He's no diva, but chef Tuffy Stone goes high-def this week as a professor type on a new TLC network reality series. Stone, who owns A Sharper Palate catering company and Q Barbeque, debuts in “BBQ Pitmasters” Thursdays at 10 p.m.
The eight-episode production digs into the competitive barbecue world, and Stone takes on challengers from Texas, Georgia, California and Chesapeake, where his friend Lee Ann Whippen runs Wood Chick's BBQ. Some 17,000 miles, eight competitions and 60 days later, Stone now knows that sizzle isn't just a cooking term — it's lingo for a taped television treatment to entice a network to bite on a pitch. In this case, the sizzle was so hot it led to a bidding war between two channels looking to increase their male viewership.
Publicity materials from TLC push the program as an epic: “For pit masters, the honor rides on the virtues of one perfectly charred rib, and hundreds of thousands of dollars trade hands after a single, mouth-watering bite of brisket. The men and women featured are part chef, part athlete, and part five-star general. They not only talk a big game, but walk it every step of the way: with grease on their hands, sweat on their brows, and meat on their minds from sun-up to sundown.”
For Stone, who usually flies below the radar despite enough trophies to fill his 32-foot road rig, the production has been a lesson in projecting his personality, even talking smack as directed in some particularly competitive moments. Since he doesn't know what to expect in the final edited version, there will be no premiere party. “I'll be holed up in my bedroom watching it by myself,” Stone says half-seriously, “because I'll be so embarrassed by how it comes out.” Stone may be surprised by the attention and success that championship barbecue has attracted, but he's no less passionate about the work that's moved him toward stardom. “When I talk about barbecue, it's about building a fire, taking a modest cut of meat and something as basic as salt, pepper and paprika, and trying to coax greatness out of it. Here's this process that can't be rushed,” no matter how fast the world spins around it. “This whole barbecue thing was a journey to get reconnected to cooking,” Stone says, “and it's been a wild trip ever since.” www.qbarbeque.com.
Quickfire Challenge: Meanwhile, at least five local chefs are waiting to hear whether they'll make the cut for the next season of “Top Chef,” a Bravo network competition series with a passionate local following and serious opportunity for the chosen 17. Since they're under a strict no-talking-to-media policy, their names won't appear here, but one contestant says the entry process is surprisingly grueling. The application form runs dozens of pages, has lots of detailed questions with various cooking scenarios and personality questions, and other character-examination methods that help the show's casting honchos find a diverse, talented and telegenic batch. Stay tuned.
Wine From the Bin: Act quickly to attend a wine dinner Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. at Bin 22 in Carytown. Wines from Louis Dressner are paired with a four-course meal of oysters, a mushroom and sausage strudel, duck cassoulet and blue cheese and chocolate for dessert. Reserve at 358-4501, $42 per person includes tax. 3200 W. Cary St.
Rum Tasting: Every Wednesday in December, the enclosed rooftop in Shockoe Bottom's still-smoking Havana '59 introduces Pyrat rum by Patron. Mojitos, original brass and jazz from La Musica Latina Para el Restaurante and special cigars set the tone for an anywhere-but-here sensation. 16 N. 17th St. 780-2822. www.havana59.net.
Festivus for the Rest of Us: Count on Savor, the Manchester cafAc, to come up with creative wine dinner themes, like this tribute to “Seinfeld” humor to kick off the holiday season. It's Dec. 4 at 6:30 p.m., with a deconstructed oyster Rockefeller in puff pastry, spiced butternut squash soup with smoked ham bits, Manakintowne greens with pulled turkey breast and cranberry-orange dressing, and “fancy schmancy shepherd's pie.” Holiday sweets served with tawny port seal the deal. All courses are paired with wines; $45 per person is all-inclusive. Reserve by Dec. 2. 201 W. Seventh St. 527-2867. www.savorcompany.com.