…for giving our readership a boost.
You see, Bobby has this show on the Food Network called Throwdown with Bobby Flay. The premise has the red-headed wonder challenging cooks around the country to a “throwdown” involving that particular person’s strong suit. He’s taken on New Jersey’s own Butch in a BBQ competition, Staten Island’s Giorgio Giove in Pizza, and Louisville, Kentucky’s Lynn Winter (owner of Lynn’s Paradise Café) in breakfast. But last weekend Flay threwdown something a bit closer to Blognut’s stomach, the Doughnut.
Now for Bobby to prove himself a worthy doughnut-maker, there’s really only one person that comes to mind for him to do battle against – the nation’s foremost artisanal Doughnut monger, Mark Isreal, owner and operator of NYC’s Doughnut Plant. And that’s just what he did.
Throwdown is an awkward enterprise for two reasons. One, Bobby’s competitors have no idea that they’re about to be challenged. Basically the Food Network contacts them asking to do a feature. FN execs are like, “Yeah, we just want to follow you around for a week watching you cook. Then we’ll throw a big party and film it, sort of a grand finale for you to showcase your specialty to millions of viewers.” Then the person they've contacted is like, “Count me in. I can’t believe I’m going to be on the Food Network. Rock on.” (I’m paraphrasing here). But what the Network doesn’t tell the competitor, is that just when the party’s about to begin, they plan to send in world-renowned chef Bobby Flay with 2 professional assistants and $50,000 in high-end cooking equipment, to challenge them, and potentially rip away their one source of pride. It’s really pretty messed up. Because it’s not like these people asked to be challenged by one of the most accomplished chefs in the country. And it’s not like they can decline, as this would one, appear cowardly, and two, most likely ruin their chances of ever appearing on the Food Network again.
So the second weird aspect of Throwdown, is that friends and family members of whomever Bobby is battling, are used as judges, so Flay never really has a chance. Now I assume this is to skirt the painful awkwardness of BF actually winning. But on the other hand, it makes for boring, predictable TV. Now I think the Food Network has begun to realize this, because the last two Throwdown episodes I’ve seen (battle-Doughnut included) have used blinded judges. And how hard was it to watch when Bobby actually beats a small-time seafood chowder maker from Williamsburg Brooklyn?! Bobby shows up unannounced, embarrasses the hell out of the guy in front of all his friends, and drives off in his shiny black pickup back to Manhattan. It's just a totally ill-conceived idea for television show.
But back to Doughnuts. To celebrate the Doughnut Plant’s 7th anniversary, Mark Isreal and co are throwing a Doughnut Disco on a West Manhattan pier. As expected, Mark thinks all the cameras are there to film the event for his Food Network profile. Then Bobby Flay shows up.
Mark looks stunned as Bobby explains what’s happening, but agrees to the throwdown (I'm starting to hate this word). As Bobby walks away, Mark’s expression turns agitated. “What is this?! He tricked me into this! I’m not doing it!” (or words to that effect). Then comes a shot of a nervous looking Flay – as if thinking, this has never happened before. Now what? Next we see Isreal’s assistant giving him a pep talk and finally announcing, “We’ll do it. We’ll do it.” The only catch is Mark refuses to make any doughnuts from scratch. He says he doesn’t have the right equipment with him, and that he will only compete if he can use the pre-made Doughnuts he brought with him to the Disco. Flay agrees to the terms.
This whole episode really bothered me. The Doughnut plant is one of my all time favorite doughnut-houses, and witnessing such childish behavior from its founder was upsetting.
Bobby starts by unveiling his ever-so-chefy blackberry and white-chocolate ganache-filled yeast-raised with hazelnuts. Mark counters with his Chocolate Blackout – a chocolate cake doughnut stuffed with chocolate pudding – and a raspberry-glazed (the chunks of fresh fruit in the glaze look amazing). But the competitors can only submit one entry to the judges. So Mark pulls out his secret weapon – his popular Tres Leches Cake Doughnut. Based on the tradiaional Mexican cake recipe, the TL is a cake-doughnut injected with three different types of milk.
Mark released the Tres Leches this past May in honor of Cinco de Mayo. I happened to stop by the day it was released (I used to spend a lot of time at the Plant) and spoke with Mark: “We may have to keep this one on the menu. Everyone seems to love it," he said.
While we know the Tres Leches is top-notch (Blognut gave it a near perfect 9.8), Bobby’s sounds equally spectacular. He busts out a Bourbon Pecan-glazed (which he likens to a Paula Dean creation). Now they try each others. “That’s really good,” Bobby says with a mouthful of doughnut. “Doughy,” says Mark in reaction to Flay’s. Why must this guy be so unlikable?
In walk the judges – two NYPD cops. When asked what they look for in a Doughnut, one of the cops responds, “I want them light and not messy, so I can eat them on the go.” They start with Bobby’s Bourbon Pecan. “It’s too gooey, and the nuts would get all over my uniform. Plus, it’s challenging to chew.” And now Mark’s. “It’s fresh and airy. Just what I look for in a Doughnut. I do like the flavor of the Bourbon Pecan, but it’s not quite there. The Tres Leches wins.”
Mark looks relieved and smirks at the camera. He exchanges a painfully awkward handshake with Bobby, who flashes a toothy faux smile. At the beginning of the show, Flay had praised the Doughnut Plant as being his favorite Doughnut shop, and reported being a regular customer. But I’m pretty sure, that thanks to an awful premise for a television show, and a catty, unreceptive Doughnut Maker named Mark, he’ll never set foot in the Plant again.
But like I said at the beginning of this post, THANK YOU Bobby for throwing down with Mr. Isreal, because thanks to hundreds of people a day Google-ing “Tres Leches Doughnut,” Blognut’s readership has nearly doubled.