Friday, March 4, 2016

No such thing as ‘too much ketchup’ when it comes to meatloaf

Certain food pairings belong together. Peanut butter and jelly. Pancakes and maple syrup. Popcorn and coconut oil (seriously). And ketchup and meatloaf.

Growing up in a house where the title of the meatloaf card in my mother’s recipe box literally says “Best Meatloaf in Town,” ketchup was a staple of the recipe, as well as an appropriate garnish for the finished product. There was no way you could slather on too much of the stuff.

But apparently the “judges” on Chopped – the popular cooking competition show on Food Network – disagree, as viewers found out in a recent episode. (*Spoilers to follow*)

Four chefs who make their livings serving up tasty vittles at America’s truck stops were the featured combatants on the episode, including chef Jake Harbeck of the kitchen at Iowa 80 Truck Stop. The other contestants included Chef JR Tiger, general manager of the Country Pride restaurant at the TA Travel Center in Harrisburg, Pa.; Eva Dix, chef and co-owner of Dixie Truck Stop on Route 66 in McLean, Ill.; and Shaun Yazbek, executive chef at Dysart’s Truck Stop in Bangor, Maine.

If you’ve never seen the show, the four contestants are given a basket with four “mystery” ingredients that must be incorporated into a specific type of dish – appetizer, entrée or dessert – as well as a specific time limit to complete the dish. The dishes are presented to a panel of three judges who vote on which chefs make it to the next round. The chef who fails to advance to the next phase of the competition is “chopped.” The winner receives a $10,000 prize.

In the Truck Stop Stars episode, all four chefs are tasked with making an appetizer (in 20 minutes or less) that must incorporate each of the following mystery items: red-eye gravy; fennel (the plant itself, not the spice made of dried seeds); black garlic and meatloaf mix.  

Poor Chef Jake was the first one to get chopped, on account of the judges’ unanimous belief that he put too much ketchup on the meatloaf. “Too much ketchup” belongs alongside other famed oxymorons like “jumbo shrimp” and “military intelligence.”

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Land Line Managing Editor Jami Jones vociferously maintains that a good meatloaf requires no ketchup at all. Now, there’s plenty that Jami and I agree on, but this I chalk up to some quirk of growing up in the only town in Arkansas that must’ve had some sort of weird boycott on ketchup.

That said, we here at Land Line try to do our best to call out mainstream media when they paint truckers and the trucking industry in a negative light, and to tip our collective trucker caps when they showcase the positive aspects, like these talented chefs who are doing a lot more than just slinging hash. The contestants talked about how they hoped to show that they had the “chops” to show the judges that truck stop fare can be gourmet, rather than greasy. By and large they manage to do that, especially when the mystery items for dessert include bacon and French fries.

You can stream the episode on Amazon for a fee. Feel free to tell us in the comments whether or not ketchup belongs in your meatloaf.