Ted Allen Reveals What Viewers Can Expect from All-Star Academy — and Dishes on the Mentors
All-Star Academy is Food Network's new show that brings out the best in home cooks in order to find the single most-talented cook in the nation. That person will walk away with the $50,000 grand prize. Led by one of four mentors, the home cooks have the chance to be molded into some fierce competition, and host Ted Allen has a bird's-eye view of it all, from the action unfolding on set to the drama brewing behind the scenes. He recently caught up with FN Dish to reveal what viewers can except from the show, premiering on Sunday, March 1 at 9|8c.
Ted also dished on mentors Alex Guarnaschelli, Bobby Flay, Curtis Stone and Michael Symon, revealing their strengths and weaknesses in competition.
FN Dish: How would you describe the premise of the show to viewers at home?
Ted Allen: All-Star Academy is a competition but with a twist unlike any other competition show that’s airing right now on Food Network. We've all seen Alex Guarnaschelli, Bobby Flay, Curtis Stone and Michael Symon compete, and we know they’re gladiators, they’re champions, they’re the best of the best at competitive cooking. But when they do it for themselves, they’re not talking to you about what their strategy is. [And] that's what I like about All-Star Academy, is that as they direct their home cooks to cook for them, [for example] with Alex’s mentorship, she’s revealing how she thinks when she competes, and I find that super fascinating. I also find it really interesting when you take people who are really good at competitive cooking themselves and force them to channel that expertise through novice cooks, through home cooks; it drives them insane, and that's fun too.
How have you seen the home cooks progress during the competition? Is there something that you've seen/noticed that home viewers might not get a chance to see?
TA: I think you’re going to see a lot of drama and twists and turns unfold naturally within the show itself. That's really going to be a draw, I think. It's been a roller coaster, in a really good way, an exciting way. ... Every episode ... has had really dramatic surprises in it with people who got sent home, when you can't believe it was them, when people who survived or excelled and you never thought it was going to be them to win the thing and to do the best job of the whole group ... and some of the surprises happen to the mentors, and they're not always good. They get their share of twists and have evil tricks played upon them as well.
Watching the interactions between mentor and mentee, what do you think is the key to a successful partnership?
TA: I think the key to being a successful protégé to one of these great chefs is to do what they tell you to do. They know what they're doing. The key to being a successful mentor is figuring out what your protégé wants to do and what's within their skill set. Are you a person from Texas who loves steaks and BBQ rubs? ... Or are you from Baltimore, are you from New England, do you like clams? What are you comfortable with? And so they both have to take each other's temperature a little bit. Of course it's always exciting when a protégé sort of refuses to do something that a mentor wants them to do and that's when the mentor starts to yell a little bit, but they also, they know that they need to try and guide the person. It's like an interior decorator or a fashion stylist trying to help you figure out what's your style — you know, it’s the same thing with food.
How would you describe each mentor's teaching strategy from what you see on set and behind the scenes?
TA: Well, they’re all perfectionists, but they do have a very different style.
Bobby is ... very, very cognizant of what his cooks want to do. And then he brings his Bobby Flay-vor to that. They're all cognizant that the people should be cooking dishes that reflect themselves, but they're also naturally going to reflect what they're learning from their mentors, you know, in vivo. So you're going to see some of those Southwestern touches of Bobby in his cooks' food, and in some places you're not going to see it.
[Alex] doesn't want her protégés to embarrass her and she doesn't want to let them down by steering them wrongly. So you see Alex listening very closely to what her cooks want to do and sometimes vetoing parts of what they want to do because she knows that it won't work. ... So you'll see Alex taking a very hands-on approach, minute by minute she's coaching them on what to do. ... She was trained in classical French kitchens where they throw a veal chop at your head when you screw up, so you do see a little bit of that reflected in her style.
Curtis has a very warm, nurturing kind of style until you screw up or don't listen to him. ... He brings some very interesting modern techniques to bear occasionally. ... I think Curtis, a very masculine man, does some dishes that have feminine touches and delicate touches. He loves to work with seafood, loves to work with raw fish and sushi references, and you know the climate in Australia lends itself to that certainly and the available food, which is wonderful.
And then finally Michael, a fellow Midwestern boy like myself, brings ... almost like a fusion of Bobby and Curtis. Michael, in his restaurants, will do white fish fritters form the Great Lakes. He'll do a big, bold steak-y veal pork chop kind of thing, but he'll also do really delicate rarified pretty plates with more-subtle touches.