WHAT A GRIND | Ted Allen used to run from ‘Queer Eye.’ But now he jokes about it with a signature campy twinkle. (Arnold Wayne Jones./Dallas Voice)

‘Chopped’ host Ted Allen still keeps his queer eyes on the prize

Life+Style Editor

Ted Allen wants people to enjoy their food and enjoy their wine. He just wants to make sure they are doing it the right way.

“If you’re a white zinfandel person, we’re not gonna be mean to you,” he says to a roomful of gourmands gathered for the kickoff of Taste Addison last month. Not mean, huh? Well, not too mean.

But Allen can be fussy in that oh-so-gay way we all enjoy. He emphasizes that “bruschetta” is properly pronounced “broo-SKET-uh” (“some people pronounce it ‘broo-shet-uh’ … and they are wrong” he chastises) and he defends “arugula, which sounds like a fancy east coast lettuce, but it’s not — it’s very peppery.”

He’s composing his own chimichurri, dressing a “Texas sized” piece of flank steak and pairing it with a California cab. He leaves nothing to chance.

Allen has a sense of humor, too. He’s doing a cooking demonstration alongside Dallas restaurateur Richard Chamberlain, who hands him a giant peppermill. Allen brandishes the unit like a pro.

“You are aware of how I got my start in television, right?” Allen jokes. The room laughs, Chamberlain included. “This is supposed to be a family show.”

Actually, everyone does know how Allen got his start in TV.

Unlike a lot of TV culinary experts, Allen was never a chef or caterer — “the only cooking I’ve ever done is for my family and friends,” he says. Rather, he was a journalist, best known as a restaurant critic and food writer for Esquire and other publications, when he was tapped, in 2003, to join a new Bravo series where gay men give metrosexual makeovers to hopeless heteros. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy exploded on the pop culture scene, winning Allen and his co-hosts an Emmy Award and, it’s safe to say, giving a fun, friendly face of gay to middle America.

Queer Eye went off the air in 2007, and, despite its influence, ran only 99 episodes (“They thought it was 100 but somebody miscounted”). Yet there are still “people who only know me from that,” Allen says.

Top Chef, on which he served as a judge for four seasons after Queer Eye went off the air, doubled QE’s ratings, but still his moniker as “the Food Guy” became his inescapable shorthand. It used to bother him, but not anymore.

“When [the show] was starting to tail off, I thought, ‘I need to get away from this.’ But you can’t. It was futile. It opened all these doors for me.”

His gig for the last few years has been hosting Chopped on the Food Network, which he describes as a “completely self-contained culinary game show” where, round-robin style, chefs go head-to-head in cooking a full meal, with one emerging victorious. “Those are 12-hour days,” Allen says, “and I am standing the whole fucking day!” It’s even worse for the contestants, he asserts. (The seventh season of 39 new episodes launches at the end of July.)

Then there’s his role as spokesman for the Robert Mondavi Discovery Wine Tour, which is what brought him to Taste Addison for the third time. And a new cookbook coming out. And … Well, let’s just say life did not end with Queer Eye.

It’s not only sweet for Allen, it’s something he savors. Especially with a Thai fish stew and three-layer cake.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 3, 2011.