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David Guas Will Be Host of Travel Channel's American Grilled

David Guas Will Be Host of Travel Channel's American Grilled

Chef David Guas will be hosting American Grilled, where he will be determining the best of the best, just in time for summer.

This won’t be your typical backyard burgers on the ol’ Weber. Chef David Guas, owner of the popular Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Va. will be the host of American Grilled, the Travel Channel’s new cooking competition show airing this summer which will feature grill-masters from all over the country going head to head to determine the best of the best.

“When we were talking about who I am and what I like to do for entertainment, my first thought was ‘I am just like all other average Joes, I like to get outside and grill,’” Guas told The Washington Post. “Being that my father is from Cuba, there was no other way to cook a piece of meat.”

According to the Travel Channel chef Guas will be traveling to a different city each week to “discover the best and boldest flavors competitors can fire up on their grills… from the Virginia countryside where hogs are classic, to Maryland where blue crabs are legendary.” Each episode will pit four BBQ masters against one another, from home cooks to electricians and professional chefs with the winner will receiving a $10,000 cash prize.

Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi


Chef David Guas gets fired up over grilling

David Guas got his start in the restaurant business as a pastry chef, but his passion has always been grilling. He learned from his dad, and he's now starting to teach his sons.

Taking his skills on the road, the Harley-riding chef and host of Travel Channel's summer competition series "American Grilled" picked up tidbits and recipes from grillers around the country. Pairing his professional knowledge with inspiration from the show, he's written his second cookbook, "Grill Nation: 200 Surefire Recipes, Tips and Techniques to Grill Like a Pro" (Oxmoor House, $24.95).

Guas, a New Orleans native, owns Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Va., and this month opens the Eatery at Old Naval Hospital on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. He lives in northern Virginia with his two sons, wife Simone and their new puppy, Roux.

Q.How did you end up in the restaurant world?

A.I had gone to college, but school was never my thing. I was not the best student. Food was never the direction I considered.

But when I got back from school, my Aunt Boo said, "You need to pick a trade." Carpentry, welding, whatever, get your head on and get it done. I needed to come up with something, and she was the one who put a little pressure on me.

My parents put a little pressure on me in college by cutting me off financially. That was actually the best thing.

Q.How did you end up hosting "American Grilled" on Travel Channel?

A.I've done a lot of TV over the past 15 years, "Today" show, "The Talk," a lot of local news and things. I've done "Chopped." The more you get your name out there, you get opportunities.

Travel Channel is based in Chevy Chase, Md., so they came to my restaurant in Arlington. I interviewed with the executive producer and we hit it off. He realized I was a no-nonsense kind of guy who spoke the language. I grill at home daily.

That balance of the average Joe in the backyard, plus a professional chef, that helped. We shot three shows a few months later, and last summer they bought 10 more.

Q.How many grills do you own?

A.I have three right now. A little Weber, a Cowboy Cauldron and a barrel that's been cut in half and custom built over the years. I have had that for over 20 years I replace the handle every couple of years.

Q.What do we need to know about grilling with charcoal vs. gas?

A.First of all, there's no wrong. It is what fits your lifestyle. If gas fits your life, grab the gas. If you're a purist and wait for the grilling experience, do an all-charcoal grill. It is who you are, what time you have to commit to grilling. There is a grill out there for everybody.

Q.What are your grilling equipment must-haves?

A.I love gadgets, but there are some very basic tools you need. Extended tongs and extended spatula. Mitts are great for handling big hot heavy lids. I don't necessarily use them, but I do have some Kevlar mitts for when I am handling the Cowboy Cauldron, which is a little different.

I love wood and smoking, I have different kinds of wood – pecan, apple, hickory — and I'll get some harder oaks and things for fuel.

It is really a hobby and lifestyle people can get into at a low cost. Grills start at $100, go up into the thousands.

Q.What's a good starter grilling recipe that is hard to screw up?

A.Start with blistering peppers. You can overcook them if you let them sit there too long, but it is charring and smoking. Dice them, chop them, put them in a sauce. Start with vegetables. People get scared of big proteins.

Q.Cooking lesson learned the hard way?

A.Early on, I think fish is always a little troublesome. The idea is you want a well-seasoned, well-oiled grill and you want it to be hot.

Regardless of whether I am consuming the skin or not, I ask the butcher to keep it on my fish. Having that extra skin helps insulate the fish. The skin-on salmon, you can pull the fillet off . and (the skin) will act as a barrier to protect the fish while grilling.

Q.Are people grilling more these days?

A.You're seeing more women get into it, thank God. That was kind of the highlight of the show, when we had female contestants. It made more sense. I see a lot of female grillers blogging and have their own sites and their own books. I love that.

Q.Advice for first-time grillers?

A.For a novice backyard griller, you're in the privacy of your backyard, it's your house, your domain, no one's grading you. No one's watching you. Explore and don't be afraid to try things out.

Q.What have you learned about regional differences in grilling?

A.When it comes to the competitive circuit, sauces they divide us by states, cities and counties, even families. There are certain things in East Carolina vs. Northern Carolina.

Different proteins are more common (different places), based on livestock in the area. Texas is more beef country over pork, but there is plenty of pork there. When you get to Georgia and the Carolinas, there is a lot more pork country.

When you go back in food history, there is a clear distinction of state to state. That's something I love. The common thread is passion.

Q.Tips for people who want to get into the cooking field?

A.I never tell people not to, except my kids. For me, now that I look back at it, this industry chose me for sure. .

It is a hard industry, not a get-rich-quick industry. You don't have to know what you want to do in this industry in the beginning. I didn't. This is 20 years of me learning, saying "yes, chef."

Q.How do family roots play into your approach to food?

A.My father was born and raised in Havana. My grandfather came to Tulane to study and get his law degree, met my grandmother and moved back to Cuba and started a family. My dad was born and raised there 'til he was 12, so I had a Cuban father and grew up in New Orleans. It was red beans and rice or black beans and rice. There are a lot of parallels between the music and food.

Q.Tell us about the history behind the new Eatery restaurant space.

A.It was the carriage house that held the medic horses, adjacent to the old naval hospital sanctioned by Lincoln. It's the southeast area of Capitol Hill. The carriage house is wrapped by a wrought iron fence the floor and ceilings are original from 1865.

Q.What do you do in your spare time?

A.I have a Harley-Davidson Softail Deuce. A 2004 with about 40,000 miles on it. My license plate says "Roux."

I did Sturgis in 2006. That's by far my favorite trip, 12 days with nine other chefs. We put 4,700 miles on the bike round trip. No shipping bikes one way.

I have this group of chefs that I have ridden with for years.

About Kristine M. Kierzek

Kristine M. Kierzek is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer. She regularly writes Chef Chat and Fork. Spoon. Life. columns for Fresh.

© 2016, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved.


Grilled Head-On New Orleans-Style BBQ Shrimp

David Guas/Facebook

Ingredients:

  • 6 (12-inch) wooden skewers
  • 2 lb. unpeeled, raw, Wild American Shrimp
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 10 tbsp, butter
  • 1 tsp, whole black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tbsp, minced garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp, chopped fresh rosemary
  • ½ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ tsp, freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 French bread baguette, sliced
  • 4 tbsp, extra virgin olive oil
  • Table salt
  1. Soak skewers in warm water 20 to 30 minutes. This step will help the wooden skewers from burning.
  2. Peel shrimp, keeping heads on. Reserve the shells.
  3. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Add shells, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Cook 3 minutes or until shells change color.
  4. Add 2 cups water, increase heat, and simmer 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and pour through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a bowl. Discard solids and reserve stock.
  5. Light charcoal grill or preheat gas grill to 350-400 degrees (medium-high).
  6. Thread shrimp on skewers.
  7. Heat remaining 2 tbsp olive oil in pan over medium-high heat 1 minute. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium. Add rosemary and cook 2 minutes.
  8. Add Worcestershire sauce, pepper and 1 cup reserved shrimp stock. Increase heat and simmer until reduced by half.
  9. Brush some of sauce over shrimp, reserving remaining sauce.
  10. Place skewers on cooking grate grill 2 minutes on each side.
  11. Slice bread and brush with extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt. Grill until toasted.
  12. Reheat remaining sauce over medium-high heat whisk in remaining 8 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp at a time.
  13. Place 1 skewer of shrimp on each serving plate, top with sauce, and serve with bread.

On Wednesday, July 2, McLean’s own Chef David Guas took on television as host and co-judge of the Travel Channel’s new show “American Grilled,” in which he travels around the country hosting grilling competitions every Wednesday at 9 p.m.

Guas, a native of New Orleans, is no newcomer to the world of food, he said. “Food is a big part of the culture in New Orleans, and I was always around it,” he said, adding that he got his first taste of grilling from his Dad, a “weekend warrior” who loved outdoor cooking.

But Guas didn’t always aspire to be a chef. He first began cooking himself in a mall food court at a place called “Philly’s Steak and Cheese,” he said. “I loved cooking and the feeling of making something with my hands. Even in the simplest of forms, it’s artistry.”

GROWING UP, he watched Justin Wilson on PBS. “He was the Cajun Julia Childs,” Guas said, “and he was my celebrity.” Guas’ grandmother grew up with Wilson, so Guas talked to him on the phone when he was trying to pick a career to pursue. Wilson had a friend who owned a cooking school and pushed Guas to attend, he said.

“My Aunt was pushing me to pick a trade. ‘Be exposed to things you’re passionate about, and find something to learn,’ she said, so I went to the cooking school,” Guas said.

It was a short program, two or three months Guas said, so he then went looking for a job where he could continue to learn. “I wanted to work at the best place in the city, so I looked to the hotel environment,” Guas said. Through one of his father’s connections, he managed to get an interview at the Windsor Court Hotel.

And though he thought he had no chance of getting the job, Guas found himself working under a professionally trained German pastry chef within the week. The only problem was that he had no experience with pastries at all.

“I told the chef to just show me once, and I’ll do what it takes to learn,” he said. “The rest is history,” Guas added, saying that he learned so much he didn’t even consider working with savory foods.

After two years, he was given the opportunity to move to D.C. with two partners and be the executive pastry chef of DC Coast, a new restaurant they were planning to open in 1998. He stayed with Passion Food Hospitality as they opened more restaurants in D.C. for the next 10 years, he said.

Then Hurricane Katrina hit. “My parents decided not to move back to New Orleans, and I struggled with that,” Guas said. He felt as if he was losing his identity and his anchor, he said, so Guas decided to write a book, “DamGoodSweet: Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style.”

It was 2009, and Guas started working on Bayou Bakery, his coffee bar and eatery in Arlington and soon-to-be Capitol Hill. “I didn’t want to be known for one thing, and I wanted a place that had a little bit of everything,” he said of the concept for his own business. “This is an homage to my childhood and home state,” he said while motioning around Bayou Bakery.

Guas finally “gave in” and appeared in an episode of “Chopped” on the Food Network in 2012, warming him up to television. He has also appeared in interviews throughout the years and enjoyed them, he said, so when he was approached for a Travel Channel show he was excited.

AFTER INTERVIEWS and phone conversations for months, Guas was finally offered something he couldn’t resist: “Wanna make a show?” asked an executive from the Travel Channel. “Let’s do this,” Guas replied.

He filmed three cities in one month, then the episodes were sent to focus groups for review. “They were blown out of the water,” Guas said, so they filmed another 10, traveling from city to city and grilling all the way. “It’s just straight up grilling — something people can relate to,” he said.

Guas said it hasn’t hit him yet that he hosts a television show, placing him in the same ranks as his idol, Justin Wilson. “I just do what I love to do,” he said.


"American Grilled" on the Travel Channel: St. Louis Episode Airs Tonight

Judges for the St. Louis episode of American Grilled: host David Guas, chef Gerard Craft, and "Famous Dave" Anderson.

The St. Louis episode of the inaugural season of American Grilled airs tonight at 8 p.m. on the Travel Channel. The title of tonight's show: “Meat Me in St. Louis.”

Each week, on an open set, host David Guas doles out cooking challenges to four local competitors, chefs, home cooks, housewives, grillin’ husbands. Each episode consists of several grilling challenges, all comprising a different locally-based, mystery ingredient. Not surprisingly, the ingredients selected for our burg were pork steak, pretzel sticks, Mayfair dressing, and provel cheese (somehow gooey butter cake got a pass).

Judges for the event (filmed in St. Louis on July 30) were chef/restaurateur Guas, “Famous Dave” Anderson (founder of the Famous Dave's restaurant chain), and StL’s own Gerard Craft.

In a teaser video, three (but not all four) of the local competitors were named: Alan Bowman, VP of a brokerage firm Eric Harland, VP of a technology company and Elliott Mellow, ID’d only as “Marketing.” The winner of each episode earns $10,000 and the title “Killer Griller.”

To find out the fourth competitor, and see which of them took home the 10 large, tune in to the Travel Channel at 8 tonight.


You can grill what? Find out how to grill salad, dessert and more

As the host and co-judge of the Travel Channel's "American Grilled," David Guas knows a thing or two about making the most of your grill. Now he's showing TODAY how you can bring his sizzling skills to lettuce, peaches and more.

Roasted coal garlic compound butter

  • 2 bulbs garlic, whole
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • Coarse sea salt (to taste)
  • Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Cut the top off of each whole garlic bulb. Tear off a 12-inch piece of aluminum foil and place both bulbs in the center of the foil, pulling up the edges of the foil to create a bowl.

Drizzle olive oil over the tops of the garlic and season with salt and pepper. Add about 1/4 cup of water directly into the foil bowl. Fold up the edges to create a pouch, and seal well.

Take one side of the grates off the prepared grill. Place foil pouch next to the coals (make sure the coals are right along the edges, but not directly on top of the pouch). Leave for about 1 hour while proceeding with the recipes below.

When ready, remove foil pouch using tongs. Open slowly with caution because of hot steam. Let the bulbs rest for about 15 minutes, or refrigerate for a few minutes until ready to handle.

Place softened butter in a small mixing bowl, and squeeze each garlic bulb directly on the butter (discarding the garlic skin). Season with an additional 1/2 tsp. of sea salt, and, using a spoon, mash until combined. Reserve at room temperature until steak is ready to be served.

Chef's Tip: Roll butter into parchment paper or plastic wrap, creating a tube-like cylinder. Freeze. When ready, slice into coins and place on top of the meat. For a larger batch, freeze for up to 3 months. This works for all grilled meats from beef, to chicken and fish.

Coffee-rubbed rib-eye

  • 4 (16 oz.) boneless rib-eye steaks
  • Coarse sea salt (to taste)
  • Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
  • 3 tbsp. fresh coffee beans, finely ground
  • 1 tbsp. light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tbsp. coarse sea salt
  • 1 tsp. granulated onion
  • 1 tsp. granulated garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Combine all the ingredients for the rub in a bowl. Lather the rub on the raw steaks, and place the steaks in the fridge for 1 1/2 hours to let the flavors of the spices absorb in the meat.

Prepare grill as mentioned above. Do not cut the meat. Season each steak with salt and pepper on both sides, then place on the grill over direct heat. Depending on the thickness of the steak, grill 6 to 7 minutes on each side (or to an internal temperature of 125 to 130 degrees) for medium-rare, or 8 to 9 minutes (or to an internal temperature of 140 to 145 degrees) for a full medium.

If you want to keep the meat grilling a little longer, remove from the direct heat of the coals and put on a cooler side of the grill. Then close the top for additional smoking and cooking (about 1 to 2 minutes longer is suggested).

Once cooked, remove the steaks from the grill and place on a cutting board. Allow the meat to rest for about 8 to 10 minutes before slicing or serving. Divide the (room temperature) garlic butter among the 4 steaks, and place a dollop on each before serving.

Grilled baby romaine salad, charred lemon vinaigrette, crusty grilled croutons

  • 2 lemons, grilled (the juice of both)
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. shallots, minced
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Pepper (to taste)
  • 1 baguette (crusty French bread), sliced lengthwise
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • Kosher salt (to taste)

Prepare lettuce by pulling off old leaves and trimming top and bottom, leaving the bottom root to keep the head intact. Halve the heads of lettuce, and coat with oil to prevent them from burning.

Prepare grill. Grill on direct heat until you get a nice char. Let cool for about 5 minutes before assembling the salad.

Cut lemons lengthwise and grill slice-side down for 2 to 5 minutes, or until grill marks are achieved. Remove the lemons and allow them to rest for 5 minutes before squeezing their juice into a mixing bowl, and catching and discarding the seeds. Discard the lemon after juice is extracted.

Whisk in the mustard, honey, shallots, salt and pepper. Whisk vigorously, while slowly adding the oil. Once whisked, set vinaigrette aside until ready to toss.

Slice baguette lengthwise, and brush with oil and salt. Grill the bread directly over heat until grill marks are achieved and bread is toasted. Remove and allow to cool. Cut in half, creating 4 pieces.

In a salad bowl, place bread down first. Place grilled romaine on top of the bread and drizzle liberally with vinaigrette. Using a vegetable peeler, shave 8 to 10 slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano directly over each salad. Serve immediately.

Grilled peaches and mascarpone cream

Make sure the surface of your grill is clean. Place the halved slices of peaches on the grill over direct heat, skin-side down first to give them a quick browning.

Then turn them over to the open face-side of the peaches, and grill until browning and caramelization occurs from the natural sugars. Remove from grill and reserve at room temperature.

Using a hand mixer or stand-up mixer with the whisk attachment, blend together the mascarpone cheese and 1 tbsp. of powdered sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Spoon into a separate bowl and set aside.

Pour the cream and the remaining powdered sugar into the original mixing bowl and blend on high speed just until stiff peaks form (about 1 or 2 minutes). Turn the mixer off and carefully fold the whipped cream mixture into the mascarpone mixture.

Place 2 to 3 peach halves on a plate with a tablespoon-sized dollop of the mascarpone cream on top. Garnish it with a drizzle of honey (about 2 tsp. per dish) and crumbled, toasted pecans. (To prepare the pecans: Toast the nuts whole at 375 degrees for roughly 5 minutes and allow to cool before crumbling).


5 Essential Barbecue Ingredients from Grill Expert David Guas

Here, five essential barbecue ingredients from Grill Nation, the new book by grill expert and Travel Channel host David Guas.

Five essential barbecue ingredients from Grill Nation, the new book by grill expert and Travel Channel host David Guas.

Cacao Nibs
Finely ground in a food processor, roasted cacao nibs make a chocolaty steak rub.

Sorghum Syrup
Guas prefers “sassy, bright” sorghum to “heavy, one-dimensional” molasses as a complex glaze for beef ribs.

Guava Paste
This Cuban pantry staple comes packed in a tin mixed with orangejuice and rum, it becomes a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce.

Blackberry Preserves
Fruit jam lends a rich, dark, wine-like flavor to a sauce for pork tenderloin.

Hard Cider
Grilled pork pairs well with apples, particularly when the meat is first brined in hard cider, then glazed with apple jelly and Calvados.


Get Grilling: New BBQ Cookbooks to Kick Off Summer

It's been a long winter, but the mercury is finally rising, and once again home cooks across the country are firing up their grills. So, we've rounded up recently published and soon-to-be-released books on all things barbecue, which offer pro-tips from pitmasters and restaurant chefs, recipes to heat up an American classic, and a deep-dive into rubs and marinades.

The Barbecue Lovers Big Book of BBQ Sauces, by Cheryl and Bill Jamison, Harvard Common Press, April 21

According to the Jamisons, in good BBQ, the secret&rsquos in the sauce. Here, you&rsquoll find 225 recipes for barbecue sauces, marinades, mops, pastes, dry rubs, and condiments (like chutneys and flavored butters) from the James Beard Award winning duo.

American Burger Revival, by Samuel Monsour and Richard Chudy, Union Park Press, May 18

Chefs Samuel Monsour (once awarded &ldquoBest Burger&rdquo by Boston Magazine) and Richard Chudy (founder of Boston Burger Blog), are out to &ldquoelectrify a timeless classic&rdquo with 120 recipes for no-ordinary burgers. Creations include the Filthy Pilgrim (with a mashed potato and gravy roll and pickled cranberries) the Morning After (with a French omelette) and the Ragin&rsquo Cajun (with Creole mayo and muffuletta relish).

Franklin Barbecue, by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay, Ten Speed Press, April 7

From one of the best pitmasters in the country, and owner of Austin&rsquos wildly popular Franklin Barbecue (one PW editor recently remarked that she still regrets not having the patience to wait in line during a visit to the city), comes a &ldquomeat-smoking manifesto.&rdquo In this debut cookbook, Franklin covers the waterfront&mdasheverything from building or customizing your own smoker, to finding and curing the right wood, to sourcing the best meat, and, naturally, to cooking the best &lsquocue possible.

Grill Nation, by David Guas, Oxmoor House, April 28

In this &ldquoencyclopedic guide,&rdquo the host of the Travel Channel&rsquos American Grilled divulges the secrets he&rsquos learned on the show. The book includes recipes for main BBQ dishes (beef, pork, chicken, fish, and game), salads, and desserts.

Flavorize: Great Marinades, Injections, Brines, Rubs, and Glazes, by Ray &ldquoDr. BBQ&rdquo Lampe, Chronicle Books, April 21

Lampe, a frequent Food Network guest and cook-off judge also known as &ldquoDr. BBQ,&rdquo dresses up meat, vegetables, and fruits with 120 recipes for marinades, injections, brines, rubs, and glazes.

Carroll, owner of the acclaimed and ever-packed Brooklyn restaurants Fette Sau and St. Anselm, offers his top 20 lessons to making fire-cooked foods at home, in addition to 75 recipes. We named it one of our top 10 cookbooks of the spring.


Honey Brined, Creole Mustard Glazed Pork Chop

Procedure
Place the salt, honey, and hot water for the brine together in an 8-quart container and whisk until the salt and honey have dissolved into the water. Once mixed together, add the cold water and place all pork chops into the brine mixture. Cover, and refrigerate for six to eight hours.

Set oven to 375° F. After 6 hours, remove pork from brine and rinse under cold water, then pat dry. Combine mustard, honey and 1T. of water in a small bowl and reserve.

Place the olive oil into a large cast iron skillet or pan and heat on high, then add the chops to the hot pan, allowing to sear for two minutes on one side. Once seared, turn chops over and brush with glaze and immediately place skillet or pan directly into heated oven for at least 15-20 minutes. Internal temperature for the pork should be 155° F. Remove pan from oven, and place the chops on a cutting board with the glazed side down and allow pork to rest.

While the pork is resting, place your skillet back onto the stove on low heat. Add the remaining glaze to the pan + the 1T of remaining water. Using a wooden spoon, smoothly stir the mixture together and scrape the bottom of the skillet to incorporate the leftover bits of pork chop in the glaze. Continue stirring until the liquid thickens and becomes glaze-like, should not take long [no more than a minute or so.

Assembly
Slice the chops into 5-6 slices each, place the slices onto a plate in a fan-like shape, and brush or spoon drizzle the desired amount of glaze onto the pork.

Recipe courtesy of Grill Nation: 200 Surefire Recipes, Tips and Techniques to Grill Like a Pro, (2015, Oxmoor House) by Travel Channel’s ‘American Grilled’ host and Chef/Owner of Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery, David Guas.


TV's 'American Grilled': Competition plus cooking with local products

Members of the production crew for 'American Grilled' stand by a truck outside Wrigley Field in Chicago earlier this spring. The show airs Wednesdays on Travel Channel. Courtesy of Travel Channel/American Grilled

All eyes are on the giardiniera.

After making the cut and practicing with likely ingredients, after surviving two quick rounds in which Cracker Jack, Vienna Beef franks, smoked cheese, deep-dish pizza dough and kielbasa had to be charred into cohesive, edible submission, it has come to this: A contestant has left a jar of Italian pickled vegetables -- a must-use ingredient -- untouched. In tortured unison, onlookers count down the final seconds.

The tension in the air is as thick as a two-inch T-bone, which also happens to be a mandatory ingredient -- the one that commanded most of the contestant's attention. Does the contestant realize it yet? See the forgotten relish that might end up costing a cool 10 grand?

It's not happening on some highfalutin studio set. The competition in this new show, called "American Grilled," has wound tight through 11 hours of a changeable Chicago spring day, outside the main entrance to Wrigley Field.

Its host is no buttoned-down big shot. Anchoring the judge's table is David Guas, all sideburns and denim and muy macho voice. Back at his Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Va., weeks after filming in 13 cities, he's able to admit that, yes, there was something "pretty bad-ass" about the experience.

"I had this surrogate, adopted family" that was the production company, the usually humble chef says. "The more they shot, the more they understood who I was."

Whether or not America needs another competitive cooking show, programmers keep stuffing time slots with them. Those that feature spatula wars outdoors, with fire, have coast-to-coast appeal, perhaps because they highlight regional styles. Or because we, the people, are drawn to smoke. In any case, the brains behind "American Grilled" on the Travel Channel are certain they've got a contender.

"It's my favorite show," says Patrick McManamee, the Travel Channel executive producer responsible for fun fests such as "Xtreme Waterparks" and "Bikinis & Boardwalks." Headset disengaged for the moment, he is on location at Wrigley, an eager adviser at the command-monitor setup dubbed Video Village. "When I saw David grilling burgers in a guest shot on 'Today,' I knew he was our guy."

The concept: "American Grilled" rolls into town. Guas is the sole recurring member of a judging panel that includes a barbecue personality and a relevant local figure. (The judges and production company heads have gotten acquainted at dinner the previous night -- required each time, deemed a "brilliant" move by Guas.) Four self-proclaimed "grilling geeks" from the area must cook with products from local purveyors and can draw from a pantry of staples and carefully curated, local fresh foods. Video footage and references to the city will reinforce the network's brand.

Neil P. DeGroot is another reason why McManamee is so keen. Watchers of TV credits have seen DeGroot's name scroll by on eight seasons of "The Biggest Loser." He has earned two Directors Guild of America awards a bystander on the set, even for a day, can see how many hats DeGroot wears, and how well he wears them. For this gig, he's executive producer of Original Media, the production company hired to film "American Grilled."

He and McManamee "spitballed and theorized" about the show could someone even complete a grilled dish in 20 minutes? DeGroot recommended unexpected locations and made sure that Elayne Cilic, whom he'd worked with before, was brought on as his co-executive producer. Other places on "American Grilled" besides Chicago: Annapolis Charlottesville Asheville, N.C. Jacksonville, Fla. Pensacola, Fla. Louisville St. Louis Savannah, Ga. New Orleans Memphis Austin and Latrobe, Pa.

"The city itself is a character. The show is regional and the food is local," DeGroot says. "That's what sets us apart." He was also adamant that the process be "organic." Contestants cook in real time. They suffer no character arcs or trash talk. Judges decide who wins.

Guas and DeGroot, who with his wife owns a farm near North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains and feels passionately about the farm-to-table movement, hit it off right away.

"He's a stress eater," Guas says, referring to the way DeGroot absorbs pressure yet stays calm and loose and very much in charge.

As comfortable as Guas is on the small screen -- he has appeared on "Today" 20 times since 2001, plus on various Food Network gigs -- hosting has not been a cakewalk.

"The first three cities were bumpy," he says. Shooting for "American Grilled" began last summer, and Guas was hired a mere two weeks prior. A format in which he chatted up contestants during each round was scrapped. It was too distracting for them, and too much like "those other shows." He had to learn how to handle seven or eight pages of script yet exude an off-the-cuff vibe.

Mostly, he was reminded by DeGroot that the host's on-camera work was not like the contestants'. " 'Dude, if ain't right, we can do it again,' is what he reinforced through that bug in my ear," the 39-year-old chef says. "I can get into a business-y, get-it-done mentality." By the time the team shot in the last location several weeks ago, he adds, "I tried not to have 'judges' face,' at least."

Guas' own posse got to visit Latrobe, the last shoot. It's safe to say that his publicist wife, Simone Rathle, has summoned all her professional acumen to help navigate her husband's career. She's his biggest fan.

Elder son Spencer, almost 12, says: "My father's my father. That won't change. He'll always come to my baseball games" -- although the rising seventh-grader says that when his teacher "unexpectedly did a report in class about my father having his show, it was cool." Nine-year-old son Kemp wonders, "Now, is a limousine going to come and take us to school?"

The third-round giardiniera drama in Chicago seems like small potatoes compared with all that production manager Mo Krishna has to deal with. The 38-year-old Windy City native works 12-hour-plus days for weeks at a time. He scouts locations before the talent arrives and is responsible for a 30-person staff and the equipment that fits into one 25-foot truck, a 14-foot camera truck, a nine-foot "grip" truck, a cargo van, a jib trailer and five traveling vehicles. That's how this Original Media team rolls, a separate entity hired by the Travel Channel.


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