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Why 'Will Work for Food' Works

February 5, 2009 By:
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What's that dizzying acrid/sweet smell coming from inside that college boy's dorm? Could he be smoking ...

Lox?

Could be if the boy in question was Adam Gertler and the controlled substance he was smoking came from the uncontrollable white waters of Alaska, where salmon was king and bagel its bride.

From whitewater to whitefish, Gertler girded early on for a whopper of a tale; born just a few thousand miles away from Alaska's shores, the Long Island native always longed for his time in the spotlight.

At first, that meant the burning bright lights of comedy clubs and the occasional TV gig; later, it became the blue-white cast coming from the roar of a hot fire over at the Smoked Joint, which he co-owned in Philadelphia for a few seasonings, proving that it was toques not tokes that was his high.

Now, he's a combination platter of performer/ entrepreneur; finding his heart and home before cameras on the Food Network's "Will Work for Food" on Monday nights.

Works for him; the one-time star of his elementary school's production of "Pinocchio" sticks his nose these days into the business of food professionals, with his series taking a semi-serious look at how food gets from there to here.

Got milk? The goat farmer's livestock does, and Gertler gets his livelihood showing how that milk rams its way right into a slab of cheese. See the USA in your chevre, up there on screen.

It's a familiar soundstage for Gertler, who got the gig after finishing second on last season's "The Next Food Network Star."

So he wasn't the next, but the next to next. Next, however, he may grab the laurels that eluded him attired as he was in stovetop dressing.

"I've had an obsession with food since I was a child," reflecting the fans of the fumes that he generated at the Smoked Joint at the Academy House in Center City. "I've also always loved to eat. I was never the athletic type, but was always naturally curious about how food got to where it was."

It's at the top of his résumé these days as he resumes his weekly series, no trifle of a treat as he pursues the ultimate truffle.

Well-done, attest the critics.

Part of the problem, he recalls. "The food I ate growing up was ... bland," he recalls. "It was your Jewish diet: Well-done meat; bagels and lox."

It wasn't until college, Syracuse U., that he got a real education. "That's when I discovered that meat can have a little pink in it."

Not his mother's fault -- "a terrific baker, by the way" -- it's all a matter of heritage. After all, wasn't it one of the commandments on Moses' mitzvah menu that Jewish cooks "should be cautious that they never undercook meat below ... 185 degrees!"

The Worm Turns
What better way to play a trick on trichinosis went the argument. But at college, Gertler didn't get sauced like the stereotypical college kid; he learned how to sauce and sauté.

"I catered parties at college; I learned to make chicken tenders from scratch. There were no kegs of beer at my parties."

No, this bud's for you, Martha Stewart.

"No fights broke out at my parties"; the brisket was his breakout punch. "Everyone was much happier with my food," he says.

Tau Epsilon ... Essen? Frat boy?

"Food boy!" he enthuses.

BMOC -- Big Meal on Campus was his gig. "Give me two spatulas, one in each hand, and I'd rule the world!"

But could he handle the heat? Get into the kitchen, he decided. And when the invitation came from his brother and his bro's business partner to fire up the ovens at the new restaurant in Philly, he didn't need Jim Carrey to tell him this was one smokin' opportunity.

"I loved the Philadelphia food scene; I had worked for [exec chef] Jose Garces at Amada, and did the whole gastro-pub scene, my kind of food -- accessible, good and tasty."

He has a taste for what it takes to make "Will Work for Food" work, whether shadowing the intrepid trail of a lobsterman -- happy treif to you -- or serving as a potato-chip flaw detector (bet you can't examine just one!)

Yet some jobs are still out there, hanging like a big matzah ball on his mind.

"I would love to be a bagel-maker," he says of the salt-of-the-earth job.

Uh, no. "I'm not a fan of the salt bagel, but the everything bagel? That's mine."

That's mine ... that's what his mother, Sandy, is probably proclaiming.

"She's so proud of me, and when my grandparents in Florida turn on the Food Network, well, seeing me makes them happy."

But the job does have its challenges. Just what does Gertler need to be an abalone farmer? "Very small tractors," he says.

Yet he can see himself making tracks for that hardest job of all: Lox-wrangler.

"Do you know how hard it is," he muses, "to lasso a cured salmon?" 

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