|Recipe: Tormented Eggplant|
You've got to figure that a guy with a name like Biker Billy is going to know his way around the combustibles. If you had caught his syndicated TV show, Biker Billy Cooks with Fire, a few years back, your suspicions would have been confirmed.
Though the show is now in hiatus, a pair of cookbooks makes his philosophy clear. He debuted with Biker Billy Cooks with Fire: Recipes from America's Most Outrageous Television Chef (Hearst Books, $19.95). The follow-up, 2000's Biker Billy's Freeway-a-Fire Cookbook: Life's Too Short to Eat Dull Food (Morrow, $19.95), amplified his culinary ideas -- most of which should be viewed through dark wraparound sunglasses, just like his.
Biker Billy's approach combines vegetarianism (he has eaten no meat since 1970); full-bearded, open-road rebellion (he has been riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles since he was 30); and an almost evangelical devotion to getting people to enjoy the adventure of cooking.
"All I want to do is ride," Biker Billy (a.k.a. Bill Hufnagle, a 46-year-old resident of Florham Park, N.J.) writes in the introduction to Freeway-a-Fire. His 1996 1,340cc fuel-injected Harley Road King is a police bike whose thunderous V-Twin engine can probably be heard in the next county. "So where does cooking fiery food come into this? In order to ride, I must do something ... to put gas in the tank."
He also lives to grill, especially in the summertime. "I'm happy if I can ride around, pick up some good fresh veggies, and then take them home and cook 'em up."
His next project will be slightly more eclectic. It's a cookbook dedicated, as he puts it, to the "Harley-Davidson family," for the 100th anniversary (in 2003) of the venerable Milwaukee motorcycle manufacturer's founding.
"There will be recipes from Harley riders, dealers, and so on," Billy says. "And it won't be exclusively vegetarian, or exclusively about hot and spicy foods."
For the time being, however, he's the reigning "Wild One" of grub that exudes heat. Peppers are a special passion (the man has even had a hybrid jalapeño named after him). "The fire in my food comes largely from peppers," he maintains, adding that peppers are "fun" fare for the summer grill.
"It's not about hurting people," he continues, carefully deflating the notion that all peppers must be painful to the palate. "They can add a sparkling new dimension to everything you cook."
Peppers are a cornerstone of Biker Billy's strategy. "There's no reason you shouldn't grill a few peppers, then puree them and use them as a marinade for whatever it is that you're planning to barbecue. You've got to cook creatively! Food is an edible art. A tangible love!"
Sometimes, Biker Billy has some poetry in him.
But he's also a burly wellspring of advice. To wit:
"The first thing you should do at the beginning of the summer grilling season is think about safety," stresses this biker, who has long recommended that aspiring motorcyclists take a qualifying course before they buy a bike. "Get the grill in good working order -- and keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
"Next, you want to be sure to experiment," he continues. Remember the season! There are so many delightful things out there. Fresh summer food." To get at these delights, he recommends that you saddle up the chopper, open up the throttle and head out to the farmers' markets.
"Third, explore different grilling techniques. Don't cook everything as fast as you can, on the highest possible fire. Why rush? You have to ask yourself: What am I doing this for? Are you trying to enjoy it, or just get something cooked real quick?"
He advocates slow-roasting dishes, such as his own "Tormented Eggplant" (he has a flair for memorable recipe names), in which the nightshades in question are stuffed with a peppery mixture and gradually cooked over controlled heat.
"That's the beauty of cycling," he says, making use of his most readily available metaphor. "It teaches you to slow down. It's all about the comprehension of a process. The journey is more important than the destination."
Sometimes, Biker Billy has some philosophy in him, too.
"Finally," he says, "just as a biker will customize his ride, you've got to add things to the grilling experience. Bring the fine china and the good crystal outside. Watch the sunset. That's the biker way."
"Well, you could wear some black leather, too."
You can put the biker in front of the grill, but you can never, ever, take him off his bike.
Biker Billy's empire of the wheel and the kitchen can be accessed at www.bikerbilly.com.
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