting for them, and too much like “those other shows.” He had to learn how to handle seven or eight pages of script yet exude an off-the-cuff vibe.
Mostly, he was reminded by DeGroot that the host’s on-camera work was not like the contestants’. “ ‘Dude, if it ain’t right, we can do it again,’ is what he reinforced through that bug in my ear,” the 39-year-old chef said. “I can get into a business-y, get-it-done mentality.” By the time the team shot in the last location several weeks ago, he added, “I tried not to have ‘judges’ face,’ at least.”
Guas’s own posse got to visit Latrobe, the last shoot. It’s safe to say that his publicist wife, Simone Rathle, has summoned all her professional acumen to help navigate her husband’s career. She’s his biggest fan.
Elder son Spencer, almost 12, said: “My father’s my father. That won’t change. He’ll always come to my baseball games” – although the rising seventh-grader says that when his teacher “unexpectedly did a report in class about my father having his show, it was cool.” Nine-year-old son Kemp wondered, “Now, is a limousine going to come and take us to school?”
∎ ∎ ∎
Guas said he grew up eating fried “baloney,” slapping it on Bunny brand bread and squirting it with yellow mustard.
He now makes these grilled sandwiches for his two young sons, who especially love the cold, tangy crunch of an added slaw.
GRILLED SMOKED BOLOGNA AND YELLOW MUSTARD GRILLED SLAW SAMMIES
For the slaw:
1 head green cabbage, cut into quarters (do not core)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup regular or low-fat Duke’s mayonnaise
1 teaspoon celery seed
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 medium Vidalia onion or other sweet onion, cut in half
For the sammies:
4 1/2-inch thick slices all-beef or beef-pork bologna (4 inches in diameter, 24 ounces total)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
8 slices Texas toast bread (may substitute thick slices of any soft, white bread)
To make the slaw: Prepare the grill for direct heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high (400 degrees) with the lid closed. If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them evenly over the cooking area. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 4 to 6 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames. Brush the grill grate.
Place the cabbage quarters on a baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil, then season liberally with the salt and pepper. Transfer the cabbage quarters to the grill; cook, uncovered, for a total of 7 minutes, turning the cabbage as needed to achieve a little char on all sides. The cabbage should remain somewhat crisp and not cooked through.
Immediately return the cabbage to the same baking sheet and place in the freezer for 20 minutes, until firm. Use a serrated knife to cut into very thin slices, discarding the cores. The yield should be about 4 cups of firmly packed cabbage.
Whisk together the mayonnaise, celery seed and mustard in a mixing bowl until well blended.
Grate each onion half on the large-holed side of a box grater, letting the grated onion fall into a bowl. Gently squeeze out/drain away any onion juices; the yield of onion should be 1/2 cup. Add the drained onion to the mayo mixture, along with the cabbage. Season lightly with salt and pepper; stir to incorporate. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the sammies: Prepare the grill for direct and indirect heat: If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high (400 degrees) for 10 minutes with the lid closed. If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them on one side of the cooking area. For a hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 4 to 6 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames. Brush the grill grate.
Place the bologna slices over direct heat; cook uncovered for 2 to 3 minutes on each side to achieve good grill marks. Move them to the indirect-heat side of the grill.
Drain the wood chips; add them to the briquettes, then quickly close the grill lid and allow the bologna to smoke for no more than 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Spread the melted butter on one side of each slice of Texas toast. Place the bread slices buttered side down on the direct-heat side of the grill and cook, uncovered, for 45 to 60 seconds, to achieve good grill marks. Transfer to a cutting board.
When ready to assemble, lay each piece of grilled, smoked bologna on the ungrilled side of 4 pieces of the Texas toast. Top each portion with about 1/2 cup of the slaw, then complete the sandwiches with the remaining 4 pieces of bread, grilled side up.
Spear each sandwich with two evenly spaced, short bamboo skewers or long toothpicks. Cut in half; serve right away.
Makes 4 to 8 servings.
MAKE AHEAD: The slaw needs to be made at least 30 minutes in advance, so its flavors can blend. It can be refrigerated up to 3 days.You’ll need to soak 1/2 cup of hickory or apple wood chips in water for 30 minutes.
Bison on the grill can be more tender than beef, says “American Grilled” host and chef David Guas, even though bison’s marbling tends to be more delicate.
GRILLED BISON HANGER STEAK
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
coarse sea salt or kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
2 pounds bison hanger steak (see headnote)
Combine the garlic, oil, crushed red pepper flakes and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper in a gallon-size zip-top bag. Add the meat and seal, pressing out as much air as possible. Massage to coat evenly. Let it sit while the grill heats up.
Prepare the grill for direct heat: If using a gas grill, preheat to high (425 to 450 degrees) with the lid closed. If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them evenly over the cooking area.
For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 4 to 6 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames. Brush the grill grate.
Take the meat out of the bag; discard any remaining marinade. Season lightly with salt and pepper on both sides. Place on the grill and cook, uncovered, for a total of 7 minutes or until the meat’s internal temperature registers 130 to 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer (medium-rare); turn the meat as needed.
Transfer to a cutting board to rest for 8 to 10 minutes before cutting into 1/2-inch slices. Serve warm with a saute of rapini and roasted garlic.
Makes 4 servings.
MAKE AHEAD: The meat needs to marinate while the grill is heating up.