How did Beat Bobby Flay
come about? I get asked that question often, and there really isn’t one single answer. Instead, it’s a product of many factors: past events and current shows, but overwhelmingly, my desire to showcase chefs who might never otherwise get a chance at national recognition. Plus, it satisfies viewers’ never-ending appetite for competitive cooking shows. Beat
also fulfills a need for me to continue my culinary evolution: from a young chef trying to get his name and food known in the city of New York, to a chef on TV who started out as the cohost of arguably one of the worst-made food television shows in history, called Grillin’ & Chillin’
(yeah, it was bad), to one who made his mark by grilling every imaginable ingredient known in the world on countless versions of outdoor cookery shows like Boy Meets Grill
and Grill It!
From there I jumped from the heat of the grill to a guerilla-style competition show called Throwdown!
—a show that was more fun than hard-core competition—then finally landed on the mighty planet of Iron Chef America
. Those iterations of the professional Bobby Flay all had one thing in common: I cooked. Cooking is the engine that wakes me every day, and always excites me for the next act of transformation to take place in my kitchen. Whether it’s in one of my restaurants, at home, or on one of my shows, I need to be cooking—and if I’m not, it’s never going to be my best day.
I’m a lucky guy. I get to sharpen my skills in any environment. Working the line in my restaurants has always been an amazing training course, so when I’m trying to put together dozens of dishes under the gun of the running clock on Iron Chef
, I have the confidence to get to the finish line. It’s practical experience that works both in my restaurant life and under the bright, hot lights of the competition shows. Beat Bobby Flay
is my latest stage, and it’s one I’m ready and willing to share with any chef who wants it. Let’s get a few things out of the way: As of 2020, we’d shot about 500 episodes, which means close to 500 chefs have come through the Beat arena. Like any competition show, we always face the question of whether the judging is rigged or fixed in any way. I can tell you honestly and truthfully it is 100 percent legit. If it weren’t, there would be a lot of chefs who lost yelling and screaming “fixed,” something you don’t hear because it’s not true. People point out to me all the time that I never lose. Well, those people clearly don’t watch that often! The bottom line is that I win about 65 to 70 percent of the time.
Winning and losing is not the point of Beat Bobby Flay
, but because the audience likes finality, and it is TV after all, we have to do it. If it were up to me, we’d just cook, taste each other’s dishes, and share a cocktail and a high five before going home. That wouldn’t rate very well, though, so we have to have a winner.
I created this show because it allows me to do the two things I love most: cooking and hanging out with my friends. (The third thing is dancing, which only happens occasionally on the show—lucky for you.) Yes, I want to win every time, but I’m actually thrilled when I lose. It’s great for the show, every one of the 150-person production staff is happy (they all root against me), and, most important, it’s fantastic for the chef who wins and his or her community. It creates a lot of local media for the chef, and they have giant viewing parties in their hometowns so all their family, friends, and customers can gather together to watch them slay Bobby Flay.
For me personally, the show also allows me to continue my quest to learn all I can about cultures that are not my own. I always say, if you want to learn about particular people, eat their food. It tells a story rich in history and flavor. I have my go-to cuisines that I’m most comfortable with because of my thirty-five years of experience cooking them in my restaurants, including Southwestern American, Mediterranean, and my most recent culinary passions, Spanish and Italian cuisines. Because of a show I shot twenty years ago for Food Network, called FoodNation
, I got to travel all over America, and I’m fairly comfortable with my knowledge of regional cooking in most corners of the country as a result. I also have certain ingredients and techniques that I use to get me out of jams when I’m a little confused by what I’m supposed to be doing. You’ll see these secret (or not-so-secret) weapons often: fresh and dried chiles (including Calabrian chiles from Southern Italy), anchovies, bacon, tons of butter to finish sauces, and blackberries, coconut, and caramel for desserts. I’ll make any rice dish crispy and will be sure to finish dishes with enough acidity, like lemon, lime, or vinegar. Most judges love that.
My classic weaknesses are well documented: sweet dishes, desserts, or anything that has to be measured and includes butter, sugar, flour, and eggs, like pastries, cakes, and pies. I do eke out
a surprising victory here and there with desserts, but it’s usually because the pastry chef took it easy on me with their choice of dish or I wowed the judges with a coconut garnish or something unexpected like that.
Dishes from most Asian countries always give me trouble. I love the cuisines from places like Korea, Japan, China, and Southeast Asia, especially the Philippines, but finding the correct balance of
all the flavors oftentimes proves problematic for me. That said, I’m a little better at things like wrapping dumplings and creating delicious dipping sauces than I was before this show was born.
As I said, I play to win every time and I always try my hardest. Not a single chef who’s come into our arena would want me to lie down and hand them a victory just for show. They all want to see me walk out of my own kitchen a loser thanks to their hands and skills. It’s an amazing moment for them to throw their arms up in victory, with sweat dripping off their forehead and a giant smile filling their face as they let America know their name and exclaim with the verve of a world heavyweight champion . . .“I JUST BEAT BOBBY FLAY!”
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