Here’s something no one saw coming. Don King, the legendary boxing promoter, has a new cause: Advocating for chefs who he feels have been unfairly eliminated from cooking competition reality shows.
He’s mounted a campaign for Josie Smith-Malave, aka Chef Josie, who was axed from Bravo’s “Top Chef” last week because her fried chicken was deemed too greasy. King — who has never tasted Smith-Malave’s chicken, but told ABCNews.com “all of my friends have had it and they’re all telling me about it” — called her elimination unfair.
“Chef Josie is the people’s chef,” he said. “She’s a master of culinary arts, for the people, by the people and of the people. Her food is ambrosia for the masses and the classes.”
King cited Smith-Malave’s diverse background (she’s called herself a “USDA prime piece of Puerto Rican Italian Filipino”) as one reason she should be known as America’s chef. She’s also honed her skills in the kitchens of famous foodies like Wylie Dufresne and Jean-Georges Vongrichten. But for him, her bird is the bottom line.
“Down here in Miami, that’s where she was originally from, there’s a multitude of people I’ve come in contact with who say her fried chicken is to die for,” he said. “These people have no vested interest other than the condition of their taste buds.”
“To me,” he added, “the chicken is a religious experience. It’s a gospel bird.”
“Top Chef” eliminations have fueled online debate in the past, but no contestant’s fall from grace has ever inspired an advocate like King. This is the man who built up Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, and negotiated the Rumble in the Jungle. What’s with the sudden interest in food?
“Food is your lifeline, baby,” he cried. “You have to understand, ‘The Iron Chef,’ all those other ones, I watch them because I’m concerned about eating. When you get to my age, all you want to do is sit back and dine and refine.”
King, 81, said boxers aren’t all that different from professional chefs.
“In boxing, you get knocked down, you get back up,” he said. “You’re fighting mano a mano. You can’t procrastinate, you’ve got to be able to deal with it. It’s the same thing with cooking. You’ve got to deal forthrightly in the struggle of life. You’ve got to be in it to win it.”
Winning it, for King, would mean opening a fried chicken restaurant with Smith-Malave and exposing her “delicious golden brown gospel bird” to the masses. He’s currently not being compensated by her, and he said his decision to support her was not financially motivated.
Smith-Malave couldn’t be reached for comment. A “Top Chef” publicist declined to comment on her elimination or King’s campaign. But judging by the chef’s #savechefjosie tweets, the hashtag King wants fans to use to promote his cause, she’s on board with his plan.
As for his future in promoting unjustly axed reality TV chefs, King said he’ll work with “the ones that I feel have a groundswell of public support, like Chef Josie has.” Asked who his next client might be, he said, “you can never tell who my client may be because my client is America.”
But before taking on any more culinary heavy hitters, he’s got to taste that chicken.
“I have to meet Chef Josie soon,” he said. “I’ve talked to her several times. She’s ready to fry me some chicken.”