Ted Allen sees exciting ‘foodie’ future with teens today

SHARE Ted Allen sees exciting ‘foodie’ future with teens today
SHARE Ted Allen sees exciting ‘foodie’ future with teens today

For former Chicagoan Ted Allen, the “Chopped Teen Tournament” on his popular Food Network “Chopped” show represents the perfect focus for the explosion of interest in culinary careers, or merely the overall world of fine dining, by younger people. As we spoke recently on the phone about this youth-oriented tournament (which began its five-week run on Aug. 25), Allen excitedly pointed out that “the food landscape has changed so much in the past couple of decades. About 15 years ago, people began asking when the celebrity chef phenomenon was going to end — and clearly it’s not going to end, and may never end.”

That is something Allen, who once worked at both the Lerner Newspapers and Chicago magazine in Our Town, is thrilled to have witnessed. “One of the terrific effects of that celebrity chef thing is that kids have become more interested in food and cooking. Whether they want to become pros or not, we have tapped into that with the teen tournament on ‘Chopped.’ ”

As the longtime host of the series, Allen noted younger people seem to have an advantage on competition-type cooking shows like “Chopped.” It’s all for a very simple reason.

“They are not yet trapped in a rigid mindset of how cooking is properly done,” said Allen, who first gained national fame as part of the Bravo series “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” He explained how “that is the reason why sometimes the owner of a falafel stand might beat a French executive chef. You give a French executive chef a sea urchin, noodles and sesame oil — and they just don’t know what to do, because they don’t use those ingredients in their daily life.

“If you are a grown-up and you own a restaurant, you try not to make a fool of yourself. You’re trying to look cool, because you’ve built this business and you want to protect your reputation.

“But, if you’re a teenager, you’re a little crazy and you’re willing to try things and you don’t have a filter, which is obviously great.”

The panel of judges and host Ted Allen (center, at door) meet contestants on the “Chopped Teen Tournament.” | Food Network

The panel of judges and host Ted Allen (center, at door) meet contestants on the “Chopped Teen Tournament.” | Food Network

Adding ateen competition to the “Chopped” franchise was an easy decisionfor Allen and his producers at the Food Network, since the flagship show has always had a big audience of teens and even younger viewers.

Though Allen noted that he’s encouraging to all kids to learn about food and cooking, he did admit the contestants for the “Chopped” teen challenge did include “many whoare serious cooks who intend to make this their career. Others are less sure, but I get the sense it’s maybe because they have parents who are trying to talk them out of it,” Allen added with a laugh.

The TV food personality made a good comparison between the success rate and pay scales for celebrity chefs vs. ordinary restaurant cooks, and Hollywood stars vs. the bulk of men and women working in the acting profession.

“You also could add the world of rock ‘n’ roll musicians,” said Allen. “There are only a small number of Aerosmiths in the world.”

Amen.

Yet, whether the kids competing on the “Chopped Teen Tournament” actually go on to become world-class chefs owning famous restaurants or not, Allen stressed that “knowledge of food and cooking is such an incredible life skill. It’s a wonderful window into other cultures. So, for kids to have an interest in it, while their minds are such sponges, provides them with a gift they are going to have for the rest of their lives.

“It’s helpful with dating. It’s part of being a modern, sophisticated, well-rounded person. It’s just one of the great resources of life,” Allen said with the conviction of a man who has seen how an appreciation of all kinds of food and dining has changed his own life.


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