Chef Bobby Flay is a food star

Chef Bobby Flay—this year’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival Tribute Dinner honoree—discusses his passion for horses, the difficulty of succeeding in New York, and his “Madonna trick."

Chef Bobby Flay is a food star

A successful restaurateur, cookbook author and longtime Food Network chef, Bobby Flay has shown an incomparable ability to evolve throughout his career. The first chef to be honored on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he currently mentors aspiring talent on Food Network Star, battles fellow chefs on Beat Bobby Flay, and shares his secret to staying healthy in his latest cookbook, Bobby Flay Fit. His favorite role, however, is that of dad to his beautiful daughter, Sophie. A longtime veteran of the annual Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival—and this year’s Tribute Dinner honoree—he chatted with me about fitness, fatherhood and more.

The health/fitness balance is the focus of your latest book, Bobby Flay Fit. Why was it important for you to start sharing this part of your life?

It’s one of the questions I get asked the most from people, whether it’s on the streets or at demos: “How do you stay so fit as a chef?” Listen, food is one of my best friends, but it can be a hazard if you don’t respect it.

At what point did you start to really focus on the fitness/health aspect of your life?

I remember going out to dinner on New Year’s Eve one year, and getting dressed and looking in the mirror and saying, “I don’t like that.” It was really then that I decided I needed to take control of my health. It’s about paying attention to not only what you eat, but also how much you eat and how you eat it.

You are one of the longest-running stars on the Food Network. What is the secret to a successful television career?

The most important thing is to evolve with the times—I call it the Madonna trick. She’s always reinventing herself. When I do something successful with the network, I immediately start thinking about the next project, because everything has a shelf life.

What are some of the biggest challenges you see facing the next generation of chefs?

More than ever, New York City has proven to be the most difficult place to have a restaurant. It’s close to impossible to have a successful business there, and it's just going to get worse. But in a positive way, it’s going to make the rest of the country taste better. One of the best examples is Gavin Kaysen. He came out of Daniel Boulud’s kitchen, and instead of trying to open a restaurant in SoHo, he went back to Minneapolis, where he’s from. He went where it was affordable to open, and has changed the food scene there. When I was 26 years old, I opened Mesa Grill in the city and it cost us maybe $280,000. Today, that cost could be $15 million.

You and Sophie are big fans of horse racing.

Sophie loves it now, because of me. My grandfather really got me started. He was an old-school New York guy and took me to Saratoga. I’m on the board of directors for the New York Racing Association and the board of the Breeders’ Cup. I race and breed in both the United States and Europe.

We are honoring you at this year’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival Tribute Dinner. How does it feel to be on the receiving end after having cooked at Jonathan Waxman and Emeril Lagasse’s Tribute Dinners?

I was certainly reluctant at first. It’s not a place where I’m comfortable. It’s obviously incredibly humbling. Now, I’m thinking of it more like a celebration—a reunion of sorts. Bringing a handful of chefs together whom I not only respect, but who are also friends of mine. And adding my daughter to it for the after-party is sort of like launching another Flay into the world.

You have played a part in SOBEWFF since our second year in 2003. Are there any standout memories for you?

My highlight is the demos, because the crowds are so enthusiastic. I also like the smaller dinners because I can have conversations with the guests. They spend a lot of money to support the cause, but you also want them to feel good about it.