I’ve got a problem. This is kind of embarrassing to admit but I’ll just get it out there. I’m a celebrity chef stalker. I will bypass any so-called “A Lister” on the street (yawn), but if I see a famous (or even semi-famous) chef, my heart starts to palpitate and I get butterflies in my stomach.I’ve seen Giada deLaurentiis at a Today Show taping, Rachael Ray at a Rachael Ray Show taping, Rocco DiSpirito at an NYRR race, and Mario Batali at Eataly in NYC.
I even have cookbooks signed by reality show celebrities, Bethanny Frankel & Teresa Giudice. I know they’re not famous for being chefs (Teresa is not even a chef … just a home cook), but they’ve both written cookbooks so it counts, right?
I took a knife skills class at the Institute of Culinary Education taught by Norman Weinstein … the author of THE book on knife skills. I have the book, but forgot to bring it in to have him sign. But it was SO fun to sit in class and be taught by him. He’s so fabulously quirky. I even took a sauces “boot camp” at the same school taught by James Briscione who was a contestant on Chopped Champions (and lost at the very last moment because a hair fell into his plate.) I just checked his blog and he’s writing a cookbook with his wife.
To add to that list, I have three favorite sightings.
In October of 2009, I took my daughter to Food Network’s Wine and Food Festival in New York City. They have several sessions for kids and this is what Mini-Me wanted to do for her birthday that year. We chose three sessions. Our favorite session was with Cricket Azima where the kids learned how to make cactus salad. Cricket is my hero … I love her. She needs to be a celebrity chef and if Food Network doesn’t give her a show soon … I’ll boycott the network.
Her philosophy is that if you teach kids to cook, you teach them life lessons. In her own words: “We can learn about so much more than just food, while in the kitchen. In addition to cooking skills and techniques, children in my classes learn about history, geography, math, nutrition, science, foreign language, art, and much more.” (Yes … I asked her to autograph a cookbook, too.)
I digress … that wasn’t the point of my story.
So, in between sessions at the festival, Mini-Me and I were sitting in Chelsea Market and she asks me if we’ll see any celebrity chefs. I told her that we wouldn’t see anybody, that they were all busy hosting their own sessions across the city. All of a sudden she smiled and said, “What about that guy? I recognize him!” and pointed out a man walking towards us. I turned around to see the unmistakable face of Michael Proietti. He noticed that she noticed him and gave her a smile as he passed. She blushed. Who’s Michael Proietti? He was a contestant on The Next Food Network Star, Season 5. He was known for his big personality and big hair. He’s not on the scene anymore … but the fact that my daughter recognized him makes me proud.
My second favorite sighting was here in fabulous Jersey. Two summers ago, I planned an outing to the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. I decided to surprise the kids and stop in Hoboken for a treat before going to the Science Center. As we walked into Carlo’s Bake Shop, the kids’ eyes got quite huge when they realized they were in The Cake Boss’s shop.
I told them they could pick out a cupcake to munch on, but they were more interested in seeing Buddy Valastro. We were standing in line and a loud Jerseygirl in front of us asked Buddy’s mom if “The Boss” was in the shop and demanded to meet him. Buddy’s sister and mom looked at each other with annoyed looks and mumbled some excuse about him being tied up with something.
After Jerseygirl left, Buddy’s sister said, “Buddy’s not the only star of the show, you know. It’s about the whole family.” This made me giggle. However, I had to break my kids’ hearts and let them know they would not see Buddy that day. They took the news OK … especially when we sat down and buried our faces in sugary goodness.
I was facing the front door when three little girls with big blue eyes and long blonde, curly hair walked through the door with their mom. As they walked past to order their goodies I overheard their sweet, sing-song voices ask, “Can we see Buddy?” Awwww!
All of a sudden, both of my kids stood up and excitedly said, “There’s Buddy!!!” I turned around, and sure enough the three little beauties were able to lure him from his work and he came downstairs to say, “Hi!”
I encouraged the kids to go meet him. He shook their hands, called them by name and posed for pictures. He was particularly impressed when Lilly said, “Congrats on finally winning 1st place on the Food Network Challenge.” His smile indicated that she warmed his heart. It was a very sweet experience.
My favorite celebrity sighting was with my biggest celebrity crush. Last October, I logged onto Twitter and saw a tweet from Bobby Flay saying he was going to be in King of Prussia, PA, signing his new cookbook. I didn’t think twice. I called the store he was going to be at and reserved a ticket to the event. I drove to Mini-Me’s school and pulled her out of class. This event was worth a possible arrest by the truant officer.
Of course, I wouldn’t tell Lilly why I pulled her out of school as we drove to Pennsylvania. We got to the event and found a seemingly endless line of people and hopped into line. At this point, Mini-Me saw the posters with Bobby Flay’s picture and figured out the big surprise. The normally reserved girl almost couldn’t contain herself. Heck … I would’ve jumped up and down if I felt it was appropriate. As we chit-chatted with people in line, most people agreed with me that this event was worth skipping school for … making me feel as if I still had a chance at the Mom-of-the-Year Award.
And before I knew it … there he was! My palms started to sweat as I tried to figure out what to say to Bobby Flay. He was as nice as I thought he would be … even called Lilly by name. He was also impressed that she skipped school to meet him. I asked him about the NYC Marathon he was running a few weeks from that day. He didn’t sound too excited at the thought of running 26.2 miles. At the risk of sounding like a crazed fan, I told him we’d be cheering him on. He signed our book, posed for a picture and then the moment was over.
Where do I go from there? I still keep my eyes and ears open for excuses to meet other celebrity chefs. I have passed up opportunities. Alton Brown, Lidia Bastianich and Nigella Lawson were both in town last fall for book signings and I did not take advantage of those opportunities. There will be more opportunities.
The next time I see a famous culinary face … you’ll be the first to know.