Saturday, September 11, 2010

"Food Wars" host traverses culinary battlegrounds

Camille Ford has always loved a good food fight.
No, not the kind that involve flinging a cream pie across a crowded cafeteria. Ford, a New York City resident for the past eight years, is the host of "Food Wars," the Travel Channel  series that finds cities in which two restaurants serve the same signature dish, then pits the proprietors against each other to determine who does the dish the best.
The show recently started a new season, which has already found Ford helping to determine (among other things) who has the best Coney dog in Detroit, and who has the best ribs in Kansas City. It's a fun concept but, during a recent phone interview, Ford said the competitors are usually dead serious in their quest to be the best at what they do.
 "You always want to be a little bit better," Ford said. "It's human nature. These people live in the same town. They serve the same food. They have the same clientele." Thus, being judged the best "is a big deal."

Pre-"Food Wars," Ford's background is an eclectic one that includes hosting talk shows on SIRIUS Satellite Radio, a stint as a TV newswoman, and producing the 2006 off-off-Broadway show "Jitter." But food has always been a passion of hers.

Even before she was refereeing these all-important battles, Ford was known in her circle of friends for hosting her own private "food wars" -- potluck dinner parties that combined cuisine and competition. "The rule was that every side dish had to compete with every other side dish," Ford explained. The creator of the "losing" entry had to do the dishes.
Ford's also engaged in food wars with her own siblings, with each determined to best the others in the kitchen. "We literally dry-ice ship our food across the country," she said. "It's very competitive."
Thus, she understands the psyches of the people she encounters on "Food Wars." Each episode of the series highlights a rivalry between two businesses that are within striking distance of each other (sometimes, they're right next door to one another). Both focus on the same type of food. In addition to the Coney island and Kansas City rib shows, previous episodes have focused on Buffalo wings, Italian beef sandwiches and the cheese-stuffed hamburger known as the Juicy Lucy. At episode's end, the food is judged by a superfan from each restaurant, as well as a panel of local experts.
Based on these votes, a "Food War" winner is declared. On the show, the competition appears upbeat and good-natured. But, Ford said, given how seriously everyone takes the battle, the staff and fans of the losing restaurants are often devastated.
"Every time, as the person doing it, it's just awful," she said. "As competitive as I am, it's terrible to see someone lose."
In the spirit of diplomacy, Ford declined to say which restaurants have been her favorites. "Every place has its charm," she said.
Upcoming episodes of the series will attempt to determine the answer to such all important questions as who has the best po'boy in New Orleans and who has the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia. Of the rest of the season, Ford makes three promises: "There's going to be a lot more rivalry, a lot more information and a lot more fun."

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