Photos courtesy of the Travel Channel
In the show’s first round, Clint Cantwell used mystery ingredients bologna and red cabbage to prepare bacon-wrapped smoked bologna with red cabbage sauerkraut and mustard.
In a city where grilling is an iconic skill set for both chefs and home cooks, earning the title of Memphis Grill Master is an impressive bragging right.
Toss in a $10,000 prize from the Travel Channel’s American Grilled, and local griller Clint Cantwell, who beat three other contestants in the show’s Memphis episode, feels pretty darn good.
“It was fun to see how the show was edited and to hear what the judges had to say while we were cooking,” Clint said about the “Battle on Beale Street” episode that aired Wednesday night. “And my kids were thrilled to find out that I’d won.”
The show’s first season, filmed in cities across the country, features locally sourced ingredients and three elimination rounds similar to Food Network’s Chopped. For instance, the surprise ingredients in round one were bologna and red cabbage. Cantwell made bacon-wrapped smoked bologna with mustard and grilled red cabbage sauerkraut.
“Clint used all the ingredients in nontraditional ways and really showed he could think on his feet,” said Chef Kelly English, who judged the episode along with show host David Guas, chef/owner of Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Virginia, and native Memphian Claire Robinson from the Food Network’s 5 Ingredient Fix. Guas, Robinson, and English are pictured above.
“I used every single ingredient that was given in each round and made sure that I showcased the local Memphis flavor in the best possible way,” he said.
A resident of Germantown, Cantwell and his family moved to the area two years ago after spending 20 years in New York City, where Cantwell worked for large public relations firms. But the couple weren’t newcomers to Memphis. Cantwell started visiting in the mid-1990s with his wife, whose parents lived on the Bluffs downtown, providing easy access to the International Memphis in May Barbecue Cooking Contest.
“Every May we would come down and go to barbecue fest,” Cantwell said. “Plus I grew up in Texas, so barbecue and grilling is in my blood.”
Back home on Long Island, Cantwell organized a competitive barbecue team and started blogging, catching the attention of Kingsford. Five years ago, the charcoal giant hired him to develop and edit the blog grilling.com, a position he still holds today. Cantwell also operates his own public relations company, representing such clients as Melissa Cookston and the Memphis Barbecue Co.
“These days, grilling and barbecue is a lifestyle that has moved way beyond the backyard,” Cantwell said. “People are embracing all of it: recipes, television, equipment, competitions.”
Before and after the show aired, I asked Cantwell about behind the scenes and the pressure of cooking for a high-energy television crew. Here’s some of what he had to say:
Memphis Stew: How did you compete to be a contestant on American Grilled?
Cantwell: The producers did Skype interviews and videos. They narrowed it down to a few and brought those people in for the network. I knew I was in the running, but I didn’t know I had been selected until about a week before the show was filmed.
Was filming the show nerve-racking?
I was pretty calm. I just decided to do the best I could. I would make a decision about what to do and just go with it.
Was any one ingredient more difficult to cook with than others?
The pork belly was tough given the time restraints. Normally with pork belly, I cure it or smoke it and turn it into bacon. Or I might slow roast it so it breaks down into something really delicious. There wasn’t time on the show to do any of that.
Did you practice at home?
I did try to come up with some bizarre ingredients they might throw at us, but you couldn’t practice because the show was in production and we didn’t know anything about the grill set up or the timing. We met with the production company, went through the rules, and started shooting the next day.
Is there more television in your future?
I hope so. It was such a blast shooting this show, and I’d love it if the Travel Channel would bring the winners of all 13 episodes of American Grilled together next season for an all-star battle.