When Steve Raichlen calls you out of the blue, you pick up your phone. Steven Raichlen is a prolific cookbook author, with 31 cookbooks including Barbeque Bible, Project Smoke, and Project Fire, he is a grilling, smoking, BBQ genius. Five-time James Beard awardwinner, teacher, PBS TV host of Barbeque University — as far as I can tell, Steven Raichlen doesn’t sleep, and his creativity appears to be never-ending.
Raichlen and I have known each other for many years. This summer he’s published his 32nd book, How to Grill Vegetables (Workman Publishing). The book is a visual feast, with vibrant, tempting photos of recipes, including Smoked Guacamole with Grilled Chia Seed Totopos, Grilled Wedge Salad, Grilled Carrots with Carrot Top Pesto, and Mechoui Cauliflower with Moroccan Spices and Chermoula. The always-thorough Reichlan gives the home cook an easy guide to nine considerations, including equipment, grilling, and smoking techniques. He’s not just grilling the typical zucchini, peppers, and onions — he has beets, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes. There is a section for sauces, condiments, and seasonings, and an important alphabetical list of how to prep and grill vegetables. This list is invaluable: Vegetables come in all shapes, sizes, and textures. How to Grill Vegetables will give you the confidence to step out of your grilling routine.
Raichlen called me because he was doing a live segment on the Today show, and wanted to know if I would help as his sous-chef. Cooking segments on TV are generally short, with a lot of information that needs to be conveyed in a short amount of time — ingredients, recipe, method, and finished product.
Technically, I am retired from cooking (except for friends and family), but this was too fun to resist; plus, I was very curious how Today could possibly be live from Chappaquiddick.
I got in line for the first morning boat, 6:30 am to Chappy. I pulled on right behind Dan Martino, co-owner of Cottage City Oysters and Martha’s Vineyard Productions, a video production company. Dan and I used to work together at Plum TV. I followed him to the Raichlens’ and was excited he would be part of the morning’s activities. Dan being there answered my first question: How will Raichlen be on live TV from the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, and on the island of Chappaquiddick?
Raichlen got me set up in his guesthouse kitchen, chopping and slicing vegetables, shucking corn, and getting his recipes prepped. We were going to make Emilia-Romagna “Elote” (corn grilled with garlic, basil, and cheese) and Grilled Vegetable Paella. Outside, Raichlen, his wife Barbara, and a neighborhood friend prepared two types of grills and the smokehouse. Dan set up his cameras on tripods; his laptop was connected to producers at Today.
After a year-plus of COVID, remote television interviews were not unusual, but here we were, in the woods on the Island of Chappaquiddick; we are all a little dubious with the well-known spotty coverage all over Chappy.
Raichlen is a pro, and was precise in his instructions for me — how each vegetable should be sliced, chopped, or diced; how to shuck the corn, with a technique perfect for grilling. I was amazed at how clearly he envisioned these recipes, and exactly how they should look and taste.
Once my prep was complete, I headed down to the TV studio, a corner on the Raichlens’ property with a small smokehouse and several grill stations surrounded by woods. It was all hands on deck creating the picture-perfect presentation in the outside studio.
Once the stage was set, Barbara swooped in to do some quick tweaks — the right flatware on the table, fixing Raichlen’s mic — the eagle eye on the team.
By this point, Dan Martino was trying to connect with the Today show team in New York; the connection was lost, but after a quick phone call, Today appeared live on Dan’s laptop. We could hear and see hosts Al Roker, Dylan Dreyer, Craig Melvin, and Tom Yammas. We listened to the show go to commercial and knew Raichlen was up next. Raichlen did some last-minute touches and … five, four, three, two, one! Al Roker led in, and Raichlen was live. The segment went off without a hitch, starting with the grilled corn and ending with the enormous grilled vegetable paella, live from Chappaquiddick.
Three hours to set up a six-minute segment. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. I packed up a container of paella, which we would have with dinner that night. It was uniquely delicious, the vegetables picking up natural flavor from the grill smoke, which added a lot of dimension and richness. I really could see this as a well-balanced meal and with no need for meat or fish.