Zagat: Tell us about the new season of Chef Wanted - how will it be different from the last?
AB: I have to say the caliber of chefs that we are getting and the caliber of restaurants is really good, and we’ve branched out across the whole country, from Puerto Rico to Hawaii. So the range of restaurants is huge.
Zagat: Without giving away too much, what was the most difficult challenge for you?
AB: The restaurant industry in and of itself is a difficult thing. Each restaurant presents its own unique situations. Finding chefs to meet the needs of each restaurant is quite a challenge. You have to roll with the punches and look at each opportunity as a new and exciting thing. Being on the road this much is exhausting and exhilarating and delightful. The people you meet are just great.
Zagat: What’s the most important quality you look for in a chef?
AB: Quite honestly, I’m looking for someone who is a really hard worker and someone that has a positive attitude because this industry is too hard to have a Debbie Downer. And it’s really somebody who is willing to embrace the challenge and take on new opportunities, and someone who is willing to attack the job.
Zagat: Can you tell us anything about the upcoming fourth season of Worst Cooks?
AB: I’m doing it with my buddy Bobby Flay again - he came back for more even though I beat him last season. We have a whole new round of hopelessly terrible cooks. It’s always an endless supply of shocking moments where I’m like, “People are really this bad?” Every season when I go back I think I'm mentally prepared for it, and I’m just not.
Zagat: Is there one common mistake that you see novice cooks make again and again?
AB: It’s crazy to me - they know they’re bad cooks, and when you know you don’t know how to do something, you usually go somewhere for some guidance, right? These people would die before they open a cookbook. Quite honestly, if they followed a recipe, they might be a little bit better.
Zagat: Would you ever want to return to working in a kitchen full time?
AB: If something runs terribly amok with the Food Network, I may have to, but what I love about this business is that there are so many opportunities to do so many things. To put myself back exclusively in a restaurant? I don’t know if I could do that again, but I definitely miss being around a restaurant. And I’m working on getting myself together to do another one.
Zagat: Do you plan to open your own restaurant?
AB: I’m actually working on getting one together - in New York. Opening will be a future date yet to be determined. It will definitely have a nod to the Italian. I’m going around the country now finding chefs, and every time I go to a restaurant people ask, “Don’t you want this job?” And I’m like, “I kind of do!” I love doing Chef Wanted so much, and I love that I’m back in kitchens in restaurants, but it makes me want to be one of the contestants every single time. I want to do these challenges too.
Zagat: How do you think food TV has changed since your early days on Iron Chef America?
AB: We’ve definitely taken a turn toward the reality show rather than the “stand and stir” kind of concept. It’s definitely progressed into more competition-y kinds of things. What I do love about Chef Wanted is that it gives people an inside look at what truly happens in restaurants. And it gives them an idea of how stressful and how difficult working in restaurants actually is.
Zagat: Who are the most exciting Italian chefs in the country right now?
AB: I have to go with my mentor, Mario Batali, and any disciple of him. Mark Ladner is burning things up these days. Mario Carbone at Torrisi and Parm is so amazing. Michael White, Scott Conant and Missy Robbins are all really amazing Italian chefs.
Zagat: What do you think is the most common misconception about Italian food?
AB: That’s it’s all about pasta and spaghetti and tomato sauce. People say, “I’m not eating carbs. I can’t have Italian.” Do you realize how small a part of the Italian kitchen pasta is? There’s so much more to the Italian kitchen than pasta and tomato sauce.
Zagat: Is there one Italian dish or ingredient that you can’t stand?
AB: I wish I could eat calf’s liver, and I just can’t.