By Lisa Browdy
Judson Todd Allen isn't just a celebrity chef wannabe. He has used his culinary talents to craft recipes that are both healthy and delicious, changing his own lifestyle to lose 115 pounds. And now he's shooting to become the next "Food Network Star."
Starting May 13 at 8 p.m., Judson Allen becomes the second Oak Park chef this year to appear on a Food Network reality show. But unlike Maggie Latos, who appeared on one episode of "Fat Chef" and had mixed results on her weight loss journey, Allen comes into "Food Network Star" having already completed a healthy lifestyle change and on a quest to earn his own cooking show.
Raised on the south side of Chicago, Allen credits his Louisiana-bred grandparents with giving him an interest in food culture and a willingness to experiment with flavors. He earned his degree in food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois, gaining 70 pounds on his already hefty frame in the process.
As a part of his self-directed healthy lifestyle change, he took his culinary skill and nutrition knowledge and put it toward discovering a better way to eat. "I take those unhealthy foods we all love and adore, and recreate them in ways that are better for you, but still absolutely delicious," Allen says.
In Chef Allen's bag of tricks is his ability to create "outside the box" recipes with layers of flavors that come from citrus, spices, vegetables, and small amounts of real butter, cream and cheese. "A little of those can go a long way, and are usually better than the low-fat versions," he explains. Another of his healthy cooking tips is to add pureed vegetables to soups and sauces to add creaminess – adding flavor and nutrition while subtracting fat.
Over a period of two years, Allen was able to loose 115 pounds and gain an idea: a catering and personal chef business that would bring his creations to others who wanted to manage their weight and still enjoy their meals. Healthy Infused Cuisine opened in Allen's Oak Park home in 2007, and has served clients in the Oak Park area and Chicago. He also teaches cooking classes in front of a live audience at the Kenmore Live Studio in Chicago.
Allen calls himself an "Architect of Flavor," because he approaches food the way a builder approaches a house: he begins with a foundation flavor, then adds matching and contrasting ingredients to complete an appealing dish on a visual, nutritional, and of course a gustatory level.
Every great chef knows that presentation is an important aspect of plating a dish, and Allen takes no less care in his own presentation. "I think presenting a visual image is important, and I have a unique style (of dress), with pops of color, that speaks to my personality," he says. On the Food Network program, he wears custom made bow ties made by a Chicago friend who owns a company called Knits and Knotts.
Chef Allen was so determined to make it on the show that he tried out several times. The first time he didn't make it, the second year he made it to finalist, and then he skipped a year and studied cooking at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris to expand his horizons. The third time was the charm, and he was finally cast on the program.
The format of the show, which has run for seven seasons, is that 15 contestants compete in both the cooking and telegenic categories. Since television skills aren't taught in most culinary schools (yet), the chefs are chosen by one of the three celebrity-chef hosts (Bobby Flay, Giada DiLaurentiis and Alton Brown) to mentor through the process.
Though he of course can't reveal the outcome of the show, he can divulge that he was chosen for Alton Brown's team. If you have ever watched Brown's "Good Eats" program, you'll know that he comes to cuisine with a deep knowledge of food science and history. Chef Allen was thrilled to have Brown as his mentor, and really admired how much he knows about television production as well as cooking.
Like some reality shows, the audience gets to participate in choosing the winner of the contest. Allen hopes that Oak Parkers will watch the show, and more importantly, go to the Food Network website to vote for him as a fan favorite. In true Chicago fashion, we can vote early and often – starting now, before the show even airs, and up to 10 times a day.
Whether or not he wins the program, he has big plans for the future that include writing a cookbook, creating packaged food products, and someday opening a restaurant. "The sky's the limit," Chef Allen says. "I always say you have to chase after your dream, but that isn't enough. Then you have to catch it, hold it down, and don't let go until you make it a reality."
Chef Judson's Crab Stuffed Salmon
6 – 5 ounce pieces of Salmon (fresh or frozen, skinned)
16 ounce can – Lump crab meat
½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, shredded
2 tablespoon Reduced fat mayonnaise
¼ cup Red onion, diced
¼ cup Green pepper, diced
¼ cup Red pepper, diced
1 Clove – Garlic, minced
2 tablespoon Fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon Granulated garlic powder
½ teaspoon Fresh dill, chopped
1 teaspoon Fresh cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon – Cajun seasoning
Simple Fish Marinade:
1/3 cup Olive oil
2 tablespoons – White wine
1 teaspoon – Fresh lemon juice
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Onion powder
1 tablespoon – Cajun seasoning
1 tablespoon Fresh parsley, chopped
½ teaspoon Crushed red pepper flakes
Preparation: Preparation Time: 25 minutes Cook Time: 20 minutes Yields: 6 servings
Take each 5 oz piece of fresh salmon (if frozen, please allow time to unthaw in the refrigerator) and use a paring knife to cut a 2 %u20103 inch deep slit into the salmon creating a pocket for the filling.
To create the fish marinade, combine all ingredients in a medium size bowl and whisk gently until all ingredients have been combined. Place fish in a dish and generously pour marinade over the fish. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes. For more pronounced flavors, the salmon can sit overnight.
To create the signature crab stuffing, in a large mixing bowl add the crabmeat, shredded cheeses, seasonings and herbs, lemon juice, and mustard to combine. Do not over work the crab! In a sauté pan, over medium high heat, add olive oil. Add onions and peppers and sauté until slightly translucent. Let cool and add to the crab stuffing mixture. Add mayonnaise.
Either using your hand or with a spoon add your crab stuffing to the inside of each piece of salmon. Place in the oven on 400 degrees for 15 minutes and finish under the broiler to form the crust for another 5 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Depending on the intensity of your broiler, keep an eye out; you don't want to burn the dish.
Serve with lemon wedges and parsley for garnish.