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Amateur chefs face off Downtown for Food Network

Monday, June 23, 2003

By Nancy Anderson, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A food fight was waged Downtown yesterday at the hip Bossa Nova restaurant, but no pies were thrown.

During taping of the Food Network television program "Food Fight" yesterday Kathy McCaffrey, left, prepares a salmon dish while host JD Roberto looks over her shoulder. McCaffrey and Cindi Rarig competed against their husbands, Tom McCaffrey and Bruce Rarig. The taping took place at Bossa Nova restaurant on Seventh Street in Pittsburgh. Click photo for larger image. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

The Food Network, an all-food-all-the-time cable TV channel, is in town, filming two episodes of its new show, "Food Fight," which pits teams of two amateur chefs against each other in a culinary race to the entree.

Yesterday, it was "Husbands vs. Wives," and today, it'll be "Folk Lovers vs. Opera Buffs."

Pittsburgh is one of 13 cities chosen by executive producer Scott Galloway for "Food Fight." It won out over Philadelphia, Cleveland and Cincinnati because producers liked what they saw while filming the Pittsburgh segment of "Food Finds" last summer.

On contest day, opposing teams are first presented with a basic entree, such as a meat, fish or pasta, then given $20 and two hours to shop for groceries. Staples are provided.

The goal is to out cook, out razz and out plate opponents. Efforts are judged by a panel of local food experts.

Eight residents who auditioned in early May were chosen to take up the saute pans.

"These are people who have spent their whole lives here. They're not transplants," said the show's producer, Kris Larsen. "We like that aspect."

Yesterday's taping of "Husbands vs. Wives" was a departure for the show, which prefers the teams not know each other. Obviously, these four were very well acquainted.

"Bruce Rarig and his brother-in-law, Jim McCaffrey, tried out as a team and were accepted," explained Larsen.

"We were trying to find a pair to team them with when Rarig suggested their wives."

Cindi Rarig and Kathy McCaffrey auditioned and were found to be "lively, personable and very good cooks," just what the show looks for in contestants, so the "strangers only" rule was waived.

Yesterday morning, the Pine-Richland couples arrived with their spouses at Bossa Nova, where three cameramen were ready to begin filming.

"We didn't discuss ideas or the show on the way in," Kathy McCaffrey stressed.

Before they left to shop, the main secret ingredient, salmon, was revealed to them and the rivals split up -- wives in one car, husbands in another -- for the trip to Giant Eagle on the South Side.

On the way, grocery lists were hastily drawn up and decisions made on how to cook and serve the fish with a flourish. Creativity and presentation, along with taste, garner high marks.

The men spent exactly $20.

"The check-out girl kept taking one asparagus off the scale and putting on another until the total was perfect." Bruce Rarig said.

The women went way over budget, $35, and had to return almost half of their items. They didn't know how that happened.

Upon returning to Bossa Nova, chopping blocks filled, saute pans sizzled, pots bubbled, whisks whirled and husbands tried to sneak a peak at the wives' table.

"The guys are cheating,'" Kathy McCaffrey yelled.

JD Roberto, the show's genial host, interacts with the cooks as they work away and keeps them informed on how many minutes are left.

He had just announced "20 minutes to go" when a fuse blew and everything went dark. Panic. The lights were back on in two minutes.

"That's a first for us," said Galloway, a Mt. Lebanon native.

The last five minutes were spent plating, primping and putting the final touches on three dishes for the judges.

Both teams had pan seared the salmon.

The wives added pesto tapanade, wild rice with cranberries and squash bundles. The men made a dill cream sauce to dollop on the fish, a cherry tomato and corn salad with Dijon and sauteed asparagus with red peppers.

The plates were colorful and looked appetizing.

Contestants were then hustled out of sight so the judges could enter: WQED's Rick Sebak, Chef Steff from Stefano's Ristorante and Washington Post food columnist Bob Wolke, who lives in Mount Washington.

Prizes vary from show to show, but yesterday's winners each received a convection oven and the losers bottles of wine.

The producers asked that the winner not be revealed.

The second episode is being filmed today at Dowe's on 9th. Shopping will be done at Whole Foods.

"Folk Lovers vs. Opera Buffs" pairs two Aspinwall women -- Kelsey Friday, a folk musician, and Faith Heinauer, a food enthusiast -- against two opera-loving Italian-American sisters -- Rosemary Sterner and Claudia DeSomma, both of Mount Washington.

Airing dates have not been chosen, but both episodes will be shown in the fall. "Food Fight" airs at 10 p.m. Thursdays.

Other cities selected for "Food Fight" included Boston, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Seattle.

Nancy Anderson can be reached at nanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3549.

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