May 19. 9:00 am. Taco Taco Café. An unusually long line of people forms outside for Saturday breakfast. The reason? Inside the café, above a bouquet of fresh flowers, a banner announces “Taco Taco Café Welcomes the Food Network.”
I approached my friend Ben Lynn, a Taco Taco patron, when the Food Network’s cameras came swooping in, and asked about his experience that morning.
“I have no TV and am generally not familiar with the Food Network,” he said, “other than perhaps Iron Chef (which is a classic).”
With the crew was a woman who stood out, clearly going for the kitsch factor with her cowboy hat and matching leather boots. I assumed she might be a host-type, just lacking the typical charisma of a Rachel Ray or Double Dare’s Marc Sommers. She explained she was a producer for a network special called the “The Best of” America in food or something to that effect. This segment was “Best Taco” of course.
I asked what restaurants they looked forward to trying in their free time. She told me she heard the Rain Forest Café was really good. I laughed, grasped her upper arm and said, “Oh, you Food Network people are so funny … ”
You know, not thinking she was serious.
And she said, “Oh, it’s not good?”
I gave her a severe look and condescended, “It’s a chain!” (among other things) and then spouted off a few names of real restaurants. I made sure not to mention the Liberty Bar, because we don’t really want that little secret getting out now, do we?
May 22. 2:00 pm. La Hacienda de Los Barrios. The Food Network strikes again, this time under the guise of interviewing Diana Barrios Treviño about puffy-taco preparation. In fact it was a secret setup for Throwdown! With Bobby Flay, a popular Food Network show in which the famous Flay challenges locally renowned chefs to an on-the-spot competition.
I chatted with my friend, Al Rindfuss, a crewmember for this episode, and asked for some behind the scenes chisme.
“Before Bobby Flay showed up, I was in the van prepping Bobby’s cooking equipment for the throwdown. Chef Treviño had an assistant who was helping her that day and I just so happened to park next to her SUV,” spilled Rindfuss. “She came walking over and my boss kept saying ‘Here she comes, here she comes.’ There was nothing we could do. We had the stuff all over the ground. I thought my bosses would give her a canned reaction but instead got terse when she asked to borrow some cooking equipment. Somehow I don’t think she realized what was going on.”
Soon after that Flay triumphantly arrived and the gauntlet was thrown for a puffy-taco cooking contest. Flay tried an Asian-fusion approach while Diana stuck to a more traditional recipe. The funny thing about Flay’s show is that he rarely wins the challenges. May 22 was no different: the San Antonio puffy taco reigned supreme.