Sammy DeMarco's Travel Channel series Chow Masters kicks off tomorrow night with two episodes starting at 6 p.m. PDT. DeMarco, the chef behind the former First Food & Bar at the Palazzo and Rattlecan at the Venetian, filmed 13 half-hour episodes with Frank Coraci, the Hollywood director behind three Adam Sandler mega-hits Click, The Waterboy and The Wedding Singer.
The duo travels America in search of creative comfort food from off the map joints. Three dishes vie for a $10,000 cash prize and the Golden Skillet award. The first episode tomorrow night heads to New York City, featuring breakfast fare, then on to Nashville for barbecue.
I've been traveling a lot for the show. I have a few irons in the fire, but nothing to talk about," DeMarco tells Eater Vegas on the phone. "I've been in Australia for almost two years. I always envisioned [my family] coming seeing it. I have so many miles piled up. We wrapped in Miami and I just can't imagine traveling that far," DeMarco says while he's on vacation in Florida.
Here, DeMarco talks about how he landed the show that's nearly two years in the making, what he discovered on his travels and whether he ever really wanted a TV show.
How did you convince the Travel Channel to pay you to go around tasting food you'd pay to discover?
Honestly, it wasn't like I pitched them. They did come to me. I'm passionate about entertaining. I love the camaraderie to get the word out about other places. In our business, it's so important to support colleagues. I enjoyed the opportunity.
I don't know how. I think it was my mini burgers that brought us together, my hook in. My name came up when they were casting other people. I started this almost two years ago.
The most unusual part is that usually I put the cake in the oven, it's done and out and I get feedback. In my business, I usually get instant gratification. This is so odd for me to see how America views us.
Frank Coraci is my best buddy and that added pressure for me on camera to make sure I'm fresh. The show is mainly about us traveling around America. It's about fun food we all know and love.
I think when you see the relationship with Frank, you'll see how we've been friends for 40 years. We built a fort together as kids. It was a unique opportunity and experience for us with me crossing over into his world. This is the first time Frank's on the other side of the camera.
Frankie being next to me pushed me to be the best I can be. I'm a high-energy person but lows really come through. This was literally like giving birth.
This is a contest. How tough is it to judge your fellow chefs?
Listen, I think that one thing about the show is that it's comfort food. We were fortunate that the 13 shows we shot, I think the chefs were getting out the plate they wanted. I had to make sure the chef gets out the plate they want. I told them, "Make sure the first plate is the one you want judged. We judge on the first bite."
I noticed at different times the food was getting cold and we were losing the food.
Some dishes playful, some culinary dishes, novelty items. Some are more decadent. I've been very fair. We don't always agree. Frank and I deliberate a dish. We had a code of honor that we really want to get things right.
Frankie is a very well-eaten person. He's eaten my food forever. He loves to eat. We all gotta eat.
My mom was sitting with me the other day and she described how something she saw tasted. She just watched a piece of the show and saw a couple things I was describing. "You liked the way it tasted," she said.
There's regular comfort food and then you find items on the road like the barbecue sandwich made with Goo Goo Clusters and blueberry slaw, but served in a fine dining restaurant.
How long have you being wishing you had your own show?
Ah, no. I always say in my heart, I'm a cook at heart. I love opening, creating, conceptualizing restaurants. I love that immediate gratification.
I'm really missing my restaurants in Vegas. I'm really pushing to do this with the right people. I might do some popups. I've been cautious in what I'm doing.
As for the show, I was always told that I should do it. It's almost part of our repertoire as a chef. You have to do a book. You have to have a show. You need to be a household name. A lot of guys that started and gave me an opportunity to be out there like Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse opened up the world to all these flavors. Before it was only the biggest cities that were open to that. The more food TV there is, the more people are learning and the more people are getting excited about food. That's exciting for chefs. They're really getting the word out
I've been focused on comfort food and traveling the world. I'm so well-traveled. I've been to Cuba, Brazil, but I hadn't really done America. I fell in love with Austin, I think that comes through on the show. I'm inspired by what the chefs are doing. We had some pretty good meals.
The show is hitting on all the right notes. It takes all the planets to align to make it work.
What surprises should we expect?
We are bringing on guests that I think will be surprising. There's a lot going on — traveling, food, humor, friendship. I think the trailers give you a lot on that. Other than that, we're bringing on guests to fortify what we're doing.
Any items you'd like to add to your menus and anybody you'd like to hire?
Well, I think one of the things that would be cool is doing a book as we're doing the show and kind of take those recipes as inspiration. I would love do my taco of inspiration that came from Austin.
We haven't had a bad dish. All of the dishes have a market for each of the cities out there. I've been inspired to see what's happening.
We go to a lot of off-cities like Austin and Denver, so it's really cool to see that America is flourishing from end to end. It's such a bigger canvas than we had 10 to 15 years.
We hit a lot of the main places people know. I think it's going to open doors up. This is the first year. You have to remember no one knew of us. The first year it's trickier to find the spots and get the restaurants to commit. We call it food porn and we're joking but it looks really sexy.
We've had grown men cry. They spend two days in kitchen and then we come in and shoot and then all meet back at the kitchen for judging. By the end of that last judging table, it's real. You feel that emotion. It's been an experience for me. I have enjoyed it and would love to see it continue.
For me, too, I'd like to see the chefs and the city get notoriety. Cities are known for certain products. That helps bring it all together.
· Sammy DeMarco's Chow Masters Debuts April 22 [~ELV~]
· All Coverage of Sammy DeMarco [~ELV~]