Reality TV shows starring Dallas chefs have already sucked the life from several of our high-profile culinary magicians. Tre Wilcox and Casey Thompson were both flying high in their respective careers before they competed on Bravo’s Top Chef. Not only did they lose the stiff competition, but they also both “lost” their jobs. Wilcox was the high-profile chef de cuisine at Abacus. He is now a national cookware consultant and private chef. Thompson wooed diners as the executive chef at Shinsei, the sexy Asian restaurant owned and operated by Lynae Fearing and Tracy Rathbun. Earlier in the year, she left her post and Dallas. According to her web site, she is currently “doing special wine dinners at many of the major wineries throughout Northern California.” Her events schedule has not been updated since June.
So forgive me for being a little pessimistic in the face of Central 214’s chef Blythe Beck’s eternally optimistic outlook on her upcoming series, The Naughty Kitchen With Chef Blythe Beck. Scheduled to debut on Oxygen on September 22, the show follows Beck, who is “plus-sized in stature and personality,” and her staff around her naughty kitchen at Central 214 at the Hotel Palomar. From what I’ve heard, Beck swears like a sailor and refers to her hostesses as Door Whores. What’s not to like about that?
As a former Door Whore and a current curser, I was intrigued. So I headed over to Central 214 to get a preview of Beck’s act before it hits the big time. Shocker! The reality show chef was not in her kitchen! And there was nothing naughty about the dining room. The restaurant isn’t gaudy; it is beautiful and airy, with light neutral tones, white marble, and soft lighting. Confused, I asked the waiter, “So what is all of this naughty business here?” He didn’t have a pat answer. He just muttered, “Well, our chef fries a lot of things and uses a lot of cream and butter.” Oh, I get it. Like you feel naughty when you eat it? Oh, there it is on the menu: spicy fried lobster, chicken fried Kobe beef, and naughty cream corn. Okay, it seems f---ing wrong to chicken-fry a lovely piece of Kobe beef. But I’ll bite. This time. Just once.
As the Kobe beef sizzled in the deep fat fryer, my friend and co-worker, Jennifer Chininis, and I discussed the menu. Jennifer has been to the Naughty Kitchen—f---, sorry—Central 214 before. In fact, she reviewed it earlier this summer. In her review, she mentions the Oxygen show, but the food she described sounded really nice. “Jennifer, grilled sea scallops with a beautiful caramelized crust is f---ing spa cuisine,” I said. “Tonight you are going face down on a slab of grilled rib-eye covered with creamy blue cheese and some chicken-fried okra.”
We loosened our belts and waited for culinary disaster. The waiter appeared with two huge, white plates and set one before me. A giant battered and fried piece of meat sat on top of a glob of buttery whipped potatoes and a mound of slow braised mustard greens. A neat little lake of gravy spilled over the plate on one side. It looked like Big Foot had walked across the plate.
Jennifer’s serving was no smaller. The rib-eye was thin and almost a foot long. As promised, the meat was surrounded by a sea of creamy blue cheese and a pile of golden brown whole okra pods.
We caught ourselves doe-eyed and covering our mouths with our hands. “No way,” I said. “This is just gross. It’s like truck-stop fine dining. I can’t waste calories this close to the State Fair.”
Jennifer went first. “OMG it’s so good. And it’s really not that heavy,” she said as she cut another bite of her rib-eye. I grabbed a knife and fork and sliced into the puffy batter on my chicken-fried steak. It crackled and crunched—always a good sign. I popped it in my mouth. The batter didn’t disintegrate; it stayed crunchy as the tender meat softly disappeared between my teeth. I dipped the next bite deep into the mound of gravy-covered potatoes and filled my big, fat mouth. “Oh my god,” I mumbled rudely. “This is f---ing fabulous.” I could not stop myself from plowing through the whole plate of food. “We have to stop,” said Jennifer. “We are going to hate ourselves in the morning.”
“No, Jennifer,” I said. “We are not going to hate ourselves. We are going to hate Blythe Beck. She made us do it. She’s a naughty girl.”