Project Fire – Behind the Scenes with Steven Raichlen

Barbie Q logoSteven Raichlen’s hot new show, Project Fire, centers on all that’s great in grilling these days, including iBBQ’s revolutionary Angara grill table. iBBQ has just kicked off 12 Weeks of Signature Recipes from the celebrated chef. There’s no question you’ll want to dig into a Wagyu Truffled Cheeseburger and his other tantalizing dishes, but let’s dig into the mind of the grill master himself…

Steven Raichlen headshot - Project Fire

Project Fire’s Steven Raichlen, shot by Roger Prouix

How did the idea for Project Fire come about? My previous show, Project Smoke, focused on the arts of smoking and barbecuing. With the new show, I wanted to return to a subject I’ve been writing about for 20 years—grilling—but with an eye to the latest grills (like the Angara), tools, fuels, and techniques. I wanted to get viewers thinking about meals/courses we don’t normally think of grilling (like breakfast and desserts) and foods we don’t normally grill, such as cocktails, paella, and eggs. In other words, grilling today and tomorrow.

Tell us a little about the show. Like my previous shows, there’s a strong how-to component in Project Fire because our viewers want to learn, step by step, how to take their grilling to the next level. But I also wanted to share the backstory—the chefs and restaurants I turn to for inspiration. So we have guests on the new show and field trips around southern California. Also, we continue to take viewers behind the scenes—show them not only how we grill, but how we put a grilling show together. Some of our staff, like food stylist Nora Singley and field chef Chris Lynch, have become stars in their own right!

Any funny stories from filming? Well, there were some funny experiences. Like when I got to ride a wagyu steer at the Fess Parker Ranch. (Happily, wagyus not only produce extraordinarily rich beef, they’re also extremely friendly and docile.) I’m not sure this was always funny, but the two weeks we taped turned out to be some of the coldest weather on record in the Santa Ynez Valley. You’ll see me dressed for summer (it was painful). When you see the behind-the-scenes shots, the crew is wearing parkas, boots, scarves, wool hats, etc. Man, it was cold!

I hear you even grill eggs. What is the craziest thing you have tried to grill and how did it turn out? I love grilled eggs, which I first experienced in Vietnam. The version we do on the show (with cream, parmesan, and prosciutto “bacon”) is something I often make for breakfast at home. Some of the other “crazy” dishes we grilled during Project Fire include: salmon coulibiac (a Franco-Russian dish traditionally baked in brioche—we cooked it on the grill). Grilled paella, planked amaretti stuffed pears, smoked whipped cream, and grilled bellinis.

What are some of the coolest new inventions/products in the grilling world? Well, first and foremost would be the Angara grill. The concept of a table grill you cook on and eat at is as revolutionary as it is fun. We also showcased plancha grilling and salt slab grilling (great for fish and our salt-slab grilled chocolate brownie s’mores).

What is the most delicious food you prepared/tasted during Project Fire? Honestly, it was all delicious—as attested to by the fact that the crew ate every dish clean. Some of my personal favorites included:

  • lemongrass chicken skewers
  • halibut grilled with Asian spices in banana leaves
  • lamb steaks with Moroccan spices and charmoula
  • dessert quesadillas

Tell us a little about your background and how/why you got obsessed with grilling? I graduated with a degree in French literature and took a wrong turn. (Actually, the first part of that is true.) After college, I won a Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellowship to study, of all things, Medieval Cooking in Europe. That led me to think about the intersection of food, history, and culture, and I’ve been doing it every since. The grilling obsession began with the research for my book The Barbecue Bible. A simple but profound realization came to me: that grilling is the world’s oldest and most universal cooking method, but it’s done differently in every country and culture. That became the subject of The Barbecue Bible, and I’ve spent the last 20 years exploring those differences (and what makes us similar when we grill). It still fascinates me today.

Something that would surprise people about you? My favorite pastime is reading novels in French and studying languages. Every morning, I take a bike ride from 6 to 7 a.m., during which I listen to language courses or French radio.

Books on your nightstand? I just finished a terrific novel called The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron. I’m currently reading Le Confident by Helene Gremillon, By Its Cover (a Brunetti novel by Donna Leon), A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, and Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. Also a couple French and Italian books.

Must-haves in your pantry/fridge? Really excellent extra virgin olive oil. (I get it from a club called The Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Club). Pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika). Moroccan preserved lemons. Vietnamese fish sauce. Sambal ulek (Indonesian chili paste). As you can see, I love big flavors.

And most surprising food item in your pantry/fridge? Malt powder. I love it on bananas!

Stay tuned for Steven’s Lemon and Parmesan Grilled Asparagus Recipe this Thursday—and find out why eating asparagus will help alleviate your hangover!

 

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