He does not have the blindingly white smile of Giada De Laurentiis, nor Paula Deen's easy folksiness. Still, St. Petersburg Times copy editor Jim Webster may just have a future for himself in one of the Food Network's studio kitchens.
He is, in fact, the Ultimate Grilling Challenge champion, an intergalactic honor bestowed upon him Friday by none other than Food Network darling Mario Batali. The announcement was made on Rachael Ray's daytime talk show.
It's easy to see why Webster's Pig-Wrapped Pig-Stuffed Pig stomped the likes of semifinalists Gabriel Campbell's Memphis-style pulled pork sandwich and T.J. Palmrose's grapewood grilled squab in a tomatillo-ancho marinade served with polenta. The former? Too down-home. The latter? Too froufrou. Webster's PWPSP has all the allures to catch Mario's eye. It's elegantly simple (only 7 ingredients), gutsy (crisp pancetta encircling a pork tenderloin stuffed with homemade pork sausage flavored with orange zest and toasted fennel) and it's molto Italiano. A culinary achievement somewhere between Isabella Rossellini and Al Pacino.
Most importantly, it's a whole lot of pork.
"When I started planning my entry," explains Webster, "it was about thinking about Batali's sensibilities. I knew he was a huge fan of pork. I vaguely remember something Homer Simpson once said to Lisa, 'Yeah, sure, like there's some magical animal that gives us ham, bacon and pork chops.'"
Beyond bragging rights, Webster's win has netted him autographed cookbooks, cookware and a bounty of kitchen gadgets. But that's not what has him most excited. As part of his prize, he flies to Fort Worth, Texas, on Oct. 31 to cook his winning recipe at a tailgate party with Batali and Ray at a NASCAR race.
"The prize to me is getting to cook with Batali," he said. "The trip to Fort Worth is all well and good, but cooking with somebody I admire is one of my big goals."