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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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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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Spinach $13
spinach & grapefruit mille-feuille,
with smoked pistachios and ricotta

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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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