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Food and family, bringing in the greens

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By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 7, 2003

I guess Natalie Khawam and her twin sister, Jill Kelley, believe you have to look good to cook good.

How else can you explain why Khawam showed up Monday wearing a Chanel blouse, leather skirt and Gucci heels to tape an appearance on a new Food Network show? Kelley was no less dressed in Brooks Brothers black.

"Food tastes better when it's prepared wearing Chanel," Khawam joked.

The 27-year-old Philadelphia transplants were at the Columbia Monday as contestants on Food Fight, which is set to debut on the Food Network in June. Tampa is one of 13 cities in which the show is shooting on location as it pairs partners in a cookoff. In New York, it will be firefighters versus cops. In Charlotte, Harley-Davidson riders versus soccer moms.

In Tampa, it was a sibling rivalry. The twins were matched against brothers Mike and David Shofstall. Mike, 35, is a merchant marine who lives in Apollo Beach. David, 46, is a pool builder who lives in Plant City.

The Shofstall brothers, casually dressed in khaki pants and collared shirts, conceded they seldom wear long pants to work. Needless to say, they made for an interesting contrast to the fashionable twins.

"We were kind of at a disadvantage because they looked better," Mike joked. "But they were super sports. It was a lot of fun."

Neither the twins nor the Shofstalls are professional cooks. Khawam is single ("Put that in the paper," she said.) and plans to continue her law degree pursuit at Stetson. Kelley, the wife of Moffitt surgeon Scott Kelley, put her medical studies on hold to have a baby.

What mattered most during their 22 minutes of fame Monday was preparing the secret food choice: alligator. Each contestant was given the ingredient and $20 to go to Whaley's and buy ingredients.

Two hours later, their gator entrees, replete with two side dishes, were presented to the judges. Who won? Tune in this summer.

* * *

Speaking of Whaley's -- with my two sisters and brother in town, fresh collard greens were a necessity for the annual New Year's Day dinner (greens for greenbacks, as in money). I wasn't sure where to find the greens until I thought of Whaley's. The lady on the telephone sounded incredulous when I asked if they have them fresh.

And I'll never ask again. They were great.

* * *

There is a new champion today, and I'm not talking about Ohio State. The Palm has captured the Martini Club's Best Martini of 2002 award and will be presented with the honor on Wednesday. Previous winners include 2000 champ SideBern's.

* * *

Syl Farrell, who is moving on to become the spokesman for the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, brought an end to his long run as a political talk show host last week, and it may not be long before a replacement is found.

Last Friday Farrell taped two year-in-review episodes of Weekly Review, the county government channel's political talk show. Mike Foerster, communications director, said he doesn't want to miss a beat and hopes to have a replacement, temporary or permanent, by next week so the show won't go on hiatus.

That's good news for citizens and maybe bad news for a few grumbling county commissioners disappointed about being targets of criticism on the show. Lighten up, people.

* * *

Kudos to the cast of the Lion King, which will spend this afternoon presenting an interactive presentation to kids at the Salesian Youth Center Boys and Girls Club. Winn-Dixie and Tropicana co-sponsored the event.

* * *

So the twins and the Shofstall brothers were stars on Monday, but the real heroes were Raul Puccio and Abe Abdul. The two Columbia waiters navigated a narrow staircase while carrying the contest entries from the banquet room to the judges. One false move, and Food Fight might have taken on a whole new meaning.

That's all I'm saying.

-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813)226-3406 or .

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