i've been slow to post this one because it is going to be another ending of the whole experience. basically, this will be notes of stuff i forgot earlier.
-- so the first thing takes a little set-up. and if you know me, you know that by that, i mean A LOT of setup. i don't regularly watch any of rachael's shows, but i've never been a hater. there are people who dispute that, but i don't remember ever saying anything bad about her. i mean, its ok that she has shows i don't watch. i totally get why her shows are popular, they just aren't what i do (but i'm hunting down that deviled egg recipe). in fact, not only do i not recall ever talking smack about her, but i distinctly recall vehemently defending her. several times. i'm not saying who i was defending her against, but maybe becky and melanie remember. you'll have to ask them. just sayin'.
anyway, for years, i basically had no real opinion of her, but i began respecting her a couple of years ago after two things. first (actually, it may not have been first, i don't remember what order these things happened in. but let's say this one was first), she was on a special holiday edition of iron chef: america. she was teamed with mario against bobby flay and giada delaurentis. alton introduced the four "chefs," and she totally demurred. she said that "these three are the chefs. i'm just a cook." she totally won me over by respecting the distinction.
second (you know, maybe it was second, whatever), i watched her chefography on food network, and was totally impressed with her path. it was sort of impossible to not be. she invented what she does, and it is something that benefits a lot of people. and she was adamant that she was not a chef.
ok, that was the setup.
when she sees me at the tailgate party, after the previously mentioned bowing episode, while she was telling me how much she wanted the "PIG IN A PIG IN A PIG!" (there were associated hand gestures), she called me "chef" twice, and without even realizing the irony involved in me saying it, both times i responded, "i'm not a chef, just a cook." TWICE. and it was like 45 minutes later before it sunk in what i said, where it came from, and how insanely ironic it all was.
also twice, chef tim redmond, the track chef who was in charge of cooking my dish at the party called me chef. the first time, i said "i'm not a chef, just a cook." the next time, i just smiled and answered his question. i don't have delusions, but it was fun to just accept it once.
and, technically, sort of, a cook was in charge of carrying out my dish. so, technically, sort of i WAS a chef. but just for a little while.
-- people kept asking if the weekend made us nascar fans. tell you what: anytime i can go to a race where i am treated like royalty, with guys dedicated to getting me where i need to be, with complete access to whatever i want at a huge complex ... yeah, i am a fan of that.
but the truth is, there were two races after texas, and i watched the last 25-30 laps of each to see who won. and i found myself rooting for carl edwards, who we sort of met. i don't think i can sit there and watch 500 miles of race, but watching the last few laps was kind of fun. and a nascar fan friend -- who i will not identify due to the nature of the admission -- told me that's all he usually watches. (he also said that he watches restrictor-plate races from start to finish, because those are different somehow. i know i heard people in texas bemoaning restrictor-plate tracks. i have heard of restrictor plates. i understand what they do, but i can 't possibly pretend to understand their strategic effect.)
i understand that edwards won in texas and in homestead, basically because he got good gas mileage. i thought that was kind of funny, actually, under the current economic climate.
-- part of sunday morning was me, darcie and mario sitting around talking about the contest. i basically didn't want to ask any questions about details, but got some anyway. i'm not going to share too many details, specifically, but to those of you with whom i spoke to regularly during the course of the voting process, we were right. i don't want to embarass anyone here, or betray any confidences, but we were right.
i thought the two weeks of voting was going to kill me. i didn't mention it. didn't seem relevant anymore. in fact, i honestly forgot until pam and i were talking about it at the airport the next day.
also, remember how i said that all i wanted to do was finish third in the voting? that's all i did. and i was told that i finished 2/10ths of a percent ahead of fourth place. it was implied who i finished barely ahead of, but i'm not positive, so i won't put that here, either. jeremy had the best quote when i told him i made the cut by 2/10ths of a percent: "wow! that's not a lot of 10ths. or a lot of percents."
i said from the start that i felt like if i got through the voting that i would win. mario gave a little insight on the thinking in judging the final three, but that will stay between us.
except for the part where i won. ha!
-- about the hat: i like it. i got it because i knew that i was going to need a hat all weekend, and i have a million baseball caps. but when i wear them too long, i get a headache because the visor pinches my head. also, i knew i was going to have my picture taken a million times, and i didn't really want to be branded. so i found that one, and it worked. people have told me they are going to buy me more. i have two words for those people: extra large. l/xl doesn't cut it. i didn't have to win a national grilling contest to get a big head.
-- i had all these topics that i wanted to talk to mario about. mainly, i thought of a bunch of stuff to ask if we had nothing to talk about. that never happened. conversation was very natural. there was never an awkward silence. so i never talked to him about any of that stuff. here are some of the things i wanted to talk about but didn't: his current series about spain, including how the cast was assembled and how it ended up on pbs; is he done with iron chef; i wanted to suggest chris ponte as an iron chef challenger; where did he find anne burrell, and were there more like her there; why is cat cora an iron chef; i wanted to talk about the beet ravioli we had at babbo (it was phenomenal); i wanted to talk about the book heat, and the access he gave for that.
i wish i could remember more about the things we talked about, but i mentioned before that i kept having to jar my brain out of how cool the situation i was in was. i try not to be overwhelmed, but it was hard that day. but i watched some video clips pam took, and there are some from our conversations. and it seemed i was talking. and i didn't even seem stupid.
i had also considered talking about an idea i have for a show, and the options that i might have in working in food. i decided not to ask about these things because, when we were talking about the contest, one of the things they said they liked about my video was that it didn't seem like i was auditioning for a show. i figured that it would be best to not start now. i also considered asking his opinion on the next food network star. i've considered applying for it, but am not convinced that they are looking for the kind of thing i want to do.
i did ask one thing that i had ready to go: when we ate at babbo in may, we had a wine that i loved. i told him that, and he said, "was it (blah blah blah)?" i said no, it was fondo antico baccadoro. i told him that i have looked everywhere for this, and can't even find it online, except at a wine store in new york that doesn't ship to florida. not only that, but that the guy at bern's in tampa -- which has a famously huge wine list -- had never even heard of the winery. that made mario smile. so where do i get it? "call my wine store," he said. i haven't yet, but i will.
-- darcie, who i have referred to a million times in e-mails and blog posts as the "contest contact," quickly became one of my favorite people ever almost immediately upon meeting her. she met us at the hotel shortly after we got there, and one of the first things that she told us was that during the judging phase of the contest, the name of my dish was somewhat controversial. some people hated it and some people loved it. within a couple of minutes, it became clear that she was one of the people who hated the name. i figured if she was willing to tell me that she didn't like the name of my dish within the first minutes of meeting me, i could believe anything she said to me. that made me immediately happy. she is a force of nature.
-- i had thought about getting mario to sign a bunch of stuff so i could give them to as many people that helped me get through the voting as possible. but as we sat around and talked, whenever someone would come up and ask him to sign something, it completely broke the train of thought. he was totally gracious, and everyone was polite, and its not like i didn't understand. but when it came time to get that sort of thing for myself, i felt like it would minimalize the experience. i understand i am just a fan who got tremendous access, but i also felt like we were friends who got to hang out for a couple of hours. so i got him to sign some stuff i brought to get signed for mazarro's and a&n, two stores that helped me out a lot during the voting round. and he offered to sign our party credentials and he personalized an italian grill book for me.
-- getting interviewed is practically the perfect scenario for me. turns out, i can talk forever.
-- while i was in texas, i did mini (for me) posts on laura reiley's blog at the times. my sunday blog from there got five comments. three of them were very nice. two of them were head-scratchingly nasty. i probably shouldn't even acknowledge them. they instantly did not bother me. it is shockingly easy to diminish the relevance of idiots who make drive-by comments in relative anonymity. i considered responding there, but decided, why? wow, "jay" from where ever thinks i'm a "fraud?" i'm crushed. i actually laughed when i read that. who knows me better than "jay" from where ever? small, small people. hopefully, being a mean-spirited jackass made "jay" from where ever nearly as happy as my fantastic weekend in texas being treated like a rockstar and hanging out with celebrities and eating fantastic food made me. (did that sound sincere? i sure hope.)
-- when we got back, i agreed to do a demo of the dish at a class/dinner at a&n, the clearwater pork store that helped me campaign. i agreed to do it because i felt i owed them. but i thought i would be a disaster. surprisingly, i think i did ok. i kept thinking it sounded like i knew what i was talking about. and i didn't stutter or stammer. becky and jeremy came up for the event, and having friendly faces in the crowd definitely helped.
-- i have made the dish three times since i got back, and am scheduled to do it one more time in the near future and two other times that aren't scheduled yet. with rare exception, i can't tell you how weird it is for me to make the same dish more than once. so when i made it thursday for thanksgiving, i plan to change it up a little. just to keep myself interested. instead of orange-fennel sausage, i made it with apple sausage and an apple-ginger glaze. i liked it, but i'm still working on it.
-- i got a ton of e-mails and posts after the announcement, but i think my favorite one came from my uncle dave. "I turned the TV on at work and had about 12 people all watching the
announcement. I felt famous."
-- i think one of the reasons i was really happy that barry harrell got to come up for the tailgate party was that it gave me a credible witness. i think, at this point, i wouldn't blame anyone who thought i made all this up in an elaborate ruse. but barry saw it happen. i swear.