For Celebrity Chef Bobby Flay, inspiration can be found wherever he looks. “I get inspired by wherever I go,” he said. “A lot of it is through travel and meeting people and eating in their restaurants or eating in their homes. Whenever I travel somewhere I always have something to bring back to my restaurants.”
It’s only fitting that when visiting fans at the Cary Barnes and Noble on Nov. 14 for a new cookbook signing, he’d be inspired by barbecue. Though he can’t unequivocally say that Eastern North Carolina-style BBQ is his favorite — his wife is a native Texan, after all — he did confirm the vinegar and mustard-based barbecue sauces are distinctive to the region and among his favorites.
“When I think of Carolina barbecue, I think of the sauce as being vinegar based and mustard based, and I love those kinds of flavors. I think it’s what makes Carolina barbecue so much different than any other barbecue in the United States,” Flay said “I think barbecue is the most important food subject in America. You know, because it defines different regions and different places in this country. So, I have to say, I’m not prejudiced against any barbecue. I like it all.”
A previous visit to North Carolina involved a challenge with Pit master Ed Mitchell, of The Pit restaurant in Raleigh, for Flay’s Food Network program, Throwdown. Mitchell proved his pit master prowess by winning that throwdown, but Flay said it’s not uncommon for him to prefer his competitor’s recipes.
Competitors on the show don’t actually know they are being challenged to a throwdown with Bobby Flay. They usually think they are being asked to prepare their signature dish for a television special, and it isn’t until they see Flay walk onto the set that they realize the challenge they are about to face.
Flay said he has a little advanced notice, but doesn’t know the details of what is being prepared. After a short time in his test kitchen, Flay emerges with his own recipe for the competitor’s signature dish of the challenge.
A spin-off from the hit television show, Flay’s latest book, Bobby Flay’s Throwdown!: More Than 100 Recipes from Food Network’s Ultimate Cooking Challenge, gives readers access to some of his favorite recipes from the competitions.
“It’s the companion book to my show. I picked 50 of my favorite throwdowns and we tell a story about the person who we competed against and all of the wonderful things they bring to food and to that particular dish,” he said. “And then we give you both recipes — the one that they’re really well known for and the one that I sort of devised to compete against them in the throw down.”
Flay’s previous books, including Boy Meets Grill, Boy Gets Grill and Grill It!, have been centered on his expert knowledge in all things grill related. He offered a few insider tips to creating the perfect grilled meal:
“I think very often people who aren’t used to working on the grill are intimidated by the idea of it. I always tell people to think of it as burners with a grill on top of it, because basically that’s what it is. I mean, you’re creating heat and you’re just cooking on top of it,” he said.
“But, when you’re cooking on the grill, I always tell people that you have to let the grill do its job. And, what I mean by that is you take the piece of meat or fish or whatever you’re cooking and you season it however you’re going to season it, make sure you oil it correctly and make sure that the heat is high enough. And then you put it on the grill, and you leave it alone,” he said. “I think the most common mistake for people who are concerned if it’s going to stick is they check too early to see if it’s going to stick and then it sticks. You have to let it actually come away from the grill and the only way you’re going to do that is if you just leave it alone.”
Despite being lauded as master of the grill, Flay is not without teachers and mentors of his own when it comes to food and cooking.
“Wolfgang Puck is probably sort of my hero in the food world. About 25 years ago, I think he really changed the way we looked at food in this country. He revolutionized what good food could be. And did it in a way that we were really able to take notice in this country. All good food didn’t just have to be French fancy food; it could be very whimsical and very American.”
He added, “I think it’s interesting that an Austrian guy had to tell us that, but that’s the way it is. He’s awesome.”
Bobby Flay’s Throwdown!: More Than 100 Recipes from Food Network’s Ultimate Cooking Challenge is available in hardcover for $27.50 through most local booksellers.