As some of you know, I went to an open casting call for Season 10 of the Next Food Network Star last week in San Antonio. I got the call-back after the first meeting on Monday, and returned for an hour-long on-camera audition on Wednesday.
This is what I made for my audition -- it is an all natural meal that satisfies FIVE diets: vegan, vegetarian, paleo, kid-friendly and omnivorous. It's a lemon cinnamon spaghetti squash with tons of fresh veggies. Add chicken and cheese for variations. I will post the recipe soon. It was delicious!
I won't find out if I am on it for a couple of months, and it is highly unlikely, so don't get too excited. I do think however, that my message would be a fantastic one to put out there to the nation on the Food Network. Clean eating does not have to be intimidating!
Food Network auditions are all about your personality-- I was armed to talk food and they wanted to know about my relationship with my parents! It was totally unexpected. Anyway, its in their hands now, so we shall see!
Anyways, while in line, waiting to go into my second audition, I met another applicant. His name is Jesse Perez, and he is the chef/owner at Arcade Midtown Kitchen in San Antonio, Texas. He is an outstanding character, incredible chef and happens to have an enormous heart.
He invited me to visit his restaurant the next night, and seated me at the "kitchen table." The kitchen table is unlike the chef's table in that it is meant to be intimate and comfortable, like your mom's kitchen growing up. In fact, a picture of Jesse's mom is surrounded by pink candles in the corner by the table, in honor of her. The pink candles and pink menus are for October, Breast Cancer Awareness month. Jesse lost his mom to breast cancer, and honors her in his restaurant with pink this month. Also, Zoltar, the fortune teller machine tastefully tucked into the bathroom hallway, raises about $1000 each month, which Jesse donates to breast cancer research groups.
Named "Arcade" to imply a nostalgic feeling of community, Jesse's restaurant epitomizes a welcoming sensation as soon as you walk in the door.
Above the kitchen table hangs one of the most beautiful modern-industrial light fixtures I've ever seen. When I ask where I can buy one, he replies "Oh, I designed that." Of course he did! Jesse has a vision to preserve the history of the Pearl Brewery in his restaurant. The Pearl Brewery used to stand in this location, and Jesse has used some artifacts in his decor. The tables sit atop materials salvaged from the brewery, and there is more salvaged surface on the bar. The handles to the bathrooms are made from the old industrial freezers at the brewery. There is a sliding wall of wine that opens up the space for flexible entertaining flow. I was in awe of the generous details that make this place so spectacular.
And then there is the food. Just like the decor, everything made in the kitchen is done with extra TLC. My notes from the night say "TTTLLLLLC." Yep. Everything is fresh and has a unique balance of unexpected flavor that could only be discovered through a deep culinary understanding and comfort in experimentation. The dishes have been called "modern american," but they are so much more. With Chef Jesse's perfectly balanced twists on traditional fare, you'll wonder why his version isn't the classic. For example, his Chile and Lime Calamari is served with a delicate asian sweet and sour red chile sauce, cut with a lightly grilled lemon instead of the traditional lemon juice and marinara. His little twists give the food a whopping promotion to unique, upscale dining.
Now, I have been on a pork belly kick lately, so it is no surprise that the Pork Belly Ragu was my favorite dish of the night. Served alongside the sweetest, freshest ricotta you've ever tried, the sweet tender pork belly shares the pot with salty brined olives. Layer it all atop smokey, crusty, crunchy bread and you have a party in your mouth. This guy just knows how to put things together.
The P&B Meatballs were also a hit. They are very spicy, twice-ground, therefore very soft, sausage balls. They sit on top of a green pea and white bean hummus for two reasons: 1) The creamy hummus balances out the spice and 2) Because Jesse likes hummus.
And finally, his signature lobster soft taco took me by surprise. It is a soft crepe wrapped around the freshest tender chunks of lobster in a decadent poblano cream sauce with soft sweet potatoes. The lobster falls apart and melts in your mouth. With all that is going on in this thing, you would guess it would be really heavy, but it isn't. It is light and refreshing and I am craving one now.
Then there are the cocktails. My favorite was the Vieux Carre, a cocktail among many that is well crafted then aged in barrels on the walls. It wasn't sweet at all, yet it had so many levels to it. It's artisanal approach is visually emphasized by the giant hand-carved iceball that sits at the bottom of your glass. Drinking their cocktails is an experience not unlike drinking wine-- there is a start, feel, aroma, body and finish. Speaking of wine, each was selected by Chef Jesse himself to complement his incredible dishes.
I don't usually review restaurants, but this one was exceptional. I highly encourage you to visit Arcade Midtown Kitchen if ever you are in the San Antonio area. Chef Jesse is destined for great things. Tell him Bo Duncan sent you.
Check out Arcade Midtown Kitchen here: