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'Blended' director Coraci finds comfort (food) in 'Chow Masters'

Published On: May 05 2014 04:55:25 PM CDT
Updated On: May 05 2014 07:37:05 PM CDT
Sammy D and Frank Coraci (photo -- The Travel Channel)

Travel Channel

"Chow Masters" stars Sammy D. and Frank Coraci.

Disclaimer: If you like food (and who doesn't?), the new Travel Channel show "Chow Masters" is bound to have a compelling effect on you.

It's going to, well, make you want to chow down.

"That's what we're trying do," co-host Frank Coraci told me, laughing, in a recent interview. "We want to showcase other chefs, get you hungry for their food and have a good time along the way while we're doing it."

Coraci certainly knows eye for talent. After all, he's the director of several hit comedies, including "The Waterboy," "Click," "Zookeeper" and "Here Comes the Boom." He also directed "The Wedding Singer," starring his frequent collaborator, Adam Sandler, who starred opposite Drew Barrymore. Later this month, the director's latest comedy, "Blended," hits theaters reuniting the trio that made "The Wedding Singer" a smash hit in 1998.

In the meantime, though, "Chow Masters" each week finds three "off the map" food places in different parts of the U.S. Judged on creativity and taste, the winner is awarded $10,000 and a "Golden Skillet Award."  Chowing down with Coraci is Sam DeMarco, aka famed New York City chef Sammy D.

The key to "Chow Masters" is that they're judging food that everyone can relate to. Tuesday night's episode travels to Chicago to judge three very unique Windy City hot dogs.

"Basically the focus of the series is 'comfort food,' and the reason for that is, Sammy -- who's literally been my best friend since we were 7 years old -- is known as 'the King of Comfort Food,'" Coraci explained. "Initially the pilot was a burger show, but we thought that was a little limiting, so then the makers said, 'How about doing comfort food in general, because it's such of an American thing,' and that elevated it, because more people are foodies now. They have more sophisticated tastes, but they still like the fun stuff."

The premiere episode of "Chow Masters" focused on three eye-opening breakfast sandwiches in New York City -- one of them stacked up to 6-inches high. Since then, Coraci and Sammy D. have eaten barbecue sandwiches in Nashville, Tenn., mac and cheese in San Francisco, and tacos in Austin, Texas.

For Tuesday night's "Windy City Hot Dogs" episode, Coraci said to expect much, much more than your basic frankfurter.

"They're really more like encased meat sausages. We call them hot dogs, but there's a bit of both," Coraci explained. "There's a Kobi hot dog, a venison hot dog and a Polish sausage -- there's some great stuff. Chicago is a great food city, and the chefs there have really big personalities, so it's a lot of fun."

The bonus for viewers of "Chow Masters" is that, because Coraci is a well-known in Hollywood and Sammy D. is big in the chef world, some famous faces are bound to pop up on the show.

"We have lots of great cameos lined up, from chefs who know Sammy D. to -- well I can't say who, but some great Hollywood talent that shows up," Coraci said. "The nice thing is, a lot of people really love food shows and like appearing on them. Everybody likes to eat. That's the one common denominator."

The uncommon denominator with "Chow Masters" and other food shows, Coraci said, is "Chow Masters" doesn't take itself too seriously. After all, Coraci is a comedy filmmaker, and he's thrilled his sense of humor is rubbing off on the crew producing the series.

"It's easy for me to suggest stuff when people are so receptive," Coraci said. "So I try to steer things a little bit to comedy side without stepping on anybody's toes. Usually if I have an idea they embrace it. I think what's different about our show than the other food shows is the humor. The other shows have a little bit of humor, but we want to have fun with ours. They won't let me burp or fart, though. No fart jokes."

Getting stuffed

Viewers of "Chow Masters" will discover that being a judge in a show like "Chow Masters" takes a big appetite, since Coraci and Sammy D. eat at the three establishments in one day. That's quite a bit of food, considering the nature of television, where not everything is captured in one take.

"Usually when we're walking to the car after third place and look totally stuffed, we are," Coraci said, laughing. "We do many more takes than you see. When we do slow-motion shots, which has become sort of our signature shot, that one shot within itself. We wanted to do fun stuff with the show to make it more visual, but the penalty for that is that we have to eat a lot more."

Coraci said if viewers notice his waistline expanding over the course of the season, it's definitely not the work of the visual effects department.

"I've definitely gained weight from the beginning of the show to the end, but now I'm in training to lose it all again," Coraci enthused.

Since Coraci is planning for more seasons of the show, he'll be happy to put the weight on again. This season's "Chow Masters" runs 13 episodes and wraps up with an episode in Miami July 8, then it will be back to the chopping board.

Tim Lammers is a nationally-syndicated entertainment writer and author of the e-book "Direct Conversations: The Animated Films of Tim Burton."

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