Sussex chef cooks up competition with Bobby Flay

Greenwood resident Bill Clifton, the executive chef at the Counting House Restaurant & Pub in Georgetown, is scheduled to appear on the May 2 episode of “Beat Bobby Flay” on the Food Network. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

GEORGETOWN — About a year in the making, Thursday, May 2 is the day Food Network fans find out if the chef at a Sussex County restaurant gets a shot at beating celebrity chef/restaurateur Bobby Flay.

Greenwood resident Bill Clifton, the 38-year-old chef and co-owner of The Counting House Restaurant & Pub in Georgetown, must remain tight-lipped on the outcome of the “Beat Bobby Flay” show prior to the episode airing at 10 p.m.

“I can’t tell you,” said Mr. Clifton, who does add, “I’m very proud of how I did.”

The episode featuring Mr. Clifton was taped before a live audience at the Food Network studio complex in Brooklyn, New York in March of 2018.

Under the “Beat Bobby Flay” format, two celebrities judge two chefs cooking a dish featuring an ingredient selected by Mr. Flay.

The winner gets to select a dish to prepare in a showcase cookoff against Mr. Flay, whose winning percentage hovers around 66 percent.

“I’ve seen him beat some of my heroes,” said Mr. Clifton.

A blind taste test by three judges determines the second-round winner.

Mr. Clifton said he was approached by show producers.

“They contacted me and asked me to beat him,” said Mr. Clifton. “The production company behind it, they reached out to me and asked if I would be interested.”

The initial interview process was via phone and Skype. Several subsequent over-the-phone interviews followed.

“Then I went through a process of submitting recipes that I thought if I were to get to the round to challenge Bobby that I thought I would be proficient in to challenge him with.”

Mr. Clifton said some of his recipe submissions were rejected, including his version of beef tartare (a classic raw dish of beef) and salad nicoise (with fresh tuna).

“When they were asking for the recipes, they gave me a list of things that they had of course already done on the show. They didn’t want to redo anything,” said Mr. Clifton.

Mr. Clifton, left, and Miguel Batiz are co-owners of The Counting House restaurant located in the Brick Hotel on The Circle in downtown Georgetown.

“So, I was trying to think of classic things, because I know Bobby is a classically trained chef as well, even though he does have specialties. I thought if I went the classic route, I might be able to catch him off guard a little bit as well, if I was to get to that other round.”

Ultimately, a recipe was chosen. Mr. Clifton said show producers asked him to tweak it a bit, by making it a little “more modern” and with a couple of twists.

“That ended up being a recipe that they thought would be good for TV and good to challenge Bobby with. If I was to go onto the second round that is what I would be going up against Bobby with,” said Mr. Clifton.

Mr. Clifton waited nearly a year since the show taping before learning of the airing date. Mr. Clifton’s brother John accompanied him at the marathon taping.

“Just for a 30-minute show it was somewhere around 12 hours; it might have been more than 12 hours,” said Mr. Clifton. “It is quite a process. But everyone was incredibly nice the whole time. It was great.”

His brother and one of the producers became good friends. “John was with me and was a supporter,” Mr. Clifton said. “It will be interesting to see how they edit him into the show as well. I hope it’s pretty funny.”

At the time of the taping, Mr. Clifton was executive chef at the Henlopen City Oyster House in Rehoboth Beach. In August of 2018, he and business partner Miguel Batiz took over the former Brick Hotel restaurant and pub in their Counting House venture.

Mr. Clifton attended culinary school at Kendall College in Chicago. He previously worked at the Blackbird and North Pond, popular restaurants in Chicago, as well as an internship at the French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley, California.

He came to Delmarva from Chicago about 10 years ago.

This marks Mr. Clifton’s first competition in TV land.

“I have never done anything like that on a professional level for a TV show. As far as TV goes, I‘ve been on “Coastal Cuisine” with my friend (and host) Michael Sprouse, which I’ve done a couple times. That is like two buddies just talking food,” Mr. Clifton said.

“I have never done a cooking challenge either. Well, I did a little one about 10 years ago, and I totally misunderstood what it was. This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this.”

His take on show star Bobby Flay is that he’s “a very nice guy.”

“I think when you get to that level and you are on TV all the time, there is going to be a perception about you, how you’re bossy or snooty, things like that. But, in order to be that successful, you have had to behave that way in some fashion at some point,” he said.

“There is no way that you can be ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ all the time and let everything slide. The whole time I was there he was as pleasant as could be, asking questions, talking to me, making sure I was alright. He was a very nice gentleman. For the brief amount of time that I talked to him it was nice. He’s the utmost professional guy.”

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