Well, OK, we really weren’t saying a lot of bad things about you, Ted. We were just a little miffed, that’s all.
As you might know, we posted a series of interviews leading up to the Food and Wine Festival. One interview that we tried to get was with Ted Allen. We sent our contact a list of questions with hopes that he could respond to them before the event took place. Well, after several weeks, we got word that it wasn’t going to happen – that Ted’s travel schedule was making him unavailable. We were disappointed. We’ve liked Ted ever since his days on ‘Queer Eye’ and were really looking forward to doing the interview. But, after feeling a bit slighted, we put our egos aside and moved on. Good thing, too…because our disappointment would be short-lived.
The morning after having downed many a cheesesteak, beer and wine sample, we had a text message waiting on our phone. Our contact was letting us know that interviews would be available to us that afternoon. When I called, the interview – much to our delight – was going to be with Ted! Oh happy day! It was all going to work out after all.
And so, after a BBQ and beer lunch (I still don’t know how we could have been hungry after the night before) thanks to The Neelys, and a manic run out to Absecon for a voice recorder, we made our way back to the media room at Caesars for a roundtable interview session with Ted Allen. We would be one of four groups participating, with one of the other folks there being our new-found kindred spirit Holly from Random Cravings.
Now, for the most part, we had noticed that the big Food Network celebs had their entourage with them at the Festival. Ted Allen’s entourage consisted of…Ted. And when we sat down with us, his demeanor put us all right at ease. This was going to be a nice, relaxed conversation.
The first question asked was about Sicilian wines; the interviewer was doing a piece on Sicily (and was also going to travel there in September). Although he was not too familiar with Sicilian wines, Ted did have a Sicilian wine as a house wine for a while that he very much enjoyed, admitting that he loves light reds. “It seems that Sicily is sort of an under appreciated wine producing place,” Ted continued. “What a great time this is for people to discover quote unquote New World –well, that’s not New World…but-wines from different places. It was only 30 years ago when people thought the only place that made good wine was France. They were wrong, of course, but that’s what they thought.”
Lisa then asked Ted about New Jersey wines. And I give Ted a lot of credit; when you’re labeled a wine expert, people will ask you about wines from regions that are not exactly well-known and you are expected to generate an intelligent answer. Here’s how the discussion went:
Lisa: I have a question that we’re kind of bracing ourselves and we might cringe, but, what do you think about New Jersey wines, and their attempts to improve and create their own terroir. Have you heard about this, and have you have any experience with it yet?
Ted: I can’t recall having had New Jersey wines.
Lisa: And if you had, they have been really bad?
Ted: You know, the funny thing about wine growing is that…when you go to a place like Napa or Bordeaux, and you learn very quickly that the microclimates from one acre to the next are completely different, and some are completely amazing and some are awful. The only thing about New Jersey wine growing that sounds like a stretch to me is the fact that the soil in New Jersey is too good…although I’m sure you could find places where it isn’t.
Lisa: Oh yeah.
Ted: In all seriousness, you make good wine grapes by growing them – you want to stress the vines in a certain way. You don’t want them to be overly lush and leafy, and in fact you back the growth to prevent that. And you don’t want big, fat grapes – you want little, tiny concentrated grapes without much water in them. So, fertile soil is not what you’re looking for. I think you could probably…I wonder if you could probably grow good wine in any of the 50 States, with the possible exception of Alaska.
Lisa: We’ve actually chatted with…he’s wonderful, he’s like a mad scientist…Amalthea…nice guy. He took Bordeaux, and he showed us a map, and he turned New Jersey upside down, the wine growing – and it’s identical. It’s kind of scary.
Ted: What, the climate?
Lisa: The terrain, the ocean, the rivers and things like that. We had to ask about Jersey-centric wines.
Ted: I don’t blame you.
Lisa: But to tag that with it, what do you wish the people…what do you think is the biggest misconception about wines that you would love to obliterate, especially people new to wine.
Ted: That it’s only a special occasion pleasure for rich people…that you have to spend a ton of money to get good wine. I think there’s as much bad $50 wine as there is good $15 wine. I also think, back to your point about people in New Jersey trying to grow more wine, I think it’s a terrific idea and they should go for it. Probably the only reason there’s not a giant wine industry here is that it’s probably just a little harder. I mean, Napa is Napa because the climate is perfect. Just because it’s not perfect in New Jersey – well, first of all, it might be in parts of the state. Beautiful state. You grow incredible food in this state. There’s probably just less land that’s perfect, and you might have to try harder – but why not? It’s a great tourism thing.
Lisa: Oh yeah.
Ted: Creates jobs. It’s hard – making wine is hard. And just because you happen to be in Sicily doesn’t mean you’re going to make good wine. You can make lousy wine in the finest wine areas of the world, and there are lots of wineries proving it every day. (laughter)
That’s cool – I think that’s really cool. Now, a nastier person could make a terroir joke.
Lisa: Oh – I was waiting. (laughter)
Ted: I’m not gonna do that. I like the state; I think it’s beautiful. I mean, God, this coastline. I have a theory that the only reason New Jersey takes so much crap – well, one of the main reasons that you could do a thesis on this – I blame Saturday Night Live. Seriously. I grew up in the Midwest. I’d never seen New Jersey, and I thought it was…everybody said it was this stinky industrial hell hole.
Lisa: That’s up north. (laughter)
Ted: Well part of it is because they used the waterfront for industry. I mean, Cleveland’s waterfront hasn’t always been so nice, either. But I think it’s a misconception that those comics really kind of perpetuated for years for people who had never even been there. It deserves to be called The Garden State – just not Jersey City. (laughter) That’s not so garden.
Lisa: I’m going with you on that.
So there you go: blame Saturday Night Live for Jersey’s bad image.
Asked about how to expand one’s horizons when trying to learn more about wine, Ted gave this advice, “Don’t let anybody intimidate you, don’t worry about what people think when you ask…never be afraid to ask questions about wine. People who do know about wine love to show off anyway, so let them. And come to events like this and taste…taste, taste, taste. If you worry about getting tipsy, you can spit it out; it’s acceptable to do that when there’s a big bucket there.”
He was then asked about the difference between this year’s festival and last year’s, and while Ted though last year’s was well done, he thinks that “when they decided to connect with Food Network, they’ve taken it to another stratosphere.” Ted was also excited to hear about the changes in the Atlantic City dining scene over the last number of years, but admittedly hasn’t been able to get out an try things because of the events he’s hosting. Lisa jumped in and offered to get him a White House sub.
The interview was wrapping up, and Lisa managed to squeeze in one more question:
Lisa: I have a quick question. Would you be able to tell me what your last meal would be? Ever?
Ted: Oh…um…that would be hard. I mean, that question does come up.
Lisa: But what comes to mind?
Ted: Well, I’ve thought about it a lot because I get asked it now and then. It probably would be either…I probably want to have kind of a mix of down homey, comfort-y kind of stuff like fried chicken and…I’d definitely have to end with the banana pudding from the back of the Vanilla Wafers box. (laughter) Now people laugh when I say that – that is a totally legitimate dessert.
Holly from Random Cravings: There’s nothing wrong with that.
Ted: It is a scratch custard. It has fresh bananas in it, and it has store-bought cookies, yes, but so does tiramisu. I call it The Tiramisu of the South. It’s delicious. My grandmother used to make it. But then I also, you know, I’d like to have some rack of lamb, I’d like a little white truffle in brodo. I’d want some good wine. (laughter)
Lisa: I hope you have more than room service.
Ted: I have to say, I had a room service grilled cheese with ham that was delicious at Caesars. The pizza – not so much – but the grilled cheese was good.
And with that, Ted had to be rushed off to the event he was hosting (and we were attending): the Wine Down Art Show. The setting could not be any better; the event was being held at One Atlantic, which is top floor of The Pier Shops at Caesars, so you’re out above the ocean. It is all glass on the outside, so the views were wonderful. After enjoying Brut Rose from Mumm Napa for starters, we were led into the main area.
In the middle of the room, three artists were positioned on a platform, blank canvases ready. Their job would be to capture the spirit of the wines, the scenery, and the energy of the room in paint form.
Of course, little nibbles were being passed around while we mingled and sampled the wines. They were, by and large, decent but not overly exciting. Yes, there were sliders (I think we’ve done this whole gourmet slider thing to death now), and a very pleasant tuna tartare served on a piece of endive. But let’s not talk about that – let’s get to the wines!
In comparison to the selections being offered at The Doors Experience wine tasting the night before, these wines were in another class altogether. Really really good wines. We were really impressed right out of the gate with the 2007 Fogdog Chardonnay from Sonoma. Light, not very oaked, but with a lot going on – very stimulating for a chardonnay. Lisa was really impressed with the 2008 Fairview Pinotage from South Africa, eliciting an ‘Oh my God – it’s really good’ on the voice recorder (by the way, it’s fun hearing Lisa make comments after sampling a number of wines). We also enjoyed the 2008 “Turlo” and the 2006 Salviano Di Salviano from Tenuta Di Salviano of Umbria. We differed on the selections from Campo Viejo of Rioja: Lisa enjoyed the 2005 Reserva, while I preferred the 2002 Gran Reserva, which I thought was a bit smoother and lush. And even the dessert wines, the 2008 Nivole Moscato D’Asti from Michele Chiarlo of Piedmont and the 2006 Red Label Aszu 5 from Royal Tokaji of Hegyalja, Hungary, were outstanding.
As we began to wind down from the Wine Down, we took a stroll outside the main room and enjoyed the fresh air and the smell of saltwater. While we did, we ended up meeting some interesting folks. We noticed this one person who was on the deck with long wavy hair, and I knew who it was straight away. It was Chef Kerry Simon, who had recently opened a new restaurant at the Hilton. Chef Simon holds the rare distinction of appearing on both American versions of Iron Chef (Todd English might be the only other chef than can claim that). We finally got the courage to go up to him and introduce ourselves. He was very friendly and laid back, and after chatting with him for a few minutes (found out he grew up in Pennsylvania and summered in Ocean City) he let us grab a pic of himself.
Although we could have stayed one, two, several hours, we had a date at The Pool at Harrah’s for some global tapas, so we had to make our exit. And so Ted, we say thank you for being so nice and accommodating. We should never have doubted you.