The national spotlight will be shining on Saratoga Thursday night (April 29).
Spa City chefs Jeannette Liebers and Chris Bonnivier will go head to head on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay” in an episode called “The Battle for Saratoga.”
The episode, which airs at 8 p.m., is years in the making. For Liebers, who is the owner/executive chef of Sweet Mimi’s Cafe and Bakery, it started in the summer of 2019. She’d always hoped that Flay would visit the cafe and in August of 2019, he stopped in for breakfast with some of her regular summer customers. He ordered a classic Saratoga sandwich (consisting of a homemade biscuit, sausage patty, Vermont cheddar cheese and eggs). After Flay was done with the meal, Liebers said she went out to greet him and give him a challenge.
“I said, ‘Bobby, it’s an honor to have you here and I hope that you’ve enjoyed your meal. A lot of my regular customers have always told me that they were going to write to you and ask if I could be on the show.’ He said, ‘Well, would you do that?’ And I said ‘Of course, I would love to come to New York and challenge you on ‘Beat Bobby Flay.’ ”
Seven days later, Liebers got a call from the production team, Rock Shrimp Productions, and started interviewing to be on the show. Luckily, Liebers had TV experience. Early on in her career, she was the host of a show on Time Warner Cable called “The Melting Pot,” based in Syracuse.
“Beat Bobby Flay” put on a different type of pressure of course, especially given she’d be competing with Bonnivier, executive chef at The Blue Hen (now folded into Morrissey’s Lounge & Bistro) at the Adelphi Hotel (since the filming, Bonnivier has left his position at the Adelphi).
Before filming started in October of 2019, the two chefs didn’t know each other.
“The Blue Hen was sort of new to the scene; it had only been there a couple of years, I believe,” Liebers said. “I do brunch and everything we do is homemade and we take our time to use local farms and put together a beautiful menu. But the Blue Hen is on a different level.”
Needless to say, Liebers was nervous at first, but when the producers asked the contestants to get to know each other shortly before filming, she said she was immediately put at ease.
“From that point on it was just great. We just really connected. I asked him a lot about his background and it put me at such ease because I really felt like ‘This could be amazing if I could beat chef Chris. He’s the real deal,’’ Liebers said.
On the show, the two competing chefs must come up with a recipe that uses a secret ingredient which Flay announces at the start of the episode. Whoever creates the best dish and wins that round, faces off with Flay in a second challenge. The “Battle of Saratoga” episode also features professional golfer Michelle Wie and Food Network’s Scott Conant.
Without spoiling anything, Liebers said the experience was a bit of a whirlwind, albeit a fun and exciting one.
“I thought my husband was going to have a heart attack,” Liebers said. “He was a lot more nervous for me than I was for myself.”
Once filming wrapped up, Liebers expected the show to air in 2020, but the pandemic pushed everything back. It also tested the cafe, which Liebers has run since 2013. To keep the business running, Liebers added a cookie delivery service and continued to adapt the business model as the year went on.
“I walk out my front door on 47 Phila Street and . . . when I look up the road, three beloved restaurants didn’t make it. So that’s our reality,” Liebers said.
The pandemic made her realize just how important the support of fellow restaurant owners is and how important the Capital Region community is.
“Boy did our community support us. Anything that I would put out there to pivot my business, they showed up in lines of people to support us. So I’m so grateful to be a small business owner in this wonderful community. I’m just so grateful for the support, honestly,” Liebers said.
Since she announced that she’d be featured on “Beat Bobby Flay,” the post has gotten about 15,000 views on Facebook and lots of encouraging comments. She’s planning to have a watch party with some of the people who helped support and prepare her for the show.
“It’s good timing. People are looking for something fun to attach to, [for] some good news,” Liebers said.
For more information on the show visit “Beat Bobby Flay” on foodnetwork.com.
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