Food Network’s ‘Raid the Fridge’ to feature Mobile chef Erica Barrett – AL.com

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Did someone say "Mardi Gras leftovers?" Chef Erica Barrett, who has a SOCU restaurant in Mobile and another one about to open in Birmingham, is shown in a scene from an upcoming episode of Food Network's "Raid the Fridge."Food Network
Chef Erica Barrett’s ability to find opportunity amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic shows her adaptability. Now it’s about to be put to the test in a whole new way on Food Network’s “Raid the Fridge.”
Barrett’s SOCU Southern Kitchen & Oyster Bar on Dauphin Street hadn’t been open long before the pandemic set in. Barrett was hardly the only chef to ramp up takeout service as a way to weather the storm — but she tackled it in a way few did. She scrapped the standard menu and began offering a rotating array of over-the-top meals promoted with mouth-watering social media videos. There were a lot of places where you could pick up Styrofoam clamshells of food. There weren’t many where you could pick up a lavish shrimp-and-lobster boil for your household.
SOCU has long since reopened to dine-in patrons, but Barrett has continued to push in new directions. She’s on the verge of opening a second SOCU in Birmingham, and that’s one of just several ventures in the works for 2022.
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Chef Erica Barrett to open second location of SOCU Southern Kitchen & Oyster Bar in Birmingham
“Raid the Fridge” is something different altogether. Each episode is a freestanding battle between four chefs, with the winner taking home $10,000. Barrett will be featured in a episode premiering at 9 p.m. Central time on Tuesday, Jan. 25; it’ll be repeated at midnight.
The twist is that at the beginning of each round, a new batch of refrigerators are rolled in. Each is supposedly modeled on a real-life fridge somewhere in America, both in terms of the contents and the outside decoration. The decorations are important because they provide the only clues about what might be inside. They have to choose based on a guess about what a family with kids, or a bunch of beach bums, or a social media influencer might have in stock.
For better and for worse, the execution doesn’t deliver quite the level of desperation suggested by the premise. Based on a sample episode, these fridges don’t look like yours and mine. They’re not full of odds and ends, leftovers and orphaned dregs of condiments. The contents may be weird, but whatever’s in there is fresh and plentiful. The chefs also have access to a pantry of incidentals.
On the other hand, the clock is ticking and chefs face some twists that ratchet up the tension. In any given round the dish they produce might have to be stuffed or might have to feature sweet-and-savory flavoring, for example. The stuff in the fridge might be mislabeled and require careful investigation. Each of the first two rounds eliminates a competitor before the last two go head-to-head in the final round.
“It was very intense, a lot of time pressure,” said Barrett. “I would love to spill the beans. That competition wore me out a little bit. There were some snafus in there I was like, ‘I don’t normally do this on a daily basis, I’m being a little clumsy here.’”
One thing that might have worked in her favor is the fact she’s in an episode titled “Not So Big Easy Fridges.” In its second round, “the three remaining chefs attempt romantic date night dinners, choosing from three fridges containing leftovers from a bachelor party, Mardi Gras and a slumber party.”
Mardi Gras leftovers don’t sound very romantic, but if anybody can rise to that challenge it’ll be a Gulf Coast chef.
“Raid the Fridge” isn’t Barrett’s first appearance on TV. After growing up in Mobile she moved to Atlanta for school and the start of a corporate career. Her entrepreneurial efforts included Southern Culture Artisan Foods, making premium waffle and pancake mixes. She appeared on “Shark Tank” and “The Profit.”
“‘Raid the Fridge’ is a new show concept that Food Network came up with, and they reached out to me through the restaurant,” Barrett said. “They actually were cold-calling restaurants, I think.” After some back-and-forth, she was in.
“It’s about everyday refrigerator and pantry items and making amazing meals which I thought was a really cool concept,” she said.
“It was a lot of fun. But of course it kind of mimicked the restaurant industry. The hours were long. The tapings were long,” she said. “Fun, of course, because I love to cook, But long in a sense of ‘When is this long day going to end?’ which is the same way I feel at my restaurant.”
“It’s not just as simple as going to a refrigerator of commonly available items that we would have in our own homes. There were definitely some surprises in there,” Barrett said. “I met some really great chefs on there and I think it overall spotlighted who am I as a chef and my culinary point of view, which is elevated Southern food.”
We’ll see on Jan. 25. But Barrett won’t be waiting idly.
Last fall she announced plans to open a second SOCU Southern Kitchen & Oyster Bar in Birmingham. It’s in the downtown Pizitz building, in a space formerly occupied by Italian restaurant Fero. She said she expects to open “sometime in February.”
“That’s exciting, it really has taken shape nicely. I was was fortunate to have a great space to work with,” she said. “There were already some great bones there.”
Dine-in business has picked back up at the Mobile SOCU, she said, but she’s still doing a lot of to-go orders and catering. She continues to develop that side of things.
“I just worked recently on some new initiatives, going into this year, just to kind of make it through the pandemic,” she said. She’s developing a meal-kit service, for patrons to cook at home, as well as domestic shipping of prepared foods. Soon, overnight delivery of specialties such as oxtails, collard greens and candied yams might be just a click away.
“That part of our business is going to be super cool and super-unique,” she said.
She acknowledged that it’s been tough to meet all the challenges posed by the last couple of years. But none of them have changed a fundamental equation.
“You could find a million reasons to shut down our businesses,” she said. “But the world needs food, people need jobs, and I love to cook.”
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