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We Roll With Fun

Yesterday was pretty stressful – I knew that I lost Iron Chef America, but I didn’t know the final score and I couldn’t tell anyone the result. People were so excited and I felt like I was going to let them all down. I think I threw up from nerves three times before the show aired. It may sound childish but I really wanted to win. I wanted to take this victory for the vegetarian community, I wanted to take it to earn vegetables some respect and I wanted to take it because Mark Dacascos said if I won I could cut off Morimoto’s ponytail. I wanted to cut that ponytail off so badly. There’s no worse feeling than trying really hard for something, giving it your all, doing your best, and having that just not be good enough.

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Appearing on the Time Warner

cable guide was its own reward.

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The viewing party was absolutely great and I can’t believe how excited everyone was, even after the show was over. Douglas Richard and Clarice Martin drove up from West Point to watch, my wine reps – Owen and Camille – both came, Roopa and Matt made hundreds of tiny cupcakes, Erin brought me okra pickles, tons of friends, my parents, and lots of familiar faces from Dirt Candy all showed up and were the best cheering section a girl could want. There were even some press people who I’ve made friends with from covering the restaurant who came to hang out and watch – which is especially amazing because press people are normally in their coffins by 9pm since they start drinking around noon. (Note: if you are Canadian, I am so sorry that Food Network Canada isn’t airing the show. Why do they punish you for living in the world’s greatest, most maple-flavored country? Please let Prime Minister Harper know that we cannot stand for this treatment!) (Also: a huge thanks to Angels and Kings on 11th and A who let us swarm their bar for the evening and were very gentlemanly about everything.)

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This is a swarm, Dirt Candy style.

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Watching the show brought a few things to mind:

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1) The butter thing. Alton Brown and Kevin Brauch were a lot of fun to joke around with and the camera crews and floor crew had a great time playing with us. We were a lot less solemn than Morimoto’s side and so they gave the three of us a lot of camera time. The butter thing was a joke we kept kicking back and forth and it was funny, but I feel like it wound up taking over the show. And it wasn’t even accurate. Jesus, Danielle and I are good at what we do but we can’t cook for only three people. So when Jesus was making the beurre blanc sauce with all that butter at the end, he was making it in the proportion we use at the restaurant, which is enough for at least 30 servings. Unfortunately, we wound up throwing out a lot of what we made on Iron Chef because it was easier to cook in the proportions we knew, rather than figure out proportions all over again.

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I know my vegan customers, and I know that they’re awesome people with well-developed senses of humor, but one thing that bothered me is that I’ve tried really hard to make sure everyone feels welcome at Dirt Candy and I worry that the focus on how much butter we used is going to alienate some folks. If you’re vegan and you’re reading this, just know that I don’t care about your health, I will destroy you with some of the richest most drool-inspiring vegetarian food you’ve ever had, and I don’t need butter to do it. Trust me: I have a mighty arsenal of weapons that I can use to put your soul into food shock and nine out of ten of them don’t involve dairy.

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The crowd is shocked to see that Jesus,

Danielle and were professionally cleaned

for our Iron Chef America appearance.

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2) Jesus and Danielle looked great. Normally the three of us are in stained whites, bleeding and sweating on each other, victimizing one another with our mood swings and elbowing each other out of the way. But watching the two of them onscreen I felt really proud. Danielle looked like some kind of broccoli slinging supermodel and Jesus looked like a vegetable slicing stud. It was like working for years with Clark Kent and then turning around and suddenly seeing that they’re actually Superman.

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3) One of the hardest things to watch was myself – slicing my finger, squeaking in an ultrasonic voice pitched for bats to hear, getting my sentences edited in half – but I also was relieved to see I didn’t act like a total freak. This was me a year ago, and there are so many things I would have done differently in this challenge if I did it today. But Past Me did alright by Present Me, and I’m proud of her. Also, did anyone else catch my drag queen worthy acting at the top of the show? They asked me to make sure my reactions were big so I figured, “You want big? Let me just super-size that for you.”

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4) The judges were rough. I was so psyched to have Jeffrey Steingarten as a judge since I feel like he’s the “real” judge in the same way that I think Morimoto is the “real” Iron Chef. But I also think he was having a bad day. He just seemed irritable and out of sorts throughout the 6 hour shoot (yes, it lasted 6 hours!) and I really wanted him to engage with my food more than, “I think this tastes good. I don’t think this tastes good.” I would have loved to sit there and serve him my food and listen to him tear it apart for hours, but he didn’t seem to be feeling at his best that day. As for the other two judges, I knew I was in for it when Kelly Hu said she didn’t like fat and that she liked her broccoli “nude.” If she wants “nude” vegetables I suggest she go to a strip club – Dirt Candy doesn’t do “nude.”

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Sir Jeffrey will wither you with

an icy glare now.

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5) I wished I could have tasted Morimoto’s food. He and I did so many of the same dishes and used so many of the same techniques and I wanted to get a better sense of what he was doing. When the judges tasted his creamy dish with pickled broccoli and my creamy dish with pickled broccoli and said that it “made sense” when he did it but not when I did it, I wanted to taste what that meant. Taste can be affected by so many different factors from presentation to expectations and I wanted to taste it for myself. Was it just that he plated it differently? Did he get the benefit of the doubt because he’s cooked on Iron Chef America for 8 seasons? Or was there an actual taste difference, and if so what was it? Not being able to taste his food was the biggest bummer of the show for me.

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But overall, I’m thrilled. I do feel like I let down the team by not winning. But this was me and Jesus and Danielle one year ago. We did our best, and we went down fighting. And, to be honest, to me the biggest accomplishment was keeping my dignity (most vegetarians on reality TV get flayed alive) and having fun and having that fun come across on the show. Food is my life. I have busted my ass in hot, sweaty kitchens for twelve years, I have taken friends to the hospital for gruesome injuries they’ve gotten on the job, I am covered with burn and knife scars, I have given cooking my sweat and blood and tears and except for my marriage and my family it means more to me than anything on this planet. But that’s no reason to act like a pompous jackass about it. It has to be fun. More than anything, I want people to be surprised, to laugh and to enjoy themselves when they eat my food, and I think that came across last night.

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For the three of us, it feels like the first year of Dirt Candy is truly over now that our Iron Chef episode has aired. We are such different people making such different food than we were a year ago when this was filmed. For us, this was a chance to look back at who we were when the restaurant had just opened and we were struggling to make it work, and to raise a glass to our Past Selves and say, “Your Future Selves want you to know it’s all going to be worth it.” Because looking around that packed room, listening to people cheer and laugh and heckle, watching customers and friends and family meet each other for the first time, and get drunk together, and eat cupcakes and pizza together, it felt like everything worked out after all. It would have been nice to win, but if this is losing, it doesn’t feel so bad. If this is losing, I can live with that.

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And, like I said on the show…

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“Hey, Dirt Candy! How ya’ll roll?”

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Iron Chef Part 3

The last installment in the epic tale of filming my episode of Iron Chef America. The episode airs this Sunday, August 29 @ 10pm on the Food Network. Except in Canada. Apparently the Food Network hates Canada and the episode won’t be airing there in the foreseeable future even though I’m Canadian. If ever the UN cared about international relations, this would be the time to get involved before the situation escalates. Read part one and part two.

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The actual filming Iron Chef – as opposed to the preparation, the sitting around and the waiting – was bizarre. I was all jacked up on adrenaline and my nerves were jangling like alarm bells and the first thing they did was film my entrance. Inside my skull my brain is screaming with stress and I have to walk down the runway in a swirl of artificial smoke, and then hit my mark at the end and strike a pose.

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“Again,” they said.

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Then, “Again.”
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There’s no music. No direction. You feel like you’re on an episode of America’s Next Top Model strutting down a runway towards Mark Dacascos and you just keep having to do it over and over again.

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Read the rest of this entry »


Iron Chef Part 2

Danielle, Jesus and I got a chance to watch the taping of the Iron Chef episode that featured Dina Marino’s battle and we learned a few things:

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1) Taping a TV show is very, very, very boring.

2) Television studios are freezing cold.

3) We didn’t stand a chance.

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Iron Chef Part 1

The first in a three post series about the bizarre experience of being on Iron Chef America. This morning: the beginning! (the next post will go up late this afternoon – and the Iron Chef episode airs this Sunday, August 29 @ 10pm on the Food Network)

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The strangest thing about being on Iron Chef is that it happened so long ago – I actually filmed my segment almost exactly a year ago today. About five months ago I just started assuming that my episode was so bad it would never air. But now it’s airing and the thing that’s going to be weirdest is the time warp of watching myself a year ago on TV. I’m a completely different chef now, and I can’t look back at the food I was making when Dirt Candy opened without a list in my head of all the things I’d do differently. The strongest urge I’m going to have while watching the episode is to yell at my past self, “You call that cooking? Come on, step up your game, Past Me!”

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Past Me practicing plating for Iron Chef.

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When I first got the call to be on Iron Chef America, Dirt Candy had been open for less than a year. I’d been cooking with electricity for almost six months, and had finally gotten the gas hooked up about three months before. I was in the middle of service and Michael Colameco was shooting a segment for his show in the dining room so we were in total chaos. The phone rang, and someone on the other end said, “Hi, we’re calling from the Food Network. Is Amanda there?” They told me they were the producers of Iron Chef America and they were inviting me to compete on an episode.

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“I don’t think so,” I said.

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Iron Chef Posts

Starting around 8pm or so this Wednesday, I’m going to be posting my behind-the-scenes story about doing Iron Chef, in preparation for this Sunday, August 29th screening of my Iron Chef America battle against Masaharu Morimoto – blood will fly, vegetables will be massacred and there will be only one survivor. There will be a second post Thursday morning and a third post on Friday. See you then!


Dirt Candy in TIME Magazine

The August 30th issue of TIME Magazine features a piece comparing the taste of organic and non-organic food to see what the fuss is all about. You can read the article here, and the taste test we all did is here. I was assigned to bring in some organic carrots and non-organic carrots and see what the differences were. (Here are my somewhat incoherent musings)

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I was told to show up for the taste test with an apron to have a quick picture taken and so of course, with perfect Dirt Candy timing, I had had a long, hot awful day. The night before my dishwasher had died during service (the machine, not the human being), and that morning when I came in to work Danielle informed me that my freezer upstairs had died in the night and that my downstairs freezer wasn’t sounding so good. So I spent all morning getting repair people in and bleeding money, then raced uptown to the TIME offices, stopping on the way to pick up two bags of carrots at D’Agostinos: one of organic carrots and one of non-organic carrots.

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If you get the magazine when it hits the stand and see the bigger photos, you can check out the crazy shoes I’m wearing  and the array of bizarre footwear on all the chefs testifies to the fact that none of us expected to have our feet photographed.

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As for the organic vs. non-organic debate, I want to say that I didn’t detect any difference in the taste. I believe in comparing things on a one-to-one basis and not stacking the deck. The organic carrots and non-organic carrots I bought were from the same produce section at D’Agostino, sitting right next to each other – they’d probably both been on the shelves for about a week. So of course they tasted the same. If I had bought one organic carrot from a farmer’s market and one non-organic carrot from the supermarket they would have tasted wildly different, but the taste has a lot more to do with where you’re getting your carrots rather than any essential magic in the souls of organic carrots. In fact, the non-organic carrots were slightly sweeter!

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A lot of the chefs brought in really particular products they wanted to compare, sourcing their eggs and meat from organic purveyors they knew and trusted, who turn out a superior product, and using those in this taste test. But I feel comfortable in saying that if you’re shopping for produce in the supermarket, there’s not going to be a huge amount of taste difference between organic and non-organic you take off the shelves. You might feel like one is healthier or safer than the other, but apart from the price-tag the difference, as far as I see it, is negligible.

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Iron Chef interview

Kathy over at Happy Healthy Life has posted the first interview I’ve done about being on Iron Chef. To be on the show the first thing you have to do is sign a bunch of contracts and non-disclosure forms that are about as thick as a sofa and as tall as a small child, so I had to be a bit coy with some of my answers. But it’s a good interview if you’ve ever wanted to know more about the Iron Chef experience. Go on and read it if you’re interested!


Family Meals: 130 – 125

Last week’s family meals in all their glory. This was Jesus’s first week back making family meals after he got August off from making them as his birthday wish. See his comeback family meals after the break.

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Iron Chef Dinner!

(UPDATE: I hate to say it, but in just one day the Iron Chef Dinner has completely sold out! If you wanted to come and couldn’t get in, I’m really sorry. But please don’t miss the Iron Chef Viewing Party on August 29! It sounds like everyone is going to be there and I get a feeling things are going to get raucous!)

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The bummer about food on TV is that you can’t taste it. But I’m always trying to make your lives richer, deeper and more meaningful, and so after you watch Dirt Candy compete on Iron Chef America on Sunday, August 29th at 10pm you can come into the restaurant and taste the food I prepared for the judges!

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On Thursday, September 2 Dirt Candy will be hosting an Iron Chef America Dinner where I’ll recreate the five-course meal served to the judges. And frankly, I’m a better chef now than I was then and so what you taste is going to be even better than what they had.

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“Even better?!? Impossible!”

Even better!?.

The meal is five courses (including dessert, of course) and it’ll cost $50/person (alcohol, tax and tip not included). I’ll also be answering any questions about the Iron Chef experience (that I’m legally allowed to answer). So come on down, and eat like an Iron Chef judge with us on Thursday, September 2. To make a reservation, just call the restaurant (212-228-7732).

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Dirt Candy’s Iron Chef Party

On Sunday, August 29th, Dirt Candy is going to be competing on Iron Chef America, going up against the real, original Iron Chef himself: Masaharu Morimoto!

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Yuck it up, big boy. On the 29th

you’re going DOWN!

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Come watch the show with us and get drunk! We’re having a viewing party and you’re invited!

(I’ll also be doing an Iron Chef Dinner, recreating the meal for customers, after the show airs. There’ll be an announcement about it tomorrow.)

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Sunday, August 29th starting at 9pm (show starts at 10pm)

Angels and Kings Bar (500 East 11th Street – on the corner of 11th Street and Avenue A, entrance on 11th)

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It’s a cash bar, but I think the booze’ll be pretty cheap. Just bring an ID to get past the doorman.

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Iron Chef Chairman, Mark Dacassos, is the bomb!

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When’s the last time you got to watch Iron Chef America with one of the competitors? Never! So come on down and cross this off your bucket list!

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menu


Menu

Snack

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Jalapeno Hush Puppies $6
served with maple butter
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Appetizers

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Mushroom $13
portobello mousse, truffled toast
pear & fennel compote

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Cucumber $12
roasted cucumber hot and sour soup,
black sesame, garlic chili oil, wood ear
mushroom, cucumber jelly

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Tomato $13
tomato cake with smoked feta,
yellow tomato leather, herb puree

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Potato $12
warm potato salad, crispy Japanese
yams, grilled sweet potato, olives,
bitter greens, apples

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Entrees

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Beets $20
salt-roasted beets, thai green curry,
beet gnocchi, whipped coconut galangal cream

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Pepper $18
fennel & pepper tofu,
parsley spaetzle, grilled
yellow pepper broth,
mustard crumbs

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Broccoli $21
smoked broccoli dogs,
broccoli kraut, salt &
vinegar broccoli rabe

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Corn $19
stone ground grits, corn cream,
pickled shiitakes, huitlacoche,
tempura poached egg

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- everything on the menu can be made vegan on request.

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Dessert

Rosemary Eggplant Tiramisu $12
grilled eggplant, rosemary cotton
candy, mascarpone

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Ice Cream Nanaimo Bar$11
sweet pea, mint, chocolate

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Popcorn Pudding$11
salted caramel corn

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Celery Cheesecake Roll$10
celeriac ice cream, peanut filling,

& candied grapes

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- vegan dessert selection changes regularly, please ask your server.

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Our wine list (and other beverages)

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Gift Certificates

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