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Katherine Alford Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Katherine AlfordKatherine Alford joined the Food Network in 2000 to work in their Test Kitchen, where the recipes are tested for the Food Network's competition shows, website, cookbooks, and now the Food Network Magazine. As the Food Network Test Kitchen Director, she works with food begind the scenes on a daily basis. As a judge on this season's Ultimate Recipe Showdown , she gets to work with the contestants and other judges in an on-camera position.

Season three of Ultimate Recipe Showdown , hosted by Guy Fieri, began with thousands of recipes submitted by everyday home cooks from across America, which were then narrowed down to finalists within six main categories: Comfort Food, Party Food, Hot & Spicy, Burgers, Cakes & Desserts and Hometown Favorites. The judges then choose a winner who receives $25,000. We had a chance to speak with Katherine Alford about Ultimate Recipe Showdown and the test kitchen in general.

Question:
For a competition show like Ultimate Recipe Showdown, how many recipes does the test kitchen have to make to get down to the finalists?

Katherine Alford:
Thousands, let's just put thousands. We had over 8,000 submissions this year and we have an entire team who comes in and literally spends months working on this. They read through them, multiple teams read through them. You'll look at a recipe and someone will say "oh this sounds great to me", and they'll hand it off to someone else and ask "what do you think about this?" So, it's really not just one person's opinion, it's really like how does this appeal to a wider range of people? And then we get them culled down to the top couple hundred in each category and we read through the recipes in terrific detail and sort of cook it through in our heads, and then we go into the kitchen.

Question:
That sounds daunting.

Katherine Alford:
And then we taste them. That's actually the most daunting part of it. We get a panel of at least ten to fifteen tasters. Some are professionals, some are just part of the Food Network team who are not necessarily cooks - they have a lot of great insight into it, and then we say what tastes good. And then when we get down to the finals, then they go onto the show.

Question:
That's impressive.

Katherine Alford:
It's kind of an amazing process.

Question:
Could you walk us through what an average day in the Food Network test kitchen would be like?

Katherine Alford:
what's an average day in the test kitchen? Well, A. - every day is completely different because we're not like a restaurant where the food is always the same. But generally we all come in in the morning and, to be honest, we all have breakfast together and we sit around and we chat and we talk and get ourselves sort of organized about what's the day. Then the recipe testers and developers talk about what recipes they are going to be tasting and then we'll cook all morning long. I'll edit all morning long and be looking at recipes.

Then we have a tasting at 1:00 and it could be two dishes or it could be twelve dishes. It really depends on the cycles of food that we're in. So we just taste them all. We put them all out on the table, we look at them for both visual, for questions and queries about the recipe, and we get feedback from the whole team - sort of looking at what direction we want to be. I give that feedback to them and it will get incorporated into the recipes. If we can, and we have the ingredients here, we'll do it again or we'll have another round of tastings at 4:00. And it could be the same thing all over again. So the honest answer it we basically eat all day long.

Question:
You do the recipes for the web site and the shows?

Katherine Alford:
The test kitchen is primarily right now responsible for all the recipes that you'll find in Food Network Magazine. And each issue has over 120 recipes in it so, just to put that into context, that's a cookbook. Most cookbook authors will take a year and a half to work on that. We do that every six weeks.

Question:
Before you even began filming Ultimate Recipe Showdown, since everyone knew it was being broken down into six categories as it had in the past, which of those categories were you most looking forward to as a judge and which were you most dreading?

Katherine Alford:
My favorite category always, and one of the ones I really advocated with the producers, was Hometown Favorites because I think that's where you really get those quirky American regional food stories, and it's always interesting to see what people are cooking all across the country. It's a way to promote the idea of local food and local cuisine. I really love that. It's so funny because where you see the most pride of place in America is southern food. We get so much southern food in that category and, as a partially southern gal, I really love that. I think it's really interesting to see how great and how passionate people are at cooking southern foods, southern regional foods. Just the difference between what you get in the Carolinas and what you might get in Mississippi or Texas. So, I love that category.

I have to be honest, the comfort food category always is a little daunting because that's a lot of macaroni and cheese. When you're tasting and tasting and tasting that - comfort food satisfies pretty quickly. So, I feel a little bit heavy after that.

Question:
I can imagine. Ok, I have a strange one for you to finish. Has there ever been anything like a food fight in the test kitchen?

Katherine Alford:
You mean physically flinging food? We can have some very heated things like "I think it should be this" and "No, no, no it's should be this." We can go head-to-head, whether it's does a guacamole have lime in it. I mean, I've gone "does a guacamole have lime juice or does it not have lime juice?" Sometimes there's an absurdity about the conversations we have. I'd say there are food fights, but generally we keep ourselves clean.

Go to the Ultimate Recipe Showdown page.

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