Spoiler alert. If you didn't see last week's Food Network “Beat Bobby Flay” TV show, don't read this.
Local chef Bill Clifton did not beat Flay, although he won the first-round competition and may have opened the door to future TV work.
Going up against Flay in the second round of the May 2 show, Clifton chose corn-and-crab chowder with a corn fritter and chive oil as his go-to dish. “Corn is one of Flay's favorite ingredients so I wanted to beat him at his best,” he said.
“Of course, people are telling me I should have won,” he said. The three judges in the final round did not agree.
The half-hour show was edited down from a 12-hour marathon day of filming. When he was introduced on the show, Clifton said, “I'm here representing the small towns of Delaware.”
Clifton is executive chef and co-owner of The Counting House Restaurant and Pub in Georgetown, formerly The Brick Hotel Restaurant. At the time of filming a year ago in New York City, he was a chef at Henlopen City Oyster House in Rehoboth Beach.
Clifton said now everyone comes to his restaurant wanting to eat corn chowder. “I understand it, but it's hard for me because I like to use fresh local corn when it's in season,” he said.
Using pumpernickel bread
Clifton's first dish had to feature pumpernickel bread, something he has never used in a recipe. “We found out about it at that moment in the show. I had no idea what to do and only a few seconds to think about it,” he said.
He and competitor Stephan Bogardus, executive chef at Halyard Restaurant on Long Island, N.Y., had only 20 minutes to prepare a dish for the two celebrity judges, comedian Tony Rock and chef Alex Guamaschelli.
Clifton chose to cook what he calls “Toad in the Hole.” It's essentially an egg with other ingredients cooked in the hollowed-out center of the bread.
His opponent cooked a lamb tartare dish that resembled artwork when it was completed. “When I looked at it, I'm thinking I lost. But my egg was cooked perfectly, and I was happy with that,” he said. “The other dish was probably a little too fancy.”
“What made it even more challenging was that Tony Rock had a long list of dietary restrictions including things like bacon, sausage and ham, one of which I would have loved to use,” he said.
He said, ironically, prior to the show his best friend, Nick Crawford, had given him a dish to prepare using a baguette as the main ingredient, something he would not normally prepare. “He told me to keep it simple and stay within myself. He was 100 percent correct,” he said.
Watched show at Greenwood home
Clifton stayed home with his 1-year-old son and watched the show May 2 with a friend, Josh Nash, and his brother, John. His wife, Lea, was attending a librarians conference in Cambridge, Md., and couldn't be home. “We had Facetime going with her at her hotel,” he said.
Earlier that day, his restaurant hosted a special happy hour in honor of his appearance on the show.
Clifton said he lived up to his promise not to reveal the outcome of the show except to his wife, mother and father.
Clifton, a 1998 Milford High School graduate, went from working at Grotto Pizza to Kendall College in Chicago to working at some of the top restaurants in the country before returning to Sussex County.
Last summer, he and partner Miguel Batiz purchased the former historic Brick Hotel Restaurant on The Circle in Georgetown, renaming it The Counting House Restaurant and Pub.
The format of the show – in its 20th season – includes a cook-off between two chefs whose dishes are judged by two of Flay's invited guests. The winner then competes against Flay with the contestant's signature dish, which is blind-taste-tested by three judges.
More TV work for Clifton?
Clifton said he thinks the show's producers were impressed with him. “I'm a goober and like to have a good time. They liked my personality and have asked me to do more,” he said, without going into details.
“Life is all about opportunities and experiences,” he said.