Whether it’s the flames of his grill or his flaming red hair, celebrity chef Bobby Flay sure knows how to turn up the heat in the kitchen with his high-energy enthusiasm and inviting flair. The culinary phenom is known not only for his popular restaurants, including his Mesa Grills, Bobby Flay Steak, Bobby’s Burger Palaces and Bar Americain (another location at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut is opening this month), but also for his captivating shows on the Food Network. In addition, this Iron Chef America star has authored numerous books—Bobby Flay’s Boy Meets Grill, Boy Gets Grill and Grill It!—all while promoting his love for the sweet heat of Southwestern cuisine. Flay’s unforgettable bold flavors and his zest for cooking began at age 17, when he worked at Joe Allen in New York. The budding chef trained at The French Culinary Institute before being introduced by restaurateur Jonathan Waxman to his signature style of cooking.
STEPHANIE SAYFIE AAGAARD: Why grilling?
BOBBY FLAY: The reality of it is that most of my cooking is done indoors, but people know me from grilling because of my shows on the Food Network. It’s just more of a coincidence than anything else. I love it, believe me, and I’m actually building a house on Long Island right now that’s going to have a great outdoor kitchen. I like being able to tend a flame, and it provides a really fun informality when it comes to entertaining. The grill is always where the party is.
Was Southwestern cooking your passion right away?
It took a while for me to understand how much I really loved it. When I started working with the ingredients, I fell in love with them and decided to hone my skills.
How tough is it to be a judge on The Next Food Network Star?
It’s interesting. You have to be critical, but I try to never criticize without giving them some kind of advice based on my experiences. I give them a lot of points for courage for putting themselves out there, but at the same time it was their decision to do it, so I don’t feel bad when I say things like, “You can do something a little bit better.” To me it’s important because I feel very much like the Food Network is my home. I want to add someone to the team who’s going to strengthen the network. I don’t take it lightly.
Throwdown! with Bobby Flay [where Flay is pitted against a master chef in his or her field] is another of your shows on the Food Network. What has been the most difficult challenge?
The wedding cake—that was the most difficult for sure because it’s so out of my league. First of all, it’s baking, which is not in my league, but I can get by. But then it’s like, decorating cakes? No. [Laughs]
Chefs have become like rock stars. What do you think about chefs being such huge celebs?
Being a chef is a very, very difficult profession. It’s great that it’s getting a lot of attention and it’s well deserved.
You are a big draw at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Are you looking forward to coming back?
It’s a great festival, especially for us in New York. It’s freezing up here and we can’t wait to get down there and get some sun. The people who attend are enthusiastic and it’s a very good crowd. I am totally a huge fan of it. This year I’m going to kick back and enjoy some stone crabs.
What is the oddest thing you’ve ever cooked?
That’s a tough question. I tried to grill scrambled eggs. But I’m going to give you a word of advice—it doesn’t work. I thought about the quickest-cooking thing in the world, so I thought if I got the heat high enough the grates would grab it and they would start cooking in the air. But basically I scrambled the eggs and they went right through the grates—never to be seen again.
What are your favorite creations?
Thanksgiving dinner, fish tacos in the summer and German chocolate cake.
You’re stuck on a desert island. What three condiments/utensils are musts?
Habanero sauce, black pepper and a pair of tongs.
And a cooking tip?
Only flip things once, like a steak or a burger.
What should everyone have in their kitchen?
Two kinds of oils: canola oil to cook with and extra virgin olive oil not to cook with. You don’t sauté things in it, you don’t heat it up, you just splatter it on vegetables or fish or use it for vinaigrette.
There’s a rumor that you love politics. Are you interested in pursuing a career in it?
Yeah, but that’s not going to be for a while. It’s a good possibility I will go into some kind of public service at some point for New York.
If you could pick three people to have dinner with, living or dead, who would they be?
Muhammad Ali, President Obama and Marilyn Monroe.
Steph Sez: How does Bobby like to spice up his life?
Bobby Sez: Lots of hot sauce and my wife [actress Stephanie March]. Not in that order.