When registered dietician, professional football player, and all-around foodie Molly Winsten saw that the Food Network was casting for a competition show called Tailgate Takedown, she knew she had to audition. A passionate advocate for allergy-friendly cooking, Winsten, a Medford resident, had appeared on other cooking shows in the past, but none as perfectly suited to her joint interests in food and football. So she called Salem resident Erin Truex – her friend and teammate on the Boston Renegades women’s football team – and asked if she wanted to join forces.
The pair completed their application in late September, and then settled in to wait. Less than three weeks later they got an email containing no congratulation – just a summons to appear at Gillette Stadium for filming in late October, the day the New England Patriots played the Chicago Bears.
“We found out later that they cast us within 30 seconds of seeing our reel,” Winsten says.
The resulting episode, in which the Massachusetts team battled a pair of accomplished tailgaters representing Chicago, will air on the Food Network on January 25. The show, which aired its first episode on January 4, is hosted by Food Network veteran Sunny Anderson and former Patriots player Vince Wilfork.
Winsten and Truex will be hosting a sold-out watch party that evening at Deacon Giles Distillery in Salem, where Truex has worked as a bartender. The pair will recreate the food they served on the show, and all proceeds will go to the Salem Food Pantry.
The show challenged competitors to create three rounds of food, each representing their region. We won’t given away all the tasty details, but Winsten and Truex managed to incorporate plenty of local classics in their menu, including cider, lobster, clams, and maple. They are also the only team to serve a cocktail pairing with each course, inspired by Truex’s time behind the bar in Salem.
“We really wanted to emulate what it would be like at a real tailgate,” Truex says. “And you’re not not drinking at a tailgate.”
Though tailgating is traditionally a very casual form of dining, the pair took the preparation process very seriously, balancing flavors and choosing ingredients that deeply reflect the region, including locally sourced cider and spices that might have been traded through Salem hundreds of years ago.
“We thought through every flavor detail,” Winsten says.
The filming took place outside Gillette Stadium in outdoor kitchens provided and outfitted by the Food Network. Wile the set-up was perfect, the weather was not. Production was delayed by lightning multiple times, and the wind and rain made it hard for burners to keep a high temperature, slowing the competitors down.
“There’s footage of me opening steaming lobsters with my bare hands, because we were so short on time,” Winsten says.
So, did they win? They’re not allowed to reveal the outcome, but did point out they have a long history of victory on the football field together – the Boston Renegades have won the Women’s Football Alliance national championship for the past four years, after all.
“We don’t do well with losing,” Truex says.