Bobby Flay Dishes on His Celebrity Chef BFFs: 'Way Tougher Than I Am' and 'Very Stealth Competitor'

How busy is chef and Food Network star Bobby Flay? So busy that he's talking to us about his new show, "Beat Bobby Flay," from Gato, a Mediterranean restaurant he's opening later in the day in downtown Manhattan. He also recently opened the 18th outpost of his Bobby's Burger Palace, in Las Vegas.

And then there's "Beat Bobby Flay," the new competition series that will find chefs from across the country challenging Flay in a one-on-one cook-off. The twists: His friends — like fellow chefs Scott Conant, Giada De Laurentiis, and Sunny Anderson — are trying to choose the contestants who can beat him, and then he must, on the fly, prepare his version of his opponent's signature dish.

"Beat Bobby Flay," where did the idea come from?
It's something I've wanted to do for the last three years, and it finally came to fruition after all the tweaking and brainstorming and conversations.

Basically, the thing I love about it is that it's such a simple idea. Two chefs come in. They take each other on, with one ingredient, for 20 minutes. One of them beats the other, and then that person gets to try to take me down with their signature dish. I don't know what the dish is. They really have the advantage in a way, because they know exactly what they're going to be cooking, and I don't, although it is my home turf. I guess it evens up the playing field.

[Related: Ty Pennington, Emeril Lagasse Tapped for Mark Burnett's TNT Home Cooking Competition ‘On the Menu’]

Then we have two special guests every show, and these are people who you may or may not know from other TV shows on Food Network … most of them are my friends, who are there to get me beat. It's like, "Let's get Bobby to go down today." They take the food of the first two chefs, and they decide which one they think is going to have a better chance to take me down. At the end, three judges who have not seen one thing [throughout the show] taste the food, and the criteria is really simple. Which dish is better? Done.

So your friends are rooting against you, in a friendly-rivalry way?
Oh, totally.

Those of us watching at home would panic if presented with a challenge like this, or like the mystery baskets on "Chopped." When you're filming "Beat Bobby Flay," and you learn your opponent's signature dish, what's the first thing you do to get going?
Things start racing through my mind in terms of, have I done anything like this before? What can I relate it to, things that I've cooked before? How am I going to throw a twist on it? And then I start thinking about how I'm going to get it done in 45 minutes, so that I can prioritize the things I need to do first, second, third, fourth and so on. Also, how can I multitask? I think that's really the key, being organized in your head and making sure that it plays itself out on the stove.

[Related: Bill Rancic’s New Food Network Show Sounds Pretty Chancy]

You've competed on more episodes of "Iron Chef America" than any other chef, you've done "Throwdown! With Bobby Flay," and now "Beat Bobby Flay." Why is it important for you to do competition shows like this?
It's fun for me. I was always an athlete, and I always competed in different sports. This is basically my athleticism at this point. Instead of hitting the basketball court, now I'm in kitchen stadium.

Because the new show is all about you battling other chefs, we want to throw out some names of chefs you've competed against, or with, and get your first reaction. Game?
Let's do it.








Anne Burrell.

Anne is way tougher than I am. I always get a kick out of watching her beat people up in the kitchen. [Laughing] She's a really good teacher.





Alex Guarnaschelli.

Very thoughtful and a really good cook.






Rachael Ray.

I'm going to be co-hosting her show a lot this year. The thing I like about Rachael is, she understands exactly what her skillset is, and she's a really good home cook. I think she always plays to her strengths.

Do you think she's unfairly criticized a lot of the time because that's her focus?
Listen, unfairly criticized … you can say that about anybody. When you're successful, you're going to be unfairly criticized, always. I think that she's got way more supporters than detractors, because she's helped a lot of people at home learn how to cook and get food on the table. That's her focus, and I think she's done a great job at it.

Michael Symon.

Best friend.

Is he really your best friend?
Oh yes. He's a great, great cook. He's very competitive. He's on the show, too. He and I are like the epitome of the show, really, because we compete against each other, whether it's on the golf course or our football teams, we're always competitive with each other, but of course in a very friendly way.


Cat Cora.

Cat Cora is a very stealth competitor. She's very competitive. Always wants to win, and I think that's what makes her a good Iron Chef.





Marcus Samuelsson.

Marcus is very laid back. Also, he has fantastic style in his food. For himself and for his food, his style is really cool. Very him. It's very original. As far as competition is concerned, I think Marcus can take it or leave it. He's a very laid back personality.




Is there anyone you want to compete against, but haven't yet?

Gordon Ramsay.

Have you proposed that, and will it happen?
Yes, [but] he's not interested. If you Google it … and frankly, I like him. He came after me in some magazine article. I think it was Men's Journal or Men's Health [Note: It was Men's Journal]. I can't remember what it was, and so I called him out. I was like, "Alright. Enough chatter. Let's get in the kitchen." I wanted to do it as a big charity event. He wasn't interested. Let's put it that way.

[Related: Gordon Ramsay on Competing Against Bobby Flay]

Maybe Gordon was a little afraid of the competition?
Well, that's what you're saying. I didn't say that.

"Beat Bobby Flay" premieres March 6 at 10 p.m. on Food Network.