Foreigner’s Kelly Hansen on His Passion for Cooking + Guest Turn on ‘Chopped': Exclusive Interview
When Kelly Hansen isn’t onstage belting out hits with Foreigner, you’re likely to find him in the kitchen or dining at the country’s most intriguing restaurants. As anyone who follows him on Instagram knows, the vocalist is a well-known student of food – and a proponent of healthy eating – who’s very serious about the science (and art) of cooking.
Hansen’s also a fan of the Food Network staple Chopped, which made him a natural to appear on the show’s “Rock Stars” episode, set to air at 10 p.m. EST on Tuesday (Aug. 18). He's featured alongside Lita Ford, Dweezil Zappa and Twisted Sister’s Eddie Ojeda.
This wasn’t Hansen’s first time on culinary-related TV. He’s been on The Chew cooking alongside pal Mario Batali – and it wasn’t his first food competition rodeo, either: In 2010, he helped Texas chef Tim Love win the Asphalt Chef contest. However, being on Chopped (which challenges cooks to whip up an appetizer, main dish and dessert in three separate timed, high-pressure segments, with contestant eliminations after each round) produced its own set of challenges.
While in Detroit during Foreigner’s recent run of shows opening for Kid Rock, he spoke with Ultimate Classic Rock’s biggest Chopped fan about prepping for the show and what it was really like being on set, as well as his kitchen specialties (favorites include Mexican food and a Bolognese) and the parallels between cooking and music.
You’re no stranger to cooking on TV or cooking competitions. How was Chopped different than previous stuff you’ve done?
Having seen the show, I knew how challenging it was – and having seen the contestants on there, I know how frightening it is. It was all of those things for me, and not anything less. It was even more scary than stepping on stage in front of 20,000 people, for sure.
I was going to ask about that. When you watch it on TV, it looks totally nerve-wracking. So, it was similar in real time.
It was completely nerve-wracking. The only saving grace was that it was in February, and something was wrong with the heater in the building, so it was kind of chilly in the kitchen. So, we didn’t sweat our balls off, you know?
Did you prepare for the show?
Whenever I was home on a break, I would practice certain techniques or working with ingredients I wasn’t familiar with, or hadn’t worked with a lot. I tried to do as much reading as I could: I went on the internet to see what most unusual baskets of ingredients [have been] on Chopped. All of that. I researched as much as I could, because I wasn’t going to get as much time in the kitchen at home as I wanted to, to kind of bone up on stuff. In fact, one of the breaks that I got where I was going to be home for four days, when I thought, “This is where I can really practice a few things,” I got the flu on the flight home, so I was flat on my back for four days, and then we had to go back out on the road again.
And cooking’s the last thing you want to do in that situation.
I still was able to do a few things, but I was really sick as a dog. But I had all these ingredients. [Laughs.] They were in the house, and I was going to leave again for another four weeks, so I had to use them.
When you were filming the show, was there anything that was really unexpected about it?
Because I’ve seen the show so much, there wasn’t a lot – except I was really surprised that the day we did our show, there were no avocadoes.
[Gasps.] There’s always avocadoes [on the show]!
And you can use them for so many things – as a garnish, as a substitution…
So many things! I love avocadoes, and I use them all the time. But they were not present. I think everything in there is a conscious choice to either have or not have. [The show] films right above Chelsea Market in New York City, which is one of the little shopping meccas in the city there. Of course, they could’ve gone downstairs and had avocados if they wanted.
On Chopped, what was your approach? Did you go for creativity, or did you go for speed? What did you decide to do?
I was going to go for flavor first, and presentation next, and I wasn’t going to worry too much about creativity, because I figured the odd ingredients would lend itself to that naturally.
How is fronting a rock band good preparation for you being on TV and being on Chopped?
Hopefully, I’m not so concerned about my presence in front of the camera. Because you’re performing on stage, you’re a little bit more comfortable in your skin in that regard. The hard thing, that was surprising to me – that I didn’t realize until I started doing competition cooking things – is how very difficult it is to keep a conversation going and entertaining enough for television while you’re trying to cook something really quickly on a segment or a TV show.
I’ve seen other people who have failed at that miserably, and so I try to concentrate on being able to do that. You’re concentrating when you’re cooking, you’re thinking about timing – when you have to add stuff and how much, and if you can do that and talk at the same time. Like, Mario Batali is f–king fantastic at that. I marvel at him sometimes. And even Michael Symon – we did The Chew with him. To watch them work, where they can cook something really fabulous and completely be talking. It’s like doing two things at the same time musically. It’s pretty incredible.
Who taught you how to cook originally?
You know, I worked for a short time in a Mexican restaurant when I was almost 16 years old. It was a restaurant, but it was more putting together dishes rather than creating dishes or actual cooking of food. [There were] trays full of [ingredients], kind of like they do at Chipotle or something. You’re putting things on the dishes.
It was more me being on the road and not being able to get what I [wanted there], that made it so when I got home from the road, I would make stuff that I wanted, and put everything in it that I wanted. I knew what was in it. It’s tough when you’re ordering room service. You don’t know where the ingredients are coming from, or how it’s really going to be when you get it. You start making crazy-specific room service orders in order to try to get what you want.
[My cooking] kind of started out of that. But I always did like to cook at home. That just kind of fueled it and turned it into something bigger.
What’s your style of cooking? Do you use recipes, or can you go by taste?
All of the above. Sometimes I’ll be at home and I won’t have gone shopping, and I’ll go, “Is there something I can make out of what I have here?” That’s always kind of fun, because sometimes you’re really surprised you were able to make something really delicious out of what [you had]. Especially if I’m working on something new, I’ll usually refer to recipes online, and I’ll change it up to fit my own thing, and experiment like that. But in order to get the basics of a particular kind of dish – some kind of Indian dish or something that I haven’t worked on before – I need that reference.
What is it about the art of cooking that appeals to you? It seems like there could be some parallels with music.
You know, there are a lot of parallels with music. Like in music, you have a certain selection of notes and instruments at your disposal, and you can think of those as ingredients. And you can create your own thing. It’s satisfying in that way. For me, it is relaxing. I’m not on a schedule; I’m not having to entertain anybody else or do anything. I can just do something for me that’s calming. I like the smells; I love the taste of food. I like taking my time and doing something that I enjoy. I specifically buy really good ingredients; I’m fortunate enough that I can do that. So, all of those things together are a really nice, different experience for me than life on the road or performing on stage or recording.
When you are on the road, are there any particular places you seek out that you know can only get in a certain area? Those weird little regional things?
New York, Chicago are great food towns. New Orleans. I try to research and look in the cities I’m going to be and see if there’s a good place – if I’m going to have a night off, I can try to find a place, like I just did last night in Detroit. Or if I have some celebrity chef friends who have restaurants in a particular town, I can either go to their place or can they can give me recommendations. That’s been really great in expanding my horizons, as far as places to go and things to try.
Being on the road, it can be an anxious experience to eat – you don’t know where things are coming from. I know you’re a big fan of healthy eating. How do you manage that?
Thankfully, because of the food revolution, there are a lot more choices when you’re traveling. At airports, you can find a lot more healthy choices to eat. Sometimes the hardest part is if you’re at a hotel. If you’ve never stayed there before, you don’t know how they put their food together. There’s some review sites that help, or sometimes you just dive in: “Let me just try this and see how well they do.” I always love it when I’m pleasantly surprised by the fact that someone took real care in making a meal, they really thought about the fact that someone’s actually going to eat this – not just they’re trying to get some job done.
It makes you want to – and sometimes I have – get in touch with the kitchen and let them know that I appreciate that they really had thought behind what they’re doing. The people who work in kitchens and chefs don’t get enough of that. If you let them know that you really thought they did a great job, I think it goes a long way.
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