Tell me about your new book.
What I wanted to do with the cookbook was build a collection of foods that I really love to eat, with the thinking being that if I like it, there are probably people that do also. Its a combination of American comfort food and a little bit of Italian, a little bit of Mediterranean, and a little bit of Asian.
Its my favorite stuff and thats where I came up with the titleThe Food You Want to Eatnot about dieting, certainly. Its also not about cooking with 800 sticks of butter. Its about cooking with natural ingredients, when theyre best seasonally. For example, you use tomatoes in August and September. Its probably not a great idea to use tomatoes in February, because theyre lousy [then]. Its a cookbook for new cooks, people who are kind of new to the kitchen but want to do things the right way.
What did you get out of creating the book?
I got a chance to sit backfirst by myself and then with my editorand think Wow, what do I really love? What is the stuff that makes me want to sit down and clean the plate? That process allowed me to keep on talking to friends and relatives and remembering great meals I had at restaurants, when weve traveled, food that was really exciting to me and taught me something that I didnt know before.
Theres a woman that developed recipes with me. Stephanie Lyness is amazing. The book Stephanie did right before mine was in collaboration with an openly gay Indian chef in New York named Suvir Saran. Its entirely coincidental that Im gay and that Suvirs gay and that we ended up working with Stephanie. Suvir has a restaurant in New York City called Devifabulous restaurant. Suvir was one of the Out 100 last year. And Stephanie is not gay, to my knowledge, but its been a wonderful collaboration with her.
How is branching out with your own book a reflection of other endeavors youre taking on besides the successful show?
Its a very natural, logical thing for me. One of the reasons why Im so fortunate to have the job I have is that its all about stuff that I would be doing in my free time if I werent getting paid for it. Anybody who gets to work in a field that they really love is very fortunate. Its such a privilege and Im grateful for it. It all works together. Now I have my own recipes that belong to me that I can use in the show if I want to.
You created the recipes from scratch?
With Stephanie, yes; all of them. Some things are classics. You know, how to cook a steak or how to make a Caesar salad. Even something classic like that, I twisted it around a bit, did something thats personal to me.
But all these recipes have to be tested and they have to work. If they dont, youve got a problem. It really is a complicated process and it takes forever to publish books. This book has taken 18 months. Its crazy. If this one does well and I get a second cookbook, Im hoping I can produce it a little bit more quickly.
What was your biggest kitchen disaster?
Oh, God. Ive had plenty of them, but let me just say that one of the reasons I love cooking, especially for a love interest, its not important that it comes out perfectly. What matters is that you tried. Cooking is an act of great affection and generosity. At the same time, its an act of somebody who appreciates receiving approval from his or her loved ones. Its a great thing to do for a date.
That said, when I lived in Chicago, I was an editor, writer, and restaurant critic at Chicago magazinesort of a restaurant bible. One day, I was having the dining editor over to my house for brunch. Its an intimidating situation because Penny Pollack is the person who decides whether a restaurant gets four stars or no stars and whether they get listed or dropped.
I decide that Im going to do homemade cinnamon rolls. I put them in the oven about 15 minutes before shes supposed to pull up. The doorbell rings and I look over at the oven. Theres smoke pouring out of the oven because I didnt put a pan under the baking dish. So theres sugar, cinnamon, and butter gushing onto the sides, onto the bottom of the oven, burning it. I opened the door to the dining editor of Chicago magazine, my house is full of smoke, and it looks like my kitchens on fire. She looks and says, Wow! Hows it going in there? The cinnamon rolls were fine. You know, we opened the windows; we aired the place out. It was a little embarrassingbut it happens to all of us. You know, if youre cooking dinner for a date, you light the kitchen on fire, and everything becomes a total disaster, what you should do is open a bottle of wine, order a pizza, and laugh about it.
Whats the one plate to win a date over?
Thats definitely going to depend on the person. If its somebody who likes meat, the ultimate, special occasion meat dish is a roasted beef tenderloin or prime rib, which is a more flavorful piece of beef. Theres almost nothing more American than that big, roasted thing in the middle of a table and thats a very nice, special-occasion dish.
Actually, my favorite is rack of lamb. Its such a flavorful, beautiful, very elegant-looking, special entre. But then also, this is not just Teds cookbook for the straight guy at all. I made a conscious effort to appeal to a lot of people.
There are a lot of fish recipes in here and theres even a vegan recipe that I think is really great as well. Its very satisfying, its very much an entre, and its very much a center-of-the-table kind of dish, not a bunch of side dishes. The vegan dish is a roasted butternut squash pie with filo dough. Its great. Its got great texture and its satisfying. Some people are so nervous about working with filo because its so delicate, but its not that difficult. With a little bit of practice, it works out.
Would you ever do a cooking show?
I would love to do a cooking show. Whenever Queer Eye is finished. If that should happen, Im going to try to develop one. I think whatever I do will probably involve food and maybe travel. I love studying other cultures and theres no better way to do that than with food.
I have an endorsement deal now, which plays nicely into all of this. Ive become the spokesman for Robert Mondavi. Theyre a wonderful company and they make fantastic wines. Obviously, this is a job for me and Im lucky to have it. But its also a vote of confidence from the corporate community and the food world I have a two-year deal. Im going to be representing Private Selection wines; weve got all sorts of public events; we have a Web site called discover-wine.com that teaches people about throwing wine tastings and wine parties. I call myself the concierge of that site. So if you go to discover-wine.com, theyve got my picture right at the front there.
This is a wine education effort that Robert Mondavi is doing that I think is trying to break down barriers and introduce people to what I think is one of the great pleasures of life. I think its validating to the gay community that the Robert Mondavi winery saw it as perfectly appropriate to hire an out, gay spokesperson.
Do you have any intention to reach out to the gay community in this way?
Absolutely! Its for everybody, and I think that the gay and lesbian community has shown itself to be extremely loyal and grateful to companies that have the good sense to talk to us. You can rattle off several that have been leaders in that area: Subaru, Orbitz, Disaronno, Volvo, Volkswagen, Apple.
There have been several great companies that have seen the value of marketing to us not just because we have money to spend, but also because were cool people. We tend to be early adopters of cool things. We dont forget the companies that respect us. I want to make it clear that I was not hired specifically to target lesbians and gays for Robert Mondavithats just part of the deal. Its not just theyve only brought me in to talk to the gay market, but I definitely will be doing that. Absolutely.
The gay market is a very important one for entertaining, wine, and food. You know, for a long time thats been part of our culture even more so than America at large. It kind of makes sense, for me to be involved in it.
For additional recipes and information about Allens new book, The Food You Want to Eat (Clarkson Potter, $27.50), visit www.tedallen.net.