"I thought Wii bowling was supposed to be easier," sighs Anne Burrell, the former chef of Centro Vinoteca in the West Village and the famously spiky-haired Food Network star. “But I got a 39.”
Burrell may be a kitchen and TV pro—"Secrets of a Restaurant Chef," "Worst Cooks in America," "Chopped," the forthcoming "Next Iron Chef "—but she admits she’s no bowler, electronic or otherwise. Even so, on Sept. 29 Burrell is set to host Rock & Bowl, a boozy bowling bash at Midtown's Lucky Strike Lanes that kicks off this year's New York City Food & Wine Festival.
To prepare, she’s bowling with me today. Having ridden her bike up the West Side Highway path to Lucky Strike’s retro lanes on 42nd Street, she changes from flip-flops into size-9 bowling shoes and a mismatched pair of pink-and-yellow socks. Oddly, the socks somehow match her far-out skirt, which is covered with sexy ladies and custom-made by a seamstress friend. ("I have dozens in different patterns," she says.)
Burrell isn’t too worried about disappointing those laying down $150 to snag one of the 26 lanes during the party. "I just have to show up and be delightful," she jokes, making sure we have a pitcher of beer so “she could really bowl.”
Burrell is actually pretty delightful. She asks after the general manager’s tattoos, pronounces our sweet-and-spicy chicken skewers to be “yummy,” and invites all of us—publicist, Metromix photographer, Lucky Strike Lanes chef—to swing a few balls, especially after her first frame.
Oh yes, it was a gutter ball.
“Starting off with a big fat zero!” Burrell cries, pouring us all more Stellas. “OK," she jokes, "here’s a direct quote: 'I’m much better at cooking that I am at bowling.'"
Rock & Bowl is really about Burrell’s food, after all. It’ll be served laneside, using recipes from her upcoming cookbook, "Cook Like a Rock Star," which hits shelves on Oct. 4. (The book will also be handed out for free to all Rock & Bowl attendees.) That title, she insists, is not about her image: “People always say I have rock-star hair, but that’s not it.… I want people to feel like a rock star while cooking at home. I want to make the process of getting to dinner as much fun as dinner.”
To that end the book, like its author, is not boring. Recipes are written in her voice ("The idea is to create an egg Jacuzzi," she explains in one excerpt), and side notes are scribbled in a quirky, handwriting font.
In fact, says Burrell, she doesn’t really use any so-called "cooking terms” in the book. "I say stuff like, Put them in a medium-big pan and cook the crap out of them until you get crud," she quips, referring to the term trained chefs call fond. "What the eff is fond? I wouldn’t know what fond was unless I went to culinary school, but everybody knows what crud is. You can take your fond to 9,000 other cookbooks. I know crud, and I’ll take it."
OK, so "Cook Like a Rock Star" is a little cute, but the flavors and ideas—tagliolini with salsa cruda and ricotta salata; corn, bacon and chili crostini; grilled porcini with poached eggs and parm—are serious. Those, along with that delightfulness, are exactly what earned her a spot with Batali in the early episodes of "Iron Chef America." As he writes in the foreword to her book: "Anne could cook, Anne could take the heat, and she had a good time. All three still ring true."
Now, she's angling to reach a maritime audience as well: On Oct. 22, she'll be sailing on an 11-day Mediterranean cruise aboard the ship Celebrity Silhouette, where she'll host demos.
"You should call it 'Rock the Boat'!" I tell Burrell as we high-five after I bowl a fairly decent frame. "All right," she says, smacking down her glass with mock seriousness. "I’m gonna knock some pins down this time.”
That she does, and her total for game two was a respectable 90, a nice improvement over the 66 scored the first time around. Even so, perhaps next year Burrell might instead consider hosting a Rock & Karaoke. “Oh, I love 'Mr. Brightside' from The Killers,” she says after I broach the subject. “I always go to Sing Sing. I always have to do REO Speedwagon.”
Too bad Morimoto's already got dibs on this, says Burrell. He is, after all, hosting the karaoke bash Rock & Roll with Morimoto, also at this year's NYC Wine & Food Festival. But, I wonder aloud, is he any good?
“Who knows?” Burrell answers with a laugh as she gamely approaches the lane for yet another swing. “He always sings in Japanese.”
Photos by Noah Fecks