Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sweet, Pete!

My good friend Pete Bakel the handsome, home-run hitting former Oxford Don centerfielder, won top honors on Rachael Ray's contest "Hey, Can You Cook?" a four-week elimination challenge a la Top Chef. For a kicker, Pete was judged the winner by none other than celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. And unlike Ramsay's angry-if-cultivated Hell's Kitchen persona (he's really a softie who loves puppies and children) Pete's a true sweetheart of guy and can't hide it. Hence his nickname on the show: Sweet Pete.

In the end, that sweetness won him the competition. The secret ingredient for the last round of competition was hot dogs, and his challenger, Angie, winner of that day's "quickfire," had won the the advantage of sticking Pete with low-fat turkey franks. She demurred, however, saying Pete had been sweet to her throughout the competition. She gave Pete the far superior Angus hot dogs, brimming with delicious salt, lips, assholes and nitrates. Of course, Pete prepared the dogs with scallop, caviar and creme fraiche.

I'm not at all surprised by Pete's win. I have eaten his food on many occasions and he is indeed a top-notch cook, with both imagination and a perfect palate. One memorable meal: my 33rd birthday. I was planning to stay in that night, just me and a six-pack or two, when Pete dropped in with a big bag of groceries. He whipped up four courses, including an amazing quail and a spicy shrimp pasta with red pepper and orange zest. Another memory, a pheasant hunting trip to my family's home in upstate New York. We bagged quite a few birds that day, minus one that Pete obliterated. He later whipped up a pheasant feast in my mother's kitchen.

Pete left New York for Washington DC some years ago to start a family. We all dearly miss him, so seeing him on TV looking every bit the star chef was fun for all of us. The best part of the show, by the way, was seeing Pete's lovely wife Beth and his adorable kids on set after he won. Oh, and here's some fun Pete Trivia: if not for Beth, Pete would only have 9 full fingers. He sliced off a fingertip one night in the kitchen, but amazingly, Beth, unflappable as always, was able to grab her husband, and his lopped-off finger chunk, and got them both to the hospital, where doctors made him whole again.

You could say Pete's already a winner. But for winning this competition, Pete will go to Paris for training at the Le Cordon Bleu, will have an original recipe published in Rachael Ray magazine (Pete can we be tasters?) and he gets a brand new kitchen with Viking appliances. Congratulations, Pete!--F

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