Yes, that was me on Throwdown! with Bobby Flay on the Food Network last night. And yes, that was me NOT voting for the Philly version of the soft pretzel, but for Bobby Flay’s surprisingly delicious alternative. Before you rabid localists start a petition to get me thrown out of the city on grounds of culinary treason, take in the whole tale.
A few months ago, I got an email from a production company asking if I would appear as a ‘soft pretzel expert’ on a new, unnamed, host-free Food Network show that traveled the country, focusing on local specialties…
I said yes, since I figured in this multimedia age, it was a good idea to get some TV experience on the ol’ food writing resume. The producer had made the show sound like a nice, safe documentary which appealed to the nerd in me. Of course, he was a lying liar whose pants were aflame.
So I showed up at Drexel’s hospitality school for this mystery show and while we were waiting for the producers to do something with us, my fellow judge Adrienne Hall, chef-instructor at Drexel, told me that her culinary students–who were in the next room with the Pretzel Boys–suspected what I had not: that this was a Throwdown!
I don’t have a TV, so I didn’t know what Throwdown! was. I was a tiny bit mad because I don’t really like surprises (note: except champagne, that’s always a nice surprise). My options were to bolt or to suck it up. I was already miked, had signed a release and didn’t want to be a bad sport, so I sucked it up.
Sure enough, Throwdown! it was. Bobby Flay walked into the next room and the culinary student crowd went wild. While the Flay team and the Pretzel Boys went at it making their product, Adrienne and I had to talk to the camera about our pretzel preferences. Here’s where it got ugly.
The producer wanted us to say what we thought made a great Philly soft pretzel. They asked us to mention something about ‘cheese sauce.’ I protested. A true Philadelphian would NEVER EVER sully a pretzel with cheese sauce. We clothe our pretzels in mustard and mustard only. You want to argue about what type of mustard, fine, but not cheese. Never cheese. I’m a purist.
He insisted, I frowned. My reputation was on the line here! We compromised on ‘dipping sauce,’ which also offended me, but I didn’t want to be a pretzel prima donna. At least not at this early stage in my career.
After about an hour, the producers called us back in to judge. The Pretzel Boys, Bobby Flay, the crew and thirty culinary students stared at Adrienne and me as we inspected, tasted and discussed. You could have heard a pin drop. Also, try chewing a pretzel under pressure, hot lights, three cameras and 100 eyeballs. Mercifully, Adrienne procured some bottles of Dogfish Head which made it all better.
Bobby Flay’s pretzels, although not traditionally “Philly” in shape or texture, were delicious. The Pretzel Boys version, despite being a proper Philly pretzel in shape and theory (and despite their winning of Best of Philly), were not delicious. Had it been a Center City Soft Pretzel from 8th and Washington, I would have sent Bobby back from whence he came, but these were not deserving of an award. Also, I ask you, what sort of Philly pretzel retailer doesn’t even have a location within Philly city limits?
So that’s why I voted for Bobby Flay. His was just more delicious, which, in the end, is what is really matters. The purist in me refuses to comment on the cheese sauce.
Throwdown! with Bobby Flay [Food Network]