Ballpark food goes gourmet on Home Plate

When was the last time you saw a deconstructed hot dog on 'Chopped'?

June 30th, 2021
Design by Tom Forget

Food should be fun. That's the ethos that Will Hughes, the young internet sensation better known on Instagram as "What Willy Cook," seems to live by.

"'What am I gonna cook?'" Hughes, who has a devilish smile permanently attached to his lips, asked himself. "There's only a billion things that you could make! Maybe that's what puts people off a little bit. I just think, throw some stuff in a pan, put some stuff on it, dance around the kitchen, have a beer."

It's that carefree and enthusiastic attitude which makes the chef -- known for his "recipes, not stressipes" -- the perfect host for MLB UK's new show, "Home Plate." Just like some of the cooking shows you're likely familiar with (and addicted to), each week features a head-to-head competition between Hughes and that week's guest chef. They are then given a task: Take inspiration from some real-life gargantuan, calorie-filled, fried-and-breaded stadium favorite in America and come up with their own, elevated twist. "Make it outrageous, make it delicious," Hughes noted in the debut episode.

Week one, naturally, was the hot dog -- baseball's official food. Poppy Cooks, a Michelin-trained chef turned TikTok star, made a deconstructed hot dog with a beef shin chilli and cheese-filled gougeres on the side. Hughes countered with a "badass bravas" hot dog, with crispy potatoes, aioli, chorizo and bravas sauce on his.

As for the winner? Well, you'll need to watch the episode and then head to the comments section to find out.

"In the UK, we go rustic. And in America, you go big," Hughes said, explaining the difference between stadium food in the two nations. "I used to go and watch rugby in Worcester and I'd always have quite a big -- but not American big, just English big -- pork bap, with applesauce stuffing, pork and crackling. Quite simple, quite traditional."

As to when he first saw The Boomstick -- the unwieldy hot dog the Rangers serve up that could be confused for a load-bearing two-by-four? Let's just say, he was in shock.

Hughes certainly has no aversion to fatty, fried, tasty things, though. He explained how Monster Munch -- a UK snack he compares to Cheeto's -- is actually perfect when crumbled and put atop a fresh oyster.

Or there's his favorite version of the "posh hot dog," which Hughes' half-brother introduced him to when he first moved to London. You start with a nice sausage and put it in a sourdough baguette and then add sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes, some mayo, some spicy sauce and then some "horrible cheese. Like, sticky plastic cheese -- or American cheese," Hughes said with a big grin.

"It's that perfect harmony of having something that's quite fancy and something that's quite crap and putting them together. I quite like that."

Hughes' hot dog on the left, Poppy Cooks' on the right.

Hughes certainly used that for inspiration in the second challenge: Fried chicken. He started with a fried chicken burger that was similar to one he had made on a whim at home recently. But he needed to find a way to give it that extra kick for the show.

So, for perhaps the first time in cooking show history, Hughes drew inspiration from the Hard Rock Cafe in London that he ate at as a child. Mirroring that dish, Hughes made his own macaroni and cheese -- with too much cheese, he emphasized as a positive -- and topped it all with some pickles.

"It was almost quite a rounded dish," Hughes said. "Even though it was two clumps of fried chicken on a clump of mac and cheese with pickles on top."

Though he's yet to attend a baseball game in person, Hughes is a big fan of baseball caps and the film "Moneyball." He also has his perfect ballpark dish already picked out and planned should any team ask him for a recipe.

"This one time I got back, [and I was like], 'I want fried chicken, but I want fajitas, and I want pasta, but I don't want all three,'" Hughes remembered. "And then I was like, 'well, actually, I'll just have all three.' So I made crispy chicken fajita linguini. It was a creamy, fajita-spice-infused linguini with pan-fried red and yellow peppers in it. And then a piece of crispy fried chicken that I tossed in fajita spice on top."

"I think that that would go down super well in any ballpark -- in any place that there's any sport going on," Hughes said. "Who doesn't want to eat?"

He also has tips for anyone who wants to stop stressing out in the kitchen and start having fun like he does.

"The internet's there. Like, it's the worst thing in the world, but it's also the best thing in the world because it has allowed me to have a career and also allowed me to learn how to cook," Hughes said, pointing out how you can simply search for great recipes anywhere and easily follow along with the steps.

"You don't have to be stressed just because you're working with hot things," he added. "Just take it easy. Make a sandwich and then maybe toast a sandwich and then maybe start putting things that are cooked in your sandwich. Basically that's the tip: Work your way up from the sandwich until you're making pasta."