Woah. A whole lotta stuff went down in this episode.
We arrive in Vegas, then Luca returns, I use a bunch of big confusing words, and the cowboy does a belly flop.
As much as I’d like to talk about all of these things individually, there is only so much I can fit into one bitty blog post, and I’d like to take this opportunity to get a few things off my chest.
The Great Ham Fiasco of 2014.
What you saw on Sunday night was true. I told a fib. It happened. But what you didn’t see, was why.
I’ve been getting a lot of harsh backlash about my horrible, deceitful, lying ways. People feel they can no longer trust me, and I’ve spent the better part of the past week beating myself up about it.
In life, in REAL life, I am actually honest to a fault. Believe it or not, sometimes the truth can hurt people.
Growing up, my parents taught me to always be an honest person. My Dad raised me with the logic that lying would always get me in more trouble than if I told the truth, no matter how bad it was. When he found a pack of cigarettes in my purse when I was 16, I didn’t tell him I was holding them for a friend. I fessed up to my “cool” new habit, and while he was upset, he didn’t punish me. Instead, we had a long heart to heart about the dangers of smoking, addiction, and why it’s a really bad idea.
I always appreciated this approach to life, and it taught me early on that lying, especially about important things, is never a good idea.
After Sunday’s episode, it seems that I have not only disappointed my fans, but I lost the trust of many viewers simply because I chose to verbalize a different word for prosciutto.
My presentation was well received, and the judges loved my scallop with romesco sauce. The fact that such a boneheaded mistake is causing such a negative reaction is absolutely gut-wrenching. How could I be so STUPID?
Well, let me walk you through my thought process.
In the mentor challenge, Giada was giving us great advice about how to better describe food to viewers. One thing many of us struggled with was the fact that we didn’t quite like the food we were eating, so it made it difficult to describe in a hunger-inducing way.
Giada said that if we don’t like what we’re eating, sometimes its OK to tell a little white lie in order to get a point across to viewers.
It wasn’t until later, of course, that I realized she was referring to opinion and not giving permission stretch the truth about facts. But this stuck with me, as advice from people I look up to often does. Which is exactly why I held on to what Bobby said to me in episode 5 (Knott’s Berry Farm). He told me that I missed a golden opportunity to take the audience to the coast of Mexico.
This time around, I was hell bent on taking them to the coast of Spain.
My idea was to play off of one of my most requested party dishes, scallops wrapped in bacon. I would sear up some scallops to get them nice and caramelized on the outside, then wrap them in serrano ham, instead of bacon, to provide that salty contrast to the sweet scallop. And then to cut through the richness with some acid, and to add a smokey element, I wanted to make a killer romesco sauce- a Catalonian staple made from roasted peppers, tomatoes, garlic, nuts and bread.
I was pumped to make this dish, and got to work quickly. But here’s the thing: In our pantry, proteins aren’t labeled. Chefs are expected to know what chicken, shrimp, beef, etc. look like. The ham was also not labeled. It was simply a dry cured ham, sliced thin, wrapped in paper and plastic wrap, without a name.
My assumption was that it was prosciutto. It looked and tasted like it, and it’s the most common of all the dry cured hams.
Hmm… So if I say I’m using prosciutto, I’m afraid the judges will hammer down on me for using an Italian product when I’m trying to sell Spain. But then I remembered what Giada said about it being alright to tell a fib in certain situations to embellish a story. So maybe I could just say its serrano ham, the Spanish equivalent, and it won’t be a big deal. WRONG.
I’m not saying that it was Giada’s fault I lied. At all. I take full responsibility for what I said. I just want people to see where I was coming from.
In fact, I never really looked at is as a lie, more of an interpretation. After all, the mystery meat had never actually been confirmed to be prosciutto.
When I commented about the party goers not being able to tell the difference, it wasn’t at all meant to be a dis to them or their intelligence. In fact, I give viewers a lot more credit than some (I know you know what viscosity means).
I said it because it would be really hard for anyone. In this dish, with all the other flavors, it would be nearly impossible to tell unless you were maybe some sort of ham guru with an incredibly discerning eye and palate. Well, ok. Maybe Alton and Giada are totally just that.
Right after I graduated college, I worked at a gourmet Italian market in the area. We sold all sorts of high end meats and cheeses, not just of the Italian variety, and I was in charge of educating customers about each.
So lets talk about what the difference actually is.
You see, prosciutto and serrano ham are very similar products. Of course, there can be slight differences between the two, but both are simply versions of dry cured ham. Prosciutto is Italian, and jamón (Spanish for ham) is Spanish. Jamón serrano, or serrano ham, tends to be a bit dryer and denser in texture, with a slightly more pronounced flavor. The methods of production are slightly different for each, but even within each category they can differ quite a bit.
There are many different producers of each, and depending on the breed of pig, ingredients used, and method of curing, they can vary greatly in shape, size, color, texture, and flavor. It would make more sense to differentiate the characteristics between different brands, as both prosciutto and serrano ham serve as more general terms.
Think about it like this. Champagne, prosecco, and cava are all essentially the same thing: sparkling wines identified by the regions the are produced in. Yet their flavors can vary greatly depending on the producer. Two bottles of champagne can taste very different, just like two types of prosciutto can taste very different.
There are some really bad prosciuttos out there on the market. Cheap, nitrate-laden, poorly made versions that are a far cry from the acclaimed prosciutto di Parma, which is heavily regulated in production. There are even some incredible, artisinal proscuittos being made right here in America, like those from Iowa company, La Quercia. Their prosciuttos are absolutely fantastic, but can look very different from Italian varieties. The same goes for jamón.
Jamón serrano: (also known as jamón reserva, jamón curado and jamón extra): “ordinary cured ham” from white pigs, fed with a mixed diet of authorized commercial compound feed. The words serrano, curado, reserva and extra are just marketing terms and do not reliably indicate quality, which can differ markedly between different brands and is not easy to recognize.
Unlike Serrano’s older, more sophisticated cousin ibérico, serrano is not regulated in quality. Jamón ibérico is much more expensive, like prosciutto di Parma, as the production is highly regulated and can only be made from black Iberian pigs.
“But how did you think you could fool Alton and Giada?!”
The thing is, I wasn’t trying to.
I had honestly misinterpreted Giada’s advice and made a hasty decision that seemed logical at the time. I’m still a bit perplexed as to how Mr. Brown was so quick to identify that my ham was not, in fact, serrano, based on sight alone, and from a distance nonetheless!
I don’t discredit Alton’s food authority for a second. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time, and the guy is a BOSS. There is no doubt that he knows his stuff. Same goes for Giada. I know that homegirl knows her prosciutto!
But because even different prosciuttos look different from one another (prosciutto San Daniele is often darker than prosciutto di Parma), it is really hard to determine the country of origin from sight alone.
Overall, looking back, I see that it was really just poor judgement on my part. Bottom line, they aren’t the same thing, and I shouldn’t have pretended they were.
Hindsight is always 20/20.
I made a decision thinking it would prevent me from being criticized for not being authentic to Spain, but it instead, it actually caused even more trouble and made me seem like less of a food authority.
I’ve made a lot of stupid mistakes on this show. Forgetting the pasta was a knucklehead move. Bombing on the green screen challenge was brutal.
But this wasn’t a weird breadcrumb gnocchi or an awkward performance. This was something that actually caused people to question my integrity, and to no longer trust me.
It was never my intention to mislead people, or to do something that would ever discredit my food authority on national television. I have a history of over thinking things to the point of self sabotage, and this was a perfect example. Sometimes I just need to get out of my own way.
I want to extend my sincerest apologies to anyone who has lost their faith in me as a result of this whole debacle. I am disappointed in myself, and all I can do, as I did on the show, is promise to never, EVER, make a mistake like that again. Moving forward, I hope that I can regain some of the trust I lost this past week.
But before I sign off, this blog wouldn’t be complete without saying a few words about my buddy Chris.
As I mentioned before, one hour just isn’t enough time to really get a feel for all of our personalities. Chris, without a doubt, wins the award for class clown. He was alllllways cutting up and cracking jokes behind the scenes, making all of us keel over in laughter. His impressions of people were priceless! He brought a light element to the group that I totally missed when he was gone.
Chris had overcome a lot of big hurdles in his life to get where he is today, and it was incredibly inspiring to hear his story. Not many people are able to pick themselves back up after hitting rock bottom, and especially not able to reach the level of success that he has. He should be so proud of all his accomplishments. And even though he didn’t win Food Network Star, he still got very far, and heck, this guy won on Cutthroat Kitchen! Ya can’t win ’em all, CKY!
Tune in next week as we embark on the toughest culinary challenge to date!