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Ideas for her, from a Fab guy

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy food guru Ted Allen offers some help for Valentine-impaired straight men.

Published February 11, 2004

[Photo: Bravo]
“As in all matters pertaining to women, it’s about her,” Ted Allen says. “I can’t emphasize that enough.”

Guys, you know who you are. If you haven't made reservations for a romantic dinner on Saturday, it's probably too late.

But who better to save you than the Fab Five, or at least a Fab One?

Ted Allen is the food and wine maven from Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the little show that started last summer as a one-joke play on stereotypes (sartorially clueless straight guys, invincibly stylish gay ones) and became a hit as the smartest and most warm-hearted of the makeover shows.

Fans of Queer Eye know the girlfriends and wives of its subjects are wowed by the transformations of their men from schlubby to suave and knocked out by the makeovers of their living spaces.

Allen works the minor miracle of taking some guy whose main culinary skill has been stacking up a really tall tower of pizza boxes and teaching him to prepare a meal that leaves a delighted woman cooing between bites, "You made this? You made this? You made this?"

How can a dude who doesn't know saute from satay earn such a warm response?

"As in all matters pertaining to women, it's about her," Allen says. "I can't emphasize that enough."

He says men who don't know much about cooking shouldn't let that keep them from making the effort. "Any time you're cooking dinner for a love interest, it's a can't-lose situation, because you tried," he says.

"Even if you burn the chicken, it can really be kind of cute."

Interviewed by phone on the road between New York City and Syracuse ("It's the only time I have"), Allen says he and colleagues Kyan Douglas, Carson Kressley, Jai Rodriguez and Thom Filicia are busy filming new episodes for Queer Eye's second season, including several set in Texas.

"This will be a pretty big week for us," he says. The show's second season on Bravo begins at 10 p.m. Tuesday. And yesterday was the release date for a soundtrack CD from the show and the group's book,Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: The Fab 5's Guide to Looking Better, Cooking Better, Dressing Better, Behaving Better, and Living Better (Clarkson Potter, $27.50).

"It's the basic 101 in our respective areas. Mine is the longest chapter because I've included a little chunk of recipes," Allen says. "It's kind of a primer for the person who's new to food, new to cooking."

He says that, like the show, the book is service-driven. "What I do is all about demystifying food and wine, taking the pretension out of it."

Allen came to Queer Eye from a career as a journalist. He was a contributing editor and co-author of the "Things a Man Should Know" column at Esquire and a restaurant reviewer for Chicago magazine.

Although he's an enthusiastic cook, he's not a professional chef. For what he does on the show, being a trained chef would be overkill, he says.

His job is not to teach esoteric culinary skills, but to coach men with little knowledge of food and wine through the process of planning, shopping for, preparing and serving a meal.

The food and beverages chosen for each show are tailored to the man getting the makeover, Allen says. "We're looking for guys with strong stories. What we want is a guy who knows he wants to change his life. Maybe he's been unlucky in love. Maybe he has a great girlfriend or wife he knows he's been neglecting, and he wants to change that."

Once the Fab Five and the show's production team have a sense of the subject's personality and lifestyle, Allen says, "I figure out the food story. It has to evolve organically out of what the reveal is going to be."

The "reveal" is the event everything else on the show aims for: an important date, a family party, a singer's debut performance. "If the reveal is that this guy is throwing a birthday party for a bunch of 5-year-old kids, then I have to find food he can serve to 5-year-olds."

Many of the show's events are romantic, such as a marriage proposal or first date.

Allen's advice for Valentine's Day is based on what works in those situations. "Just do things that will make her ecstatically happy. That's the overarching premise of our whole show."

Men don't always think about what makes a celebration appealing to women, he says. "Some guys want to celebrate Valentine's Day by giving their girlfriend some skimpy negligee that's really for their own pleasure. No, no, no, no, no."

To plan a romantic meal, "Think about who she is. What's her favorite food, what does she really love to eat?

"And that's not necessarily what she would order in a restaurant. Lobster is tricky; caviar is pricey. It's not about being expensive - although it's not about being cheap, either."

First things first: "On Valentine's Day the dessert is probably more important than anything else. You want something decadent, probably chocolate, gooey, creamy."

Allen says that unless you're comfortable in the kitchen, you shouldn't make that extravagant dessert yourself. "Get something special, and not from the grocery store. Go to a great bakery. Get a little cake, maybe with some mousse, some ganache. Chicks dig that." (For the ganache-impaired, that's a most decadent icing of chocolate and whipping cream that's poured onto a cake.)

As for the rest of the meal, make something that is unpretentious and satisfying, and that won't stress you out. "Choose things where you can do a lot in advance. You don't want to be sauteing 15 things while she's out in the other room, sitting around getting bored waiting for you."

Classic, simple recipes are often best, he says. "It's hard to go wrong with a good roast chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, some asparagus.

"You don't have to do a standing rib roast and be a big showoff."

Maybe you don't have to show off at all. "If you're really not comfortable in the kitchen, get a preroasted chicken.

"If you're together on Valentine's Day and you really can't cook, then she didn't hook up with you for your cooking."

- Contact Colette Bancroft at bancroft@sptimes.com or 727 893-8435.

Lemon-Rosemary Roast Chicken

4 1/2-pound roasting chicken

1 lemon, quartered and zested

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, plus several sprigs for stuffing and garnish

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced (optional)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 large onions (about 1 pound), quartered

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Rinse the chicken inside and out, then pat dry with paper towels.

In a small bowl, combine the lemon zest, chopped rosemary, salt, pepper and garlic (if using). Put half of this mixture into the cavity of the chicken, along with the flesh of the lemons and the sprigs of rosemary.

Add the olive oil to the bowl of seasoning and whisk with a fork, forming a paste. Massage this mixture over the outside of the chicken.

Place the onions in the bottom of the heaviest roasting pan you own (and it would be nice if it's also nonstick). Set the chicken breast-side up on the onions and put the pan in the oven.

Bake for 1 hour, basting occasionally by using a long-handled spoon (or, better yet, a baster) to retrieve the juices from the bottom of the pan and pour them over the top of the bird.

Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees and roast until the skin browns a bit, about 15 minutes. Carefully turn the chicken, using tongs or long-handled forks, so the breast faces down.

Be careful in turning the chicken as hot oil may splatter.

Continue to roast for 30 to 40 minutes, until the skin has browned and crisped.

Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes or so before carving. Find the natural joints that divide the chicken into four quarters - two thigh-leg combos, two breast-wing - and push apart with a knife.

Serve with the onions on the side.

Serves four.

Source: "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: The Fab 5's Guide to Looking Better, Cooking Better, Dressing Better, Behaving Better, and Living Better" (Clarkson Potter, $27.50).

Gooey Chocolate-Coffee Brownie Cake

1-1/4 cups granulated sugar

7 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup whole milk

1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1-1/4 cups hot coffee

Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Mint leaves, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In medium bowl, combine 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar and 3 tablespoons of the cocoa with the flour, baking powder and salt. Blend in the milk, butter and vanilla; beat until smooth.

Pour the batter into a glass or metal 8- or 9-inch-square baking pan.

In small bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 4 tablespoons cocoa with the brown sugar. Sprinkle over the batter.

Pour the hot coffee over the top. Do not stir.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until the center is set. (Test by inserting a toothpick or a knife; if it comes out clean, it's ready.)

Let it cool a few minutes, then eat with vanilla ice cream. Garnish with mint leaves.

Serves four.

Source: "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: The Fab 5's Guide to Looking Better, Cooking Better, Dressing Better, Behaving Better, and Living Better" (Clarkson Potter, $27.50).

[Last modified February 10, 2004, 10:45:52]

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