Charles Phoenix on fried cereal, the genesis of the Cherpumple and molded gelatin
If you know retro -- and particularly mid-century -- you know retro geek Charles Phoenix, a child of the endless car lots and fast food restaurants of Southern California who is famous across the nation for his mid-mod slide shows and modernist expertise. And you might even know about his sideshow, the most awesome Charles Phoenix Test Kitchen. In that guise, he's appeared on Martha Stewart's show and amazed Conan O'Brien with his spectacular Astro-Weenie Christmas Tree, but at the end of July, he'll be doing it 24/7 in the Denver County Fair Kitchen Pavilion, where he'll create such delectables of his own invention as Mr. Meatloaf and Fried Cereal, as well as judge such fair food categories as best Molded Gelatin Dessert and best Cake and Egg Decorating.
We chatted with Mr. Phoenix about the recipes and inspirations behind his unique retro food fetishes, and here's what he had to say.
Westword: How do you come up with your recipes?
Charles Phoenix: I grew up in southern California. I learned everything I needed to know there, and I like to experiment with reinventing recipes in kitchen. It's definitely a side thing, and I've really been loving it.
WW: You'll be demonstrating how to make Fried Cereal at the fair. What is that?
Charles Phoenix, whippin' up a batch of Fried Cereal.
CP: It's not really fried. Actually, it's sauteed in butter until it gets toasted. To make it, you choose five of your favorite childhood cereals, put it all in an electric skillet and saute it until it's golden and crispy. If you think you loved it before, you'll really love it now. It's the new Chex Mix! Everyone can make their own personal blend. I recommend using at least one multicolored cereal, such as Froot Loops, for color. Then, you need something chocolate, because we all love chocolate. From there, you can use almost anything: Lucky Charms, Applejacks, Frosted Flakes. There are no bad combos, but the signature visual of dish is to have some kind of multicolored cereal as a base. Fried Cereal is the latest video on my website.
CP: Well, I'll be making a Mr. Meatloaf. He'll have a vegetable face applied with toothpicks. My way of making meatloaf is different from everyone else's: I'll be mixing mine with animal crackers all crumbled up and barbecue chips mashed into little pieces. It gives it a sweet tang. And when I mix it together, I put it all in a big tea towel in a ball and bang the whole thing on the counter. It makes all the air go out of it. I like a solid meat loaf, not a crumbly one.
I might actually make a Mrs. Meatloaf, too, and I'll complement them both with tater tots. Americans were all brought up on junk food, and all I can say is thank you, Ore Ida, for making tater tots since 1954. I'm into the history of these products, and I try to give the ABC 123 on where they come from. When I make recipes where a brand name product is involved, I'll give some background on it, because the people want to know.