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Cena’s Michael Buttacavoli to compete on ‘Beat Bobby Flay’

The football-themed ‘Friday Night Bites’ episode airs Feb. 4.
Chef Michael Buttacavoli of Cena cooks during Tampa Bay Food Fight at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg in October 2017. The event featured chefs from the Tampa Bay area and benefited Metropolitan Ministries.
Chef Michael Buttacavoli of Cena cooks during Tampa Bay Food Fight at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg in October 2017. The event featured chefs from the Tampa Bay area and benefited Metropolitan Ministries. [ EVE EDELHEIT | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jan. 27
Updated Jan. 28

He’s already the star of his own amateur cooking show at home. Now, chef Michael Buttacavoli is taking it to the big screen to battle it out on Beat Bobby Flay next week.

Though the episode first airs Feb. 4 at 8 p.m., the executive chef of Tampa Italian restaurant Cena signed on to compete in the Food Network show back in 2019.

Fittingly, the episode — which is titled “Friday Night Bites” — is football-themed, and running just three days before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers square off against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

For those unfamiliar with the popular show’s structure, each episode features two chefs who are first pitted against each other in a speed round competition involving a secret ingredient. The winner of that round then goes head-to-head with Flay to battle it out with a dish of the visiting chef’s choice.

In next week’s episode, Buttacavoli goes up against New Jersey-based chef Scott McDonald. Though the Tampa chef couldn’t give too much away just yet, he said the lighting cookoff round had them both a little stumped.

“The secret ingredient that we got just kind of threw us both for a loop,” Buttacavoli said. “You have to be able to really think and be quick on your feet — that was the hardest part.”

The chefs filmed the episode in November 2019 at the Rock Shrimp Productions studio in Harlem, New York. The episode also features judges Amanda Freitag, a New York-based chef and regular judge and guest on Food Network shows, and Food Network host and chef Sunny Anderson.

Related: What are pro chefs cooking at home during the coronavirus pandemic?

Though Buttacavoli has been streaming his kitchen antics on his own do-it-yourself cooking show during the pandemic, he said that prior to his appearance on the Food Network show being on camera wasn’t really his thing. He’s still not sure if it is, but he’s been having fun with it at home, he says, where his audience largely consists of Facebook friends and fans of the restaurant.

To celebrate next week’s episode, Cena is hosting a watch party at the restaurant’s new outdoor courtyard on Feb. 4 starting at 6 p.m. The restaurant inside will be closed that evening, but game-day specials served outside will include pizza and meatballs.