Cutthroat Kitchen is a gnarly game.
Need I say more?
Well, yeah… I guess I have a bit of explaining to do.
Before leaving to film Food Network Star, I had only seen Cutthroat Kitchen a small handful of times. But, nonetheless, I was excited to play. Last week I was called out for having low energy and not having enough fun. I knew, if nothing else, Cutthroat Kitchen would be a blast.
And it was!
When Alton told us we’d be making spaghetti and meatballs, I was really pumped. I grew up making meatballs. In fact, they were the first food ever I learned how to make and master.
As a kid, my girlfriends and I would play on the beach and make “meatballs” in the sand. Each of us watched our Italian moms make meatballs at home, so on the beach we would use our hands to form little balls out of wet sand and set them all in a row.
Meatballs are a thing in New Jersey. And they’re a thing within Italian communities all across America. And that’s because they’re a coveted Family tradition, with recipes being passed down from generation to generation.
So, why didn’t I make a fish ball?
Well, for that very reason. Spaghetti and meatballs is a dish that embodies my New Jersey Italian culture, and its a dish that my family would be so proud to see me make on TV. We even have a unique name for it, “biasta sugu,” which I knew would make for an interesting story in my 30 second presentation. It’s something I wanted to share with America, and this was my golden opportunity.
I learned my meatball recipe from my mom, who learned it from her mom, and I’ve changed and perfected it to my tastes over the years. The idea of making a non-traditional fish meatball just didn’t feel right to me.
Sure, I live on the coast, and I grew up in a fishermen’s family. But what people may not realize is that even fishermen don’t eat fish at every meal. In fact, the only tuna we had growing up came out of a can. The giant bluefin tuna my family caught were NEVER brought home for us to eat. Those bad boys were often sold to Japan for a nice chunk of change. If anything, we got to keep the bycatch: lobsters, scallops, clams, flounder, etc.
When my grandfather went away on long fishing trips (sometimes for months at a time), my grandma was left to raise 5 kids on her own. She did whatever she could to put food on the table, often making what she knew. And she knew biasta sugu. It’s what her mom made, it’s what her grandmother made, and it’s what my grandfather requested when he came home after months of eating nothing but seafood on the boat.
Biasta sugu is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods, because it brings back memories of warm family love. It’s flavorful, familiar, and filling; often with lots of leftovers to eat throughout the week (BONUS!). It’s a family tradition, and I stand behind the meatball I made (which, ahem, for the record, Bobby and Jet both said was ‘moist and flavorful’) wholeheartedly.
The “gnocchi,” however, are an entirely different story. I do not stand behind those. At all.
So, lets talk about the pasta, or, the biasta as we call it.
HOW COULD YOU FORGET THE PASTA?!
You guys, I know.
It was SO DUMB. I couldn’t believe I was that girl who forgot the MAIN INGREDIENT!
Well, here’s my defense. The Food Network Star kitchen is about the size of a gymnasium, with pantry and cooking supplies scattered throughout. You don’t know where anything is, and you’re trying to keep track of everything you need in your head. I was very focused on getting the right ingredients for my “one hell of a meatball.” I’m proud of my meatball, and I wanted to do it justice!
I looked for the pasta early on. I didn’t see it, and time was running out. Feeling panicked, I said to myself, “OK, move on and come back to it.” I ran around that kitchen like Usain Bolt trying to find everything I needed.
I heard Alton start to count down the final seconds so I sprinted back to my station. As soon as I landed, I saw the pasta in the other baskets and my heart sunk into the pit of my stomach.
How could I let this happen??
I really don’t know, it all went down so fast.
But I did let it happen, and now, I have to deal with it.
My first thought was to try and sell the dish without any pasta. Low carb! But I wasn’t feeling confident, and Alton kept squawking in my ear about how bad I’d screwed up on the whole no-pasta thing. Had I only grabbed a variety of back-up ingredients, I could have made pasta out of flour and eggs, or even vegetables.
But nope. Naively, I only grabbed the ingredients for this stupid meatball.
I scratched my head and looked in my basket. Somehow, I’m going to have to try and make this work.
So I mixed together what I had: some breadcrumbs, pecorino Romano, chopped parsley, and eggs, until I got a dough like consistency. I rolled it out into logs and cut them into little gnocchi-like dumplings.
How would I cook them? Boil?
I opted to fry them. Because, well, everything is better fried.
They came out crispy, but dense and oddly textured little nuggets. I threw a few of them on a plate with a meatball and called it spaghetti. I was pretty embarrassed to serve something so bad and to call it something that it really wasn’t- to Bobby Flay and Jet Tila of all people! But, this was Cutthroat Kitchen, and I didn’t really have another choice.
I was disappointed in myself for not picking up pasta, but I was proud of how I overcame the obstacle and made the best of my resources. In the last episode, Alton talked about turning liabilities into assets, and it was something that really stuck with me.
Life isn’t perfect. It never turns out the way you think it’s going to, and there will always be things that go wrong. You can either let them destroy you, or you can take matters into your own hands and figure out a way to make them work.
Losing my mom to ALS when I was 22 was the saddest, most devastating thing that’s ever happened in my life. But over the years, I’ve learned to channel that experience into inspiration. I could go on and on about how it helped me overcome many obstacles, and how it pushed me to get to where I am today. But I’ll save those details for a later post.
Sometimes we make mistakes in life. Sometimes tragic things happen with no explanation. But life goes on, and you have to make the best of the cards you’ve been dealt. Even if it means bluffing a little.
Which brings me to Kenny. I was particularly sad to see him go, because he always helped me keep things in perspective while on set. It’s really easy to get wrapped up in the whole grandiosity of this show, but Kenny was always there to bring me back down to earth. While many of us were agonizing over the details of the competition, Kenny was in the other room taking a nap. He is an incredibly smart and successful businessman, but he doesn’t take life too seriously. He has a great sense of humor, and is always quick to poke fun at himself. I like people like that.
It’s very difficult to balance a life of hard work and success with having fun and keeping a laid back attitude. It’s something I’ve struggled with a lot in not only my real life, but especially during my time on Food Network Star. It’s not an easy balance to find, but Kenny totally has. I doubt he even realizes it, but he’s been a huge inspiration in trying to channel more of that balance into my life.
Stay tuned for next week’s episode, when we head to YouTube HQ to make some rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreally funny viral marketing videos.