On an overcast winter day in New York City, an abnormally large and majestic cat lounges on the couch in a Manhattan apartment, stretching his paws with vigor. His name is Nacho. He's a fluffy, orange Maine Coon with more Instagram followers than most humans, and he has the good fortune of calling Bobby Flay his dad.
Since the veteran Food Network chef and restaurant owner brought Nacho into his family two years ago, the dynamic duo have been inseparable. When Flay is on the road, Nacho goes along for the ride, documenting his experiences through a dynamic social media presence. His unusually large size and larger appetite have captured the hearts of thousands.
Today, Nacho roams his sleek, spacious kitchen, perching atop Flay's refrigerator and looking on as the chef prepares for one of the most important events of the year: the Super Bowl.
As it is for most Americans, the Super Bowl is a big deal in the Flay household. Though Flay has celebrated many a game day in Las Vegas, where he owns restaurants including Mesa Grill and Bobby's Burger Palace, he prefers to commemorate the occasion in his hometown of NYC. As a native New Yorker (who importantly cites Joe's Pizza on Carmine and Zucker's as his favorite NYC slice and bagel, respectively), he's a Giants fan. And although his team won't be playing in this year's final brawl, Flay plans to throw a food-filled bash at home.
"You don't want to go too far out of the genre of Super Bowl 'cuisine,'" he says, "but there's no reason not to make those things good."
For Flay, that means a long list of elevated classics, like lamb and black bean chili topped with avocado relish and crème fraîche, saucy meatball sandwiches, chipotle honey chicken wings and a hearty entrée like paella. (If you're currently brainstorming ways to get invited to his next game-day gathering, you're not alone.)
It should come as no surprise, though, that a chef who calls his cat Nacho knows how to make a killer plate of everyone's favorite Super Bowl snack. Upon our arrival, the chef constructs an epic portion of Brussels sprout- and Muenster cheese sauce-topped nachos with pickled onions and chiles (get the recipe). Nearby, Nacho watches with a curiosity known only to cats.
Flay describes a cheesy tray of nachos as the ultimate Super Bowl necessity and walks us through the necessary steps for achieving peak texture and flavor.
He skips the heaping mounds of chips covered in melted cheese and instead suggests a few even and flat layers laid out on a tray. This way, each chip gets a fair chance at an aptly cheesy and loaded topping.
"The tortilla chips have to be crispy, and there always has to be a cheese sauce, as opposed to just melted cheese," he explains. "It gives it a better texture."
"They also need to have the right amount of heat, and then a sweet-and-sour note," he adds. Cue the pickled onions or chiles and fresh Fresnos or jalapeños.
"Lastly, there has to be some kind of freshness," he says. "I like the idea of making a sort of 'healthier' version of nachos, so you can add vegetables like roasted cauliflower or Brussels sprouts to get your greens in there." A few dollops of cilantro or red pepper pesto takes things to the next level.
Though Flay doesn't insist on meat, he's partial to adding fish or shellfish for a plate of purr-fection (yeah, we said it). "Shrimp nachos are really great," he says. "I know you're not supposed to put cheese with fish, but for nachos, go for it."
And in case you're wondering, Flay's kitchen companion gets his own fishier version of the game-day classic. "When it comes to human food, Nacho plays right into the stereotype of a cat: He loves fish."
Nacho usually sticks to cat food, but the Super Bowl calls for a special treat: a handful of sautéed shrimp along with his favorite freeze-dried chicken treats and a crumble of blue corn tortilla chips. While Bobby digs into his Brussels sprout and molten cheese creation, Nacho enjoys his own, savoring a few minutes of (usually frowned-upon) kitchen counter time before retreating to his favorite cabinet hideaway.
If Nacho really has nine lives, he's definitely living them out in style.
This month, our hearts belong to the people, places, ingredients and nostalgic favorites doing it all For the Love of Food.