"I would always make ridiculous sandwiches, take pictures and send them to my friends," says Milwaukee's Nick Chipman, blogger at Dudefoods.com.
Chipman’s site gets more than 150,000 visitors a month – primarily from people who can’t get enough of his crazy concoctions, like bacon-weave tacos, the 100 percent cheese grilled cheese sandwich, and chicken and waffle wings.
"My friend Aaron suggested that I should write for his friend’s ‘Me So Hungry’ blog," he says. "It sounded like fun, so I decided to start my own blog."
Chipman’s first blog post was a Veatloaf Sandwich: "… a slice of veal, a chunk of homemade meatloaf, a fried egg, cheddar cheese and mayonnaise, all between two pieces of toasted wheat bread (you know … to keep it healthy)."
The rest, as they say, is history.
Dudefoods has garnered acclaim from Bon Appetit, Gizmodo, the Food Network UK, and even the James Beard Foundation, who linked to Chipman’s Bacon Weave Grilled Cheese Sandwich.
"It’s crazy," Chipman remarks. "There’s chefs that are doing amazing things, and here I am cutting up cheese, putting more cheese on it and making a sandwich. And people think that’s awesome. It’s crazy."
But, the attention Chipman is garnering for his crazy antics is very real. In October, Maxim Magazine has scheduled a feature on Chipman’s Bacon Weave Breakfast Burrito.
"I don’t believe it," he says. "Until I open that magazine up and see it, I don’t believe it."
He also didn’t believe it when Destination America contacted him about starring on its new reality show, "Deep Fried Masters," which previewed on Monday, Aug. 5. But, they were dead serious. And, although he didn’t win first place on the show, Chipman is pretty convinced he’ll be ready for the next time.
I sat down with Chipman to talk about his blog, his experience being filmed on reality television, and his aspirations for the future.
OnMilwaukee: Why do people care about crazy, shocking foods?
Nick Chipman: Some people read it and actually think it looks good. Other people share it on health food blogs, and talk about how bad it is. I actually have a lot of people who follow me who follow the Paleo Diet. It’s funny to see peoples’ reactions to it.
No matter what, people look at it and share it. It all works out for the best.
OMC: Do you eat everything you make?
NC: Yup. I eat everything. I hate wasting food.
OMC: How did you get chosen for the "Deep Fried Masters" show?
NC: They found my blog and emailed me back in February or March. They said they were doing a new show, and they were looking for people and asked if I was interested.
I went through a phone interview, produced a video for them showing something I deep-fried and ate. I kept making new rounds for casting, and finally they told me I made it onto the show.
OMC: What’s the premise of the show?
NC: It’s exactly like the show "Chopped," only everything has to be deep fried. There were eight people instead of four, and there were three judges for three rounds.
OMC: How long were you filming?
NC: We were filming for 15 hours. We flew in the day before and then had to be ready by like 5:30 in the morning. We got back to the hotel at like 9:30 at night. The crew and set people … I don’t know how they do it.
OMC: Where did you film the episode?
NC: I was featured the North Carolina episode, but it was filmed in Georgia.
There were all these carnival games behind us, and I thought we were at the fair. But, it turns out it was just a set off to the side.
And they were filming the Texas episode the next day, so as they were tearing down, you saw all of these cacti and stuff. It was crazy. It was the Texas episode and they weren’t even filming it in Texas.
Now, I know reality shows are totally fake. But, you’d think a cooking competition show would be more realistic. It actually sucks. Now I know that on the cooking shows … when they get those mystery baskets and they say they don’t know what’s in them … they totally know.
OMC: Shows like "Big Brother" always seem to cast a few genuinely horrible people, on the grounds that they'll "shake things up." Were there any people like that on this show?
NC: There weren’t. But, they totally get you to talk about the other people on the show. I was cooking next to the girl who ended up winning, and I was doing deep fried lasagna and my station was a mess. They totally baited her to talk badly about me. First they asked her whether she thought I was messy, and made her talk about it.
Then she borrowed one of my ingredients later, and they prompted me to talk about how unprepared she was for the show.
We were all apologizing to each other for saying bad things about one another. They had all these weird ways to get us to say stuff about one another.
OMC: How do you feel about the way they portrayed you?
NC: They sort of portrayed me as the amateur who had no idea what he was doing, so in that sense I'd say that it was a pretty accurate portrayal!
OMC: What were the other contestants like, in real life?
NC: Everyone else either owned a restaurant or a booth at a real state fair. I totally psyched myself out. I went in expecting to be the first person there. I’ve never even worked in a restaurant.
The guy who got cut in the first round owns two restaurants in New Orleans. He came in with this huge ego, and was totally pissed when he lost. He went so far as to buy his own ticket to go home.
The restaurant owners were totally bad with criticism. They all came in saying how "it was just a TV show," but then they got really mad when they didn’t win.
OMC: What did you make for the show?
NC: First round I made deep fried lasagna. The ricotta cheese they gave me was totally runny … one of those things you couldn’t really prepare for.
Second round was something on a stick. I made deviled eggs on a stick … which was a bad idea. They don’t really stay on the stick. They spin around.
I didn’t make it into the third round. The cool part about being cut is that I was going to make beer and bacon battered Doritos, but since I got cut I just sat there and drank the beer.
OMC: Were you really disappointed when you lost?
NC: I went in expecting to get cut after the first round. So, no. When I made it past the second round, I was surprised. I totally knew I needed a better idea for my third recipe, but there was no time to change it.
This one girl, Felicia, made deep fried mac 'n' cheese. She runs a stand at the North Carolina State Fair. I totally thought she should have won. She also made a bacon stuffed deep fried brownie on a stick. She cut two brownie squares, put bacon in the middle, then put it on a stick, battered it and deep fried it. Then covered it with powdered sugar.
OMC: So, after your experience, how "real" would you say reality TV is?
NC: It’s definitely real, but not as real as you think. Actually, it’s so fake.
I could say more, but they made me sign a non-disclosure.
OMC: What were some things about it that struck you?
NC: Well, for starters, we totally had more than a half-hour to make our food, which is crazy. It’s a cooking show. You’d think it would be more realistic.
The girl who won has a stand at the Texas State Fair. They totally hated her second round submission. That just shows you how fake it was. Plus, Gonzalez totally loved her. They’re both from Texas. You could totally tell the entire time that she was going to win.
OMC: Why do you think people are so attracted to reality TV?
NC: Probably the drama – nobody would watch it if there weren’t any drama. It’s weird. A few of the guys and me went out the night before. You build up this camaraderie – a really weird friendship – and then you have to talk about one another. It’s weird.
The other really weird thing was – all of these guys own restaurants, but they wanted to eat at Outback Steakhouse. We went there two nights in a row! They thought it was the best place in the world.
OMC: What did you think of the show overall?
NC: I thought the show was great. It's definitely something I would have watched even if I didn't get to be a part of it. It's annoying sometimes watching cooking shows where all the contestants are professional chefs from super nice restaurants and they're making these ridiculously complicated dishes that you know you could never recreate at home.
It's almost refreshing to see shows like "Deep Fried Masters" where people are coming up with great tasting stuff that doesn't necessarily require some extensive culinary knowledge to create.
I still love shows like "Chopped," but when I watch a show like that and I see them open up their mystery boxes or whatever and they have to make a dish with a combination of things like shrimp, maple syrup, olives and chile I think to myself "how do they even have any idea how to combine all that stuff into something that actually tastes good?"
When I watch someone making deep fried macaroni and cheese though I watch it like "yeah, I could totally make this at home and I bet it would be amazing!"
OMC: What next?
NC: I totally want to explore getting a booth at the Wisconsin State Fair. That would be my dream come true. I’m contemplating cashing in my 401K and just making it happen.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.