Deseret News - Mmm, good! Food Network tries Utah
Utah has its fair share of diners, drive-ins and dives, and the Food Network host Guy Fieri is in town this week discovering some of them.
Film crews were at Ruth's Diner, the Burger Bar in Roy, Moochie's Meatballs, Lone Star Taqueria, Blue Plate Diner, Red Iguana and Pat's Barbecue, shooting segments for Fieri's show, "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives."
As the name implies, the show highlights small, locally owned, sometimes funky or quirky restaurants across America.
"You guys are studded with these fantastic little eateries," said Fieri, taking a break in between filming at Blue Plate Diner Thursday morning. "I've never heard of Utah as being a destination for food, but I'd tell people to come for the skiing and stay for the food. When it comes to the mix of funky, eclectic places that we do, you guys are kicking some butt."
The vintage red Camaro convertible — which Fieri is always shown cruising in at the beginning of his program — was parked in front of the Blue Plate Diner Thursday morning. In the cramped kitchen, cooks scurried between the cameras and lights to fry eggs and plate up customer orders.
Meanwhile, restaurant owner John Bouzek was leaning over a hunk of raw beef with Fieri, whose sunglasses were wrapped around the back of his spiky, bleach-blond head of hair.
"That's how I keep from losing them," he said later. "I love sunglasses because I have a natural squint."
As the cameras rolled, Fieri and Bouzek sprinkled pickling spices on the meat. "So, who taught you how to make corned beef?" Fieri asked, to launch Bouzek into an explanation.
When Bouzek covered the meat with a layer of aluminum foil, Fieri began tapping on the foil with his index finger. "I'm just sending an S.O.S.," he quipped.
During a break, Bouzek admitted that he felt a little nervous about being on camera. "But it was great once we got going."
The filming in the kitchen didn't deter the buzz of regular customers out front. One of them was Elaine Jones of Salt Lake City, who met Fieri last year when she was a contestant on the Food Network's Ultimate Recipe Challenge and he was one of the emcees.
"I asked him how they pick the diners to be on the show, and he told me how to send it in on the Web site. So, I submitted this place, because we've been coming here for six or seven years."
Fieri said about 60 percent of the restaurants featured come from fan recommendations. Charisma, energy and quality of the food are all factors in the eateries chosen. The staff also tries to choose locations where they can hit several spots while they're in town.
Fieri said he was impressed with the diverse and eclectic cuisine he'd found in Utah.
"I'm from California, and I would put Lone Star Taqueria up against some of the best taquerias anywhere," he said. "Yesterday we shot up at a place in Roy, the Burger Bar, it was fantastic. They're not serving filet mignon, they're serving burgers, but they're doing it right."
Fieri visits hundreds of places across America, but he said that each is unique.
"It's kind of like most songs having a drum and a guitar, and a singer and a bass," he said. "It's the same instruments, but it's how you make the music when everyone is in the concert venue and jamming together — it's the same instruments, but it's how you make the music that makes each song different. It's like the concert venue is filled and everybody is jamming together, and John (Bouzek) is like the lead singer. And me? Well, I'm leading the culinary mosh pit."
The crew was scheduled to wrap up its filming tonight at Pat's Barbecue.
Air dates for the segments haven't been scheduled, said Lisa Krueger, the Food Network's public relations manager. But they probably won't be aired together in the same episode, she said. "More often than not, we lump things together by themes instead of geographic locations."
Utah Stories - Sunshine & Smiles on A Hot Plate
October 27th, 2009
The story of how the renowned Blue Plate diner was started by one Russian immigrant and a Chicago import.
This is the story of a journey that began at a time when the letters 'CCCP' proudly emblazoned the sleeves of soldiers in the Caucasus and strong currents of global thought had begun its inevitable march on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. A rotary exchange student from Tbilisi, Georgia, at just fifteen years old, found herself in Salt Lake City, Utah. One year later, as she was packing her bags to return home, war broke out in Chechnya, Georgia and Russia -- shutting their doors to the world. Not knowing much English, with very little knowledge of living in a democratic society and separated from her family, this was a sabbatical the teenager hadn't planned.
Seventeen years have since passed and the world has changed dramatically for Tamrika Khvtisiashvili (pronounced Khu-tee-see-ash-villi). "When I finally got in touch with my dad, he asked me to stay back in US for a better life," she recalls in perfect English with only a slight hint of an east European accent. Tamrika is now working on a PhD in endangered languages at the University of Utah, but is better known as the co-owner of the popular Blue Plate Diner in Salt Lake City.
Her husband, John Bouzek, came to Utah from Chicago for snowboarding and stayed on. An excellent chef, an avid motorcyclist and a realtor, he met Tamrika for the first time on his birthday at Brewvies Pub, where she worked. Their love for road trips and adventure brought them together and soon they were enjoying long drives and rides. On one such drive, passing through Salina in southern Utah, they came across an old counter lying in an unused building that used to be the Salina Pharmacy. They discovered that an old couple who ran the pharmacy for many years had no plans to continue the business and were looking to sell it off. For years, the abandoned counter had served as a table for local school kids and picnickers. Both Tamrika and John fell in love with it and -- much to the disappointment and anger of Salina's residents -- they hauled the counter to Salt Lake City.
The original Formica counter serves as the centerpiece of the Blue Plate Diner, attracting many old Salina residents who frequently visit the diner to just sit at their favorite counter. "Starting a restaurant was always on our minds. The counter inspired us to actually do it," Tamrika says.
The menu at Blue Plate was created with the simple philosophy of keeping everything fresh and as close as possible to home-cooked food. John put together a combination of foods from different sources to cater to all tastes, including vegetarian and vegan. Tamrika added some of her own specialties. Blue Plate is perhaps the only restaurant that serves "Lopiani" a specialty that Tamrika's grandma used to prepare back home in Georgia.
Like letting a juggernaut loose, Tamrika and John let the restaurant roll on with a life of its own. The regular patrons made their mark by putting up their own memorabilia on the walls, most notably the vast display of license plates.
"People give all kinds of personal souvenirs for us to display. One person actually gave us a picture of his grandfather who had fought the French war. We respect everyone's gift and display whatever they give," says Tamrika. It's that mutual respect that gives Blue Plate diner its extraordinary character.
They even have a dish named after a customer: the "Gordon Special." It's not just respect for the patrons but love for the employees that makes Blue Plate a happy place. "We have about 30 employees, out of which about eighty percent of them have been with us from day one," exclaims Tamrika with pride.
"The diner belongs to them. I have complete trust in my employees," she adds.