Ice cream mixed with caramelized onions or Camembert cheese, using hardware store tools to hollow out and stuff a hot dog, late-night turkey bowling — George Duran, a radio personality-turned-cooking school student, has made these far-fetched stunts reality with his TV program “Ham on the Street.”
Unlike other Food Network personalities, Duran, 31, doesn’t have a long restaurant background or marketable name recognition. Before attending a year of cooking school in France in 2002, he worked on a New York radio station and as a producer for MTV’s “House of Style.”
Now he’s taken to the streets by presenting unique eating opportunities for unsuspecting people, then displaying their reaction. The goal: to get a laugh while being creative with food and introducing new flavors to people.
Duran acknowledges that his show (10:30 p.m. ET Wednesdays) is geared for a younger audience that recalls “The Tom Green Show” more clearly than the older “Candid Camera.” It’s certainly nothing like the cooking shows made popular by Julia Child and some current hosts on the cable channel for “foodies.”
His diverse background — he was born in Caracas, Venezuela, of Armenian parents, lived there before moving to New Jersey at 15, then attended New York University — allows Duran to bring together diverse tastes.
Duran spoke with The Associated Press before the recent South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
AP: How was the idea for the show born?
Duran: When I was working in France I had my cooking show out there, I wanted to see the French people’s reaction to these chocolate truffles I made with goat cheese. You know how finicky French people can be ... A lot of them were, ‘Oh, it’s very good, there’s some interesting flavors to it.’ When I revealed to them it had goat cheese, their reactions were spectacular. I said, ‘You know, there’s got to be something on the streets that I could do with everyday people who interact with food.’
AP: A lot of the hosts on Food Network have had long careers owning restaurants before they had their show. Do they see you as the new kid on the block?
Duran: Everybody has been incredibly kind, and they treat you as the new kid in town ... In terms of the restaurant, that’s not what I’m here for. You know, I cook for absolute pleasure, for my friends and family, for anyone who comes into my home. The last thing I can ever imagine is charging anyone to eat my food.
AP: Is the younger demographic the target?
Duran: Absolutely, and it should be. This is what our society needs today. We need to reach the younger people who are constantly ordering out or going out to eat. We need a less intimidating way to touch them in their own kitchens to begin to cook ... That’s where good nutrition starts, in your own kitchen, not necessarily going out and buying an overpriced salad.
AP: Do you have people who help you with the show ideas?
Duran: Usually, they come from my dreams, my nightmares, let’s say. Some of them don’t work, some of them do work ... Most of the time they look at me so bizarrely and they say, ‘How can you think about injecting something in hot dogs? But these are things from my real life. I’ve always wondered, ‘Why is there cheese in hot dogs and not peppers or any other flavors?’
AP: What’s the hardest thing about getting the man on the street to talk to you?
Duran: Actually, the majority, maybe 95 percent of the people, maybe more, they are more than willing to speak to me. Everybody is a ham. When I say ‘Ham on the Street,’ it’s not me the who’s the ham, it’s them.
AP: What were your favorite TV shows growing up, and what are they now?
Duran: I grew up watching “Who’s the Boss?” dubbed in Spanish. It was horrible ... “Diff’rent Strokes,” typical American sitcoms. Comedy was always in my head. Today, I like sharper, faster humor like “Family Guy.” ... And I did grow up watching the Food Network in college, looking at it and saying, ‘Man, they could really use someone funny on this network or someone more on the entertaining, younger level.’
AP: What are your thoughts on the phenomenon of the celebrity chef?
Duran: It’s wonderful to have people who are inspiring others to learn to cook ... I also think that some chefs do tend to intimidate the viewers. Most importantly, I think a host and a chef are difficult to come by. These are two talents that are difficult.
AP: What image comes to your mind when you hear the term “foodie?”
Duran: Someone who is not afraid to taste something for the first time. If you haven’t tried something you can’t say you don’t like it.