Food Network celebrity Ted Allen has been a major food television presence since his days spent on Bravo's hit reality show, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Nowadays, he spends his time hosting cooking competition show Chopped, and acting as a representative for Mondavi wines. We chatted about his entry into the world of food television, which shows he likes best, and upcoming projects.
How did you make the transition from food writer and restaurant critic, to TV personality? I was at first more of a generalist at Chicago magazine; I did some food reviewing there and after a few years of that I got a deal with Esquire. I was always interested in food and wine, and I've consistently done stories about that fabulous area of our lives. The TV thing was really a strange and serendipitous thing—I was working in Chicago when I heard about the casting for Queer Eye and I just came out on a lark. I thought it was interesting and somehow, strangely, I was one of the five hosts that kind of made sense together.
Even after I got that part, I thought I would work for ten days and then go home—but it pretty much upended everything for me. And when the show was really popular, I became a judge on Top Chef and Iron Chef America. That was one of the most important thing that happened in my career—it kept me on two different networks. I feel so lucky.
Which is your favorite show to participate in? There are things I love about all of them—Chopped is my favorite because it was created by a good friend of mine, and I really feel like we were able to do what we want. We have our gimmicks here and there, but for the most part it's a stripped-down competition. It's a totally level playing field where everyone has the same food, same equipment. Whatever drama happens during the show is entirely a result of the pressure cooker that the contestants are operating in.
Do you get to know the chefs on the show at all? Not as much as I would like, especially because I really like chefs; they're characters, they're really passionate, they're party animals. But when we're making the show I'm actually not allowed to really fraternize with these people; I'm supposed to be kind of detached. We want to keep them off their guard and the tension is a necessary part of it. My natural impulse is to crack a joke on set, but I get yelled at when I do that. We're supposed to keep the tension.
You have a passion for wine as well as food. What's your best wine and food pairing advice? My role with Mondavi is to do outreach to people, just regular folks—I love doing it. Americans drink very little wine, and being able to widen the reach of people who do is a fantastic part of my food life. I love turning on that light bulb in people's heads. I start really basic—red wine with meat, white with fish. You don't want a wine that either overpowers your food or will be overpowered by your food. There are wines that are delicate and wines that are sledgehammers. My best advice is to go to tasting at wine houses. Wine people love to show off; take advantage of it.
You wrote a book, The Food You Want To Eat. Any plans for any more books in the future? Yeah, actually, I'm about 70 recipes in. I didn't really have an idea in mind at first, but I just came up with one that my editor likes. I'm excited to have so much of the work actually done. My last book was right at the peak of Queer Eye's popularity and it was crazy. But I love writing and I still identify as a writer.
Chopped airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET, on the Food Network.