Ted Allen debuted as a bespectacled wine and food expert on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy in 2003, after developing his palate as an editor at Chicago magazine. He now has two shows on the Food Network: Food Detectives and Chopped, a Top Chef–Iron Chef hybrid. Though Chopped has been criticized for being too soft on contestants, Allen disagrees. “I have very little interest in being sarcastic or flippant about another artist’s work,” he told us. “The critics I respect are the ones that give it to you straight, and who don’t need to resort to saying your dish looks like chlamydia in order to make a sound bite. And I’m not talking about any particular person.” As you might expect, Allen was just as kind to the restaurants where he and his partner Barry ate for this week’s New York Diet.
Friday, January 23
For breakfast I had coffee: French roast, brewed at home. I like a strong dark roast. I keep trying to find locally roasted ones that are better, but I tend to get Starbucks since it’s consistent.
We were leaving for a couple of days in Puerto Rico, and got to JFK so early that we had an hour for lunch before the flight — the perfect opportunity to try one of the nicer restaurants in the new Terminal 5.
We’re big fans of Mark Ladner, so we chose Aeronuova. The service was tentative — staff seemed new, but earnest and trying hard, and the food was good and came fast. There were two things in particular I liked: The Caesar salad was topped with a very lightly poached egg, which cracked and ran all over the romaine the second you touched it — a great way to get the eggy body necessary for a decent Caesar dressing, while addressing the paranoia so many people and health departments have about raw eggs. The cacciatore was more radically reinvented; it was actually half a fried chicken with a highly seasoned and very crispy coating, plated prettily with a julienned gremolata on top and drizzled with a chunky, sofritto-based tomato sauce with lardons. Not at all the old-school, over-stewed hen drowning in red sauce. A little salty, but delicious. To drink, I had a Pepsi with lemon.
On the JetBlue flight, I had a Seagram’s ginger ale and that funny combo bag of snacks that always makes you suspect that Frito-Lay swept up the trimmings from various factory floors and bagged them: Doritos, Cheetos, Sun Chips, pretzels, etc. Scary, but I ate it.
Dinner was at the Palm, San Juan: A twelve-ounce New York strip, “Monday-night chopped salad,” and Markham Cabernet. This turned out to be a bad idea. My steak was great, but Barry’s was totally overcooked. He sent it back and got another one so raw it was almost black and blue. Weird. I shared mine.
Saturday, January 24
Breakfast by the pool at El San Juan Hotel: French roast and a blueberry muffin.
Poolside, still, I had a skirt-steak salad with chile-lime vinaigrette and a Presidente beer.
For dinner we went to Delirio, San Juan. Eric Ripert turned us on to this place — he’s friends with the chef, Alfredo Ayala, who used to cook for Joël Robuchon. We had a delicious, crisp Albariño from Pazo de Señoráns, Rias Baixas, seviche of mahi-mahi with sweet potatoes, corn, tomato, and avocado in a lime-honey-pomegranate vinaigrette, grilled octopus in olive oil and Spanish paprika, and grilled cod in Basque style with piquillo peppers, potatoes, olives, raisins, and quail egg.
Sunday, January 25
In the morning I had coffee, grapefruit, and yogurt on the beach.
Rapidly turning red, I had a chicken wrap sandwich, root chips, and a margarita.
For dinner we had barbecue at a friend’s place: ribs, catfish, pulled pork sammies, coleslaw, black beans, and rice. I had a Medalia Light beer.
Monday, January 26
For breakfast I had coffee by the pool. I was staying under the umbrella from here on.
For lunch, I ate a Greek salad with chicken kebab.
On the JetBlue flight home, I had Blue Terra Chips — much less suspicious than the Frito-Lay combo.
Dinner was back home in Brooklyn. We went to one of our neighborhood favorites, Abistro in Fort Greene — a tiny place with about twenty seats, and you can watch the action in the kitchen from nearly all of them. Chef Abdoul cooks really personal, vibrant international food with lots of Senegalese and French notes; amazing stuff. We had Abdoul’s mussels in a ginger-lemongrass broth; Dakaroise roasted brook trout with sautéed spinach, jalapeño soft polenta, and roasted sweet-potato sauce; and bread pudding.
Tuesday, January 27
Back to work shooting Food Detectives, so breakfast is coffee, slurped in a car.
Fortunately, we’re shooting a segment at Murray’s Cheese. I had a gorgeous panino with ham, Emmentaler, and watercress, and a silky soup of butternut squash. I brought home a thick slab of Pleasant Ridge Reserve, an amazing cow’s-milk cheese from Wisconsin.
For dinner I had a friend in from out of town. We went to the General Greene, also in Fort Greene. I ordered a butter-lettuce salad with grapefruit and curried almonds, their luscious Ham-and-Gruyère bread pudding, and India Pale Ale.
Wednesday, January 28
This was a production day, so another day of me getting up at the crack of hell and being picked up by my delightful production assistant, Jessica. I had French roast at home. When I got to the set I had a poppy-seed bagel from some bodega place. We shoot on East 44th in the same building wonderful Rachael Ray shoots.
For lunch it was the cornucopia of chafing-dish wonderfulness. Our caterers seem to find many things to do with chicken. Wednesday it was chicken Marsala, not half bad, really, for something that’s been bubbling in a chafing dish. There was a side of roasted potatoes with rosemary and a green salad with balsamic vinaigrette.
For dinner I was finally able to cook something. It really drives me crazy when I don’t get to cook. We are renovating our kitchen, so I’m cooking in a convection oven and on a magnetic induction hotplate; it cooks great, but I only have one. So I roasted a chicken with tarragon butter (butter, garlic, salt, and pepper, and the most important ingredient: lemon zest). I loosen the skin around the breast and rub it in. Even though it’s a microwave, it has a true convection oven — it does an incredible job. It took about an hour instead of an hour and fifteen, twenty for a three and a half pound D’Artagnan bird from Fort Greene’s Provisions. We did a segment on Food Detectives that involved asparagus and had a ton leftover so I sautéed it quickly with half butter, half olive oil, salt, pepper, and some lemon zest. It’s not like the stuff you get when asparagus is in season; it probably came from Fairway. I made Israeli couscous with chicken stock and thyme and just a pan sauce with the chicken. We had a Sauvignon Blanc from Robert Mondavi. We’re hoping to be done with the renovation in May, so we’re going to cook like fiends. It’s not impossible to cook great food in a small space, it just makes it easier.