We are thrilled to announce that Toni Senecal, host and creator of the Emmy Award winning television series Toni On! New York, will be joining us at SoWe (Southern Westchester) Food &Wine Festival 2014. We had the pleasure of sitting down and interviewing Toni about life, food, and the pursuit of eating. Check it out:
Corey Baumer: First, just to get into it, would you tell me a little bit about your show?
Toni Senecal: Sure! The show actually originated as a travel show that I did in conjunction with being an entertainment reporter; I was at PIX and Channel 5. Then my husband and I had a couple of babies [laughs] so we thought that going to Antarctica and Costa Rica on a regular basis wouldn’t be feasible. So I left Fox and went back to my old station, Channel 11, and pitched them the idea of doing kind of a travel show for locals. And that’s kind of what the show is! The first couple of years we kind of did New York neighborhood by neighborhood and we would do the history of the neighborhood and then eat and drink our way through the neighborhood. But now five years later, I’ve kind of run out of neighborhoods, so it’s kind of become theme-driven. Like we’ll do a high-tech episode or a young-at-heart episode… It’s become more thematic. But it really revolves around food, my love of food, and my love of history.
CB: How long have you known you wanted to work with food?
TS: Well, even when I was an entertainment reporter, I did a lot of food features. I love to cook, and I love ethnic foods and I’m just a total foodie so it just kind of made sense. And after ten years of being an entertainment reporter, I had sort of had my fill of red carpets, so I reinvented myself as a food reporter!
CB: Who is your favorite chef?
TS: [Laughing] Oh my God! That’s an impossible question! What are the circumstances? Is it a quick lunch or a lavish dinner? There are so many categories! On the show we’ll cover a sort of high end place and then the one dollar taco stand and the best brunch and where to have the newest inventive cocktails, and every story has its own sort of nugget, so it depends what nugget I’m after!
CB: What was your favorite episode to shoot?
TS: They’re all awesome to shoot, but we did a show recently, a beer pairing show, which, you know, as a job having to go drink beer all day and pair it with downright sinful food was not a bad gig. But I also learned a lot about beer. So I would say from the last season the beer pairing show was great. I learned the most. We also just did an outdoor New York show where I ran the Spartan Race. It’s a 5K race, so that’s just over two miles, and we got there and they said, “surprise! It’s four and a half miles!” It’s an obstacle course run in mud. I scaled a ten foot wall and crawled under 100 yards of barbed wire. That was fun in a really sick and twisted way. That’s the best part of my job. I get to do all these crazy things I would never otherwise do. That’s the best part of the show. It’s like having a different job every day because every show is so different.
CB: What is your favorite restaurant in Westchester?
TS: Agony! [Laughs] Agony! I have to pick two! I love Birdsall House. Have you ever been there? Oh My God, you don’t know what you’re missing! It’s in Peekskill. Oh, wait, I have three favorites! But first I went to this place, Birdsall House, and they had this dish, this Beet Burger, and it is so ridiculously delicious that every time I go there it’s the only thing I can get. Then I find out that the chef there, March Walker, didn’t actually invent that dish! Instead, it was the chef Matt Hutchins. Matt Hutchins, who is one of the owners and chef at a restaurant called The Hop in Beacon, actually created that dish. He was the original chef at Birdsall House. His food is just amazing. So I love them, March Walker at Birdsall House and Matt Hutchins at The Hop, and my new favorite pizza place ever is The Parlor in Dobbs Ferry. Dave DiBari. He’s a part of the festival! He is freakin’ off the hook. Oh my God. I’m not easily blown away, given that I basically eat food for a living, but I was floored. It was so good. The pizza was so good, but then he also did oven roasted oysters with brown butter and some crazy riff on a chicken wing with bone marrow and it was just insane. It’s hard to keep in shape when you’re faced with things like foie gras pizza, for example. You have to go. And the place is just so cool. You feel like you’re on the Lower East side. This is my favorite part; they serve cocktails in glass flasks. And you can just tell that they love what they do.
CB: As you know, we’re a food and wine and craft beer festival. Do you have any favorite craft beers or maybe a favorite wine?
TS: Rushing Duck Saison. The name of the brewery is Rushing Duck and their saison is just… it’s just delicious. They’re great. I was also introduced to a couple of new places recently. One in particular is brewer/musician Evan Watson at Plan Bee Farm Brewery. He actually used to open for Meatloaf! But some of these new farm brews are just so inventive and delicious, like his. And I love the fact that they have to use local hops. Those are the two that I’ve recently been introduced to that I kind of flipped for.
CB: And finally, what are you most looking forward to about SoWe Food and Wine Festival?
TS: Eating! [Laughs] Eating all the awesome amazing food! And it also serves me to source new stories because I’m always looking for new places to cover!
Make sure to catch Toni on TV! Toni On! New York airs on WLNY 10/55 Saturdays 7:30PM and 12:00AM and on CBS2 Sunday mornings at 5:30AM.