Granville Moore's chef Teddy Folkman has good reason to boast about his Belgian-themed H Street, Northeast restaurant. On a recent episode of the Food Network's Throwdown With Bobby Flay, his moules fromage bleu bested the Iron Chef's coconut-poblano mussels. Check out our video interview—or the written transcript below—with Folkman to find out how it all went down. (And don't forget to check out his video recipe of the mussels that he beat Flay with.)
So here we are with Teddy Folkman at Granville Moore’s, who just beat Bobby Flay in the Bobby Flay Throwdown. So tell me what happened—did you know that they were going to come and film, or was it a real surprise?
I’d say a little from column A, a little from column B. When the Food Network contacted us, of course we were honored. We were just like, Wow, this is amazing. So we pretty much did whatever they said. And then as time goes on, you kind of think to yourself in the back of the head, because you watch the show—it’s a pilot for a new show, it kind of fits in a little bit. So in the back of our minds we did have it that we were possibly having a throwdown with Bobby Flay. But for the most part, we prepared and did exactly what they told us to do, because heck, they’re the Food Network. They’re telling me what to do, I’ll do it.
So what did they tell you to do?
They told us that they were filming a pilot for American Eats called “Inside the Belt”—the belt being in DC—and the first special was going to be on moules frites because it’s kind of taken over DC. You got Belga, Brasserie Beck, Marvin—you got a lot of great, great Belgian restaurants around here. So it’s kind of become the new area for the Belgian food scene. And then they came in on March—I think it was the day before St. Paddy’s Day, so it was March 16, 17? I don’t have a calendar. They came in for dinner on Sunday night to scout the place. Turns out that we were too small for their final scene and I was like, Too small for your final scene? If it’s a new pilot, how do you know what your final scene is? So they just told me to find another place to have the last day. So we went down to our neighborhood restaurant—not neighborhood, but our sister restaurant, I guess you could say—good friends of ours over at the Argonaut Tavern, great restaurant down there. And they have a little more space, and they were gracious enough to host the third day. But before that, Monday morning, basically woke up, got to work, went to Profish—our seafood purveyor—and met up with the Food Network there, and we started filming. My interactions with Glen and Greg, who are the owners over there—brothers, good guys, both good guys—and did a lot of filming there, did some interviews here, did some cooking demos, and then they’re supposed to film dinner service all night. Dinner service started, and by 7 o’clock they were packed up and headed out and asked me where to go, where to eat.
So dinner service ended at 7 o’clock and they were asking me, “Where do we go to eat?” I was like, I thought they were going to film the rest of dinner service, so I was like . . . another clue in that this isn’t exactly what we thought it was. So the next morning I got in here early, prepped with my sous chef, Steve Chapman, and headed over to the Argonaut with our stuff and we started. You know, big party, cooking demonstration. It was 11 o’clock in the morning, people were drinking Chimay white beer—they didn’t realize it’s 10, 11 percent alcohol. So you know, everyone was lucid, I guess you could say. Good word for that. We started the cooking demonstration, basically started asking us questions, basically describing all the food in the dish. We did our fromage bleu, which is our bleu-cheese moules. And then all of a sudden, out comes Bobby Flay in a sweater vest and a $70 pair of jeans and a nice three-quarter jacket and I’m like, Damn! And it wasn’t the—it was kind of in the back of your head that he’s gonna come and then you see him and that’s . . . damn! It was definitely an honor to meet him. I mean, people give him some slack for what he does—and he’s kind of, you know, the whole celebrity scene and all that—but the man’s proven himself. He’s done amazing things. He owns some very successful restaurants. So being in his presence was just awesome.
So have you watched other Bobby Flay Throwdowns?
Yes—oh, yes. We definitely did our research. Not research, but I actually enjoy the show. My night off is Tuesday night, and it’s on at 9 o’clock. So there I am every week watching it. There were some funny ones, a lot of funny ones, so hopefully this one is up there for an Emmy or something. That’s all we’re hoping for.
So was your first reaction . . . were you worried? Were you confident?
I was confident because we’re very confident in what we do here. But still, its Bobby Flay, he’s an Iron Chef. He’s got 20 years’ experience; I’ve only been cooking full-time for about seven years. He’s definitely got years on me, and like he said in the throwdown, he’s cooked moules frites thousands of times. I’m getting up there, though.
So you made your bleu-cheese mussels.
And did he make the same thing or something different?
No, he made a coconut-milk/roasted-poblano—shocker!—and butter mussels.
And did you get to try his mussels?
Yes, we did.
Okay, and what did you think? Is it something you want to add to your menu?
I thought the broth was excellent. But in choosing mussels, and in doing this, your main ingredient is your mussels. And I don’t think his particular mussels stood up against the ones that we have here. Just by size, texture, color, form of the shell, it’s just hands down, we get the best mussels. We sourced that out for three months before we finally came to a conclusion who we wanted to use for our mussels.
So who gets to taste them at the throwdown? Who got to taste them to decide who wins?
To decide who wins, it was two judges—a husband-and-wife team—Jason and Amy Storch. Jason runs DCfoodies.com, and Amy runs Amalah.com, a very funny Web site, if you have the chance to check it out. They came down, and they were going to be on a panel of judges. So they were thinking, panel of judges, no problem—not even really prepared for what happened. I think more than anyone, those two were the most shocked that it was a Throwdown With Bobby Flay and that they were going to be on TV and that sort of thing. But they did very well. Amy was at the time— or is still—pregnant. And she has to judge mussels, so it definitely became comical. There’s an excerpt that she has on her Web site about after it happened and her whole experience, and it’s just . . . you feel bad, but my gosh, it was just so funny, the circumstances. So they got to judging and they were tasting and they were going back and forth about the flavors, comparing notes, contrasting. The Food Network gave them a couple guidelines on what to judge everything on. I think it was taste, texture . . . and I’ll watch it again and tell you the third thing later.
So did she get to taste them?
Yeah, everyone got to taste them, and they decided that it was plate A, which was our moules frites, and that we would win. So it was very exciting. They had no idea whose was whose. Even though people say yes, you know, they have to know, they really didn’t know. But when Bobby Flay comes to town and you see roasted poblanos, there’s gonna be a little light that says, Ooh, that’s probably Bobby Flay’s dish.
Have you ever cooked on camera before?
No, but I do teach culinary school. Not teach culinary school, but I volunteer at Brainfood. Brainfood is an organization that helps inner-city kids, teaching vocational schools—this one in particular—culinary education. They have two locations. They’re an awesome, awesome organization. And I also volunteer—sorry, Lisa, I haven’t been there in a while—at a preschool in Chevy Chase. And my mom’s a teacher, so it’s kind of in my blood to be able to explain and do. And I think one of the biggest responsibilities of a chef is being able to teach, which is why I love my team here because they’re great students and now they’re teaching me stuff, so it’s wonderful.
Great, and so is your recipe something that was passed down to you, or did you come up with it yourself?
No, I kind of came up with it myself. I was at a local pub right near my house, and I was having this burger and it had bleu cheese, bacon, and I was just like, Wow. And this was when I was thinking of all the recipes and put that together. And I was also eating a salad that had a lemon vinaigrette on it and I’m like, This all works together really well, let’s try it. So we did, and at first it was really good. But it was too smoky, everything was overpowering. The bleu cheese was overpowering the mussels; the bacon was overpowering everything else. So we finally decided to taste-test a bunch of different cheeses, and we decided on Hook’s bleu cheese, which is a creamery in Wisconsin. Their bleu cheese is pungent, real bleu-cheesy, but it doesn’t overwhelm. There’s some bleu cheese out there and you take a bite, and you’re just like, Ugggh. This is very clean on the palate, very creamy. And then the bacon—we actually couldn’t find one that we really liked, so my bison farmer, Billy Sannon from New Frontier Bison, his neighbor is a hog farmer, and I was like, “Billy, can you guys make me some bacon?” We went back and forth testing recipes, and finally we came out with a great one. We use our own brine, they smoke it to our specifications, and we get it delivered each week.
And is that your most popular kind?
Since the throwdown?
Since the throwdown. Before the throwdown, it was pretty close between that one and our moules biere, which is a Chimay white beer, bacon again—whoops!—that’s fennel, leeks, and cream. I like that one, you know. Its summertime, people are looking for something bolder, so the bleu cheese mussels are more popular. And the pesto mussels, definitely.
Okay, so . . . where did you work before? Did you learn the Belgian style of cooking from someone else?
I didn’t learn the Belgian style, but what I learned was the love and respect for food and technique, and really, I had some great, great mentors. Chef Ann Cashion and John Manolatos—he was the sous chef at the time—now he’s the executive chef there at Cashion’s. Two wonderful, wonderful people who taught me a lot. Sam Adkins—he runs Jackie’s right now—really instilled the passion of food in me. Then, going up the line, every place I worked at, whether it was Clyde’s or Evening Star Cafe, you take something from each place and you learn from it, and there was a lot of great people that I met. I was very fortunate. I mean, I’ve only been doing this seven years, but working with the people I’ve been able to work with has really helped me develop my skills a lot faster. . . . Of course, Joey wanted to do this place, and my buddy Chris Rusko, who opened the place, was the original guy who came in here—this was kind of his brainchild as well—he got me here as well after the first month. So those people have meant the most to me.
And where do you get your mussels from?
We get them from Icy Storm. It’s a mussel farm on Prince Edward Island. They’re rope-grown mussels, cultivated mussels, and that allows for the mussels to be cleaner because they’re suspended in the water. That also allows for all the minerals and vitamins in the water—I guess there’s vitamins in the water. They flow through the mussels to give it a cleaner taste and an ocean taste rather than fishy. And they’re huge. They really harvest them at the right time. I know summer’s a little harder for mussels because the shells are a little thinner, the mussels are a little smaller. It’s just the season. But at least I know with this fishery when that season’s gonna be.
And do you have any new kinds of mussels that you’re thinking of putting on the menu?
Ooh—we got a lot of stuff up our sleeves, don’t you worry. We wanted to do a “best of” because we had so many popular ones that people are like, “I want the Dijon saucisson back on the menu!” Or, we have a lot of other ones. There’s some we’re working on right now because it is summertime. Because the clients are here, the customers, our guests, I want to be able to give them what they’re normally used to, and I think once in a while we’ll start having mussel specials. I think is the best way to do it. We kind of gauge what we’re going to put on the next menu.
So what would you recommend to any other chefs who are going to go up against Bobby Flay?
Be humble, because he’s actually a very wonderful guy. The exposure is amazing. It helps you get things like, I don’t know, an interview with Washingtonian or something like that. Gosh, just keep your wits about you. It’s just . . . wow, that’s tough, I never thought about that . . . I’m stumped again. It’s like the other day when someone asked me the difference between bison and buffalo and I was like, Uhhh. I figured it out, though. I went on Wikipedia. Bison are from North America, and buffalo out west or east. Geography’s not my strong point. No, I just say to go against Bobby Flay, be very particular about what you do. Do your best. Make sure your technique is right. Make sure your ingredients are fresh. Make sure you give it your all. Because he’s definitely going to give his all, and you know, you don’t want to be on the losing end of one of those battles.
And what’s your favorite beer here?
My favorite beer here is Chimay white. But I also live in Alexandria, so I can’t really drink it too often here because it is high-octane. So my favorite beer here definitely is the Chimay white.
All right, great. Thank you very much.