Earlier this month, Food Network host Ted Allen went to the White House for Michelle Obama's final speech as first lady, at a ceremony honoring the 2017 school counselor of the year. On the eve of Donald Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration, Allen, a self-proclaimed "news junkie" who started his career as a newspaper copy editor in Indiana and print journalist in Chicago, will be nowhere near Washington, D.C.
He'll be making his first visit to Kuro restaurant at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood for a benefit dinner with one of his favorite New York chefs and "Chopped" judges, Marcus Samuelsson.
Samuelsson, a James Beard Award-winning chef who owns the acclaimed Red Rooster in Harlem, and Kuro executive chef Alex Becker will prepare a six-course meal, and then Allen will lead a post-dinner Q and A with the chefs. Tickets are still available for the Jan. 19 event ($175, or $250 for a VIP package with cocktail hour), which benefits the James Beard Foundation's scholarship program.
"Some people will come because they watch our show," Allen says in a phone interview. "Some people will come because they're interested in Marcus' cooking or they have read his books. Some will come because they're involved in the industry and they want to establish a beachhead with the Beard Foundation. And some people might just be hungry."
Allen says on Thursday he will steer clear of politics and the angst that's been enveloping him and many of his Brooklyn neighbors.
Last decade, at the same time Trump was becoming a big reality TV star with "The Apprentice," Allen was gaining prominence as the food and beverage maven on Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" (eventually known as simply "Queer Eye.")
"We actually shot a 'Queer Eye' episode with him," Allen, 51, says. "We taped a segment in his boardroom. I didn't have to sit next to him, thank God. We went through his office, with all those magazine covers of himself everywhere and all his other knickknacks. The thing I remember most is it was dirty. And dusty."
What 'Queer Eye' advice would Allen give Trump today? "I don't even want to answer that," he says. "Not to be uncooperative, but at this point, I don't want to put anything with him in a comedic light. He's obviously unqualified for the job. I have no respect for him. I don't see anything funny about it. This is serious."
I say the Kuro dinner offers a perfect symbolic antidote to the incoming administration: The star chef, Samuelsson, is a black immigrant born in Ethiopia and adopted by a Swedish family who came to America to find culinary fame and entrepreneurial fortune. The emcee, Allen, is a married gay man who at least says, "I'm sorry" before telling people they've been "chopped" from the competitive Food Network cooking show he has hosted since 2008. And the dinner takes place in a casino that's actually profitable, a result Trump couldn't achieve with his gambling empire.
Samuelsson, who will sign copies of his recently released "Red Rooster Cookbook" at the VIP cocktail reception, has an incredible life story, which he told in his 2012 memoir, "Yes, Chef." Born in Ethiopia as Kassahun Tsegie, he and his sister were orphaned when his mother died after taking them on a 75-mile trek to the hospital during a tuberculosis epidemic. They were adopted by a Swedish family and given new names. His earliest memory in Sweden: "Food coming out of the fridge," he said on a recent edition of Ed Levine's "Serious Eats" podcast. "We had never seen anything like that before." When they arrived in Sweden, their bodies couldn't handle eating three meals a day.
Samuelsson went on to apprentice at restaurants in Switzerland and Austria, and at Aquavit in New York. There, he became executive chef at 24 and earned three stars from the New York Times, the youngest person to do so. Now 45, he has an expanding restaurant and media portfolio, and is a frequent judge on food shows across the dial.
"Marcus has this childlike enthusiasm in everything he does," Allen says. "He's always standing up, craning his neck to see what the contestants are doing with their dishes when he's a judge, as excited as can be. You can't fake that. ... And Red Rooster is just this amazing scene. I like to sit at the front bar, because it always feels like a party. There's so much energy."
Allen says he made a duck dish from the Red Rooster cookbook the night before we spoke, and it was "incredible." Those who shell out for Samuelsson and Becker's collaborative dinner may hope to be similarly wowed. Becker, who worked with the Nobu group before arriving at Kuro, has a budding relationship with the James Beard Foundation. In October, he traveled to the James Beard House in New York to prepare a visiting-chef dinner. Kuro is happy to support the Beard Foundation's National Scholars program, which awards up to $20,000 in tuition for those interested in becoming chefs and line cooks, food and beverage managers, wine experts and nutritionists.
Among the offerings on Thursday: king crab with persimmon, daikon and lemon vinaigrette; berbere smoked salmon with mustard seed, fennel and potato salad; poached sea robin in a green-tea broth; Ideue Farm's wagyu rib-eye with toro tartar; and All About the Bird, a whole chicken stuffed with chicken, oyster and foie gras. Wines will be paired with each course.
Eat, drink and be merry, for on Friday, Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th U.S. president.
Tickets for the Jan. 19 James Beard Foudation dinner at Kuro, 1 Seminole Way, in Hollywood, are available at Ticketmaster.com: $175 for the 7:30 p.m. dinner and Q and A, or $250 for a VIP package including pre-dinner cocktail hour. Call 954-327-7625 or go to SeminoleHardRockHollywood.com/JBF.