VIP Interview: Todd Wilbur of Top Secret Recipes

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Have you ever wondered what it takes to make a Mrs. Fields Cookie at home? What about a Starbucks Mocha Coconut Frappaccino or KFC fried chicken? Well, expert chef and food cloner Todd Wilbur figured it out. Yep, that’s right. Todd Wilbur, of Top Secret Recipes, has hacked some of America’s favorite “secret recipes” so that we not-so-expert chefs can recreate the foods we love in the comfort of our own homes. Over the course of my lifetime, Todd has written nine cookbooks and sold over five million copies. Wowza! How awesome is Todd, y’all?! Pretty freaking fabulous. *wink*

At the 2014 Birmingham Home and Remodeling Show, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview THE one and THE only Todd Wilbur backstage before his live demonstration. And NOW I have the fabulous pleasure of sharing all of that fun with y’all! So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the VIP’s interview with “food hacker” Todd Wilbur.

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VIP: If you could only eat one cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

Todd: *answers without hesitation* Chicken wings. Yes, chicken wings! I’ve had the smoked wings at Todd’s English Pub everyday!

VIP: I cannot blame you! Chicken wings are great!

Todd: I think I may be turning into a chicken wing…

VIP: What was it like hosting your own television show?

Todd: Oh, it was such a great experience. It was a lot of hard work and a lot of stress because it was a reality show, and a lot of reality shows are “set up”…mine wasn’t. They [the producers] would set up situations going into say P.F. Changs where I would go in as a waiter [given, this was set up with headquarters] where the employees at that specific chain location did not know who I was. Sometimes, they did not even tell ME what was going on, which was pretty interesting. Turning “secret” iconic American foods into recipes in just three days was very stressful, but I really enjoyed the challenge.

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VIP: You’re synonymously called a “food hacker”. For someone who does not know what that is, how would you explain it?

Todd: Well, I actually coined the term, and I’m pretty proud of it. But a “food hacker” is someone who “dissects” or reverse engineers food to see how it’s made and turns it into a recipe that you can make at home. Often, I am deconstructing foods and then reconstructing them with common ingredients so that anyone can do it.

VIP: It’s really such a cool process, and I am sure difficult. So, what would you say was your inspiration to start hacking foods?

Todd: The Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookie recipe that was floating around in 1987, which was before email, and I’m sure before your time. I mean, do you even remember a time before email? *laughs*

VIP: No *laughs* I do not, but I do know the time period in which you are talking about *laughs*

Todd: So, during this time, chain mail was a big deal. Someone would create a letter, send it to five of their friends, then those five friends would send it to five of their friends, and so on and so forth. Snail mail–that’s what it was *laughs* Well, one day I got this chain letter that was “supposedly” for a Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookie, but it wasn’t. It was completely bogus. This fake and horrible recipe had spread all over the country, and Mrs. Fields chains had to put notes on the front doors of their stores debunking this recipe so people wouldn’t think their cookies were terrible. Seeing this happen, I could not help but think, “Wow! People really love secret recipes. I wonder if I could make a book of secret recipes?” So, I made that recipe [the Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookie recipe] better, and I learned how to better my cooking skills. Over the next five years, I hacked a lot of different foods and built my first recipe book, Top Secret Recipes, which published in 1993. Now, here we are ten books later, and I just finished writing book number eleven.

VIP: That is all so very cool!

Todd: Thank you. My eleventh book will be a little bit different–usually I do blueprint illustrations, but I will have about a thousand pictures in this one. Actually, I have one of my last books for you.

VIP: Oh, my goodness! Thank you so much. Now, I can go home and make all of the Starbucks drinks I want *laughs*

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VIP: What color would you say best describes you and why?

Todd: Uh…Uh…I really don’t know. This is an interesting question–you’ve gone all “Barbara Walters” on me like “What kind of tree are you?”

VIP: Ah! I love Barbara Walters!

Todd: Okay–can I be rainbow? Wait…no. I don’t want to be rainbow. Let’s see…

After much debate and lots of laughs, Todd finally decided on a color.

Todd: I am going to have to say blue, but why…I have no idea why. I just feel like we are surrounded by blue–the sky is blue, these [pointing to rubber-maid containers] are blue, my pants are blue. Blue–I’m going with blue. I feel confident with that choice *laughs*

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VIP: What is your favorite food hack you have done and why?

Todd: I like the chicken wings, of course, but picking my favorite food hack is kind of like choosing a favorite child *laughs* I really love the barbecue hacks and junk food ones though. But as far as a specific one, I really have a special place in my art for the Mrs. Fields cookie recipe because it is what started it all. 

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Stay Fabulous,

Abby Hathorn

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VIP Interview: Matt Muenster of DIY Network’s “Bath Crashers”

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Have you ever watched DIY network’s Bathtastic! or Bathcrashers? You know, the one with the charming host? Yes–that one! Well, that cutie pie contractor/designer made a special appearance at the 2014 Birmingham Home + Remodeling Show where the VIP had the fabulous opportunity to sit down and chat with him about things you fangirls probably didn’t know *wink*

Now, before we delve into the interview, let’s learn a little bit about Matt and his background…

Licensed contractor Matt Muenster sees every house project, whether he’s ripping apart dated bathrooms using the latest construction technology or completely gutting his own kitchen, as a chance to use his clever ideas to achieve great design while integrating earth-friendly elements. Matt earned his degree in interior design from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He initially got his feet wet designing restaurants and casinos and even worked on the Angolan Project in Africa. Eventually, his fervor for design shifted to the residential sector. His professional experience includes high-end interior design, and he gets an adrenaline rush every time he transforms a boring bathroom into a fantastic one on DIY Network’s Bath Crashers and BATHtastic! Series. (link here)

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VIP: What would you say is your favorite power tool?

Matt: Oh! I like expensive stuff…

VIP: That’s okay! I like expensive shoes…

Matt: There’s a German company called Festool, and they make AH-mazing things! One of their tools I use religiously is called the Domino.

VIP: What does the Domino do?

Matt: Well, the Domino is kind of like a biscuit joiner–which is a tool that allows you to plunge a hole in one board and another board then stick a little dowel rod in between the two boards.

VIP: Oh, yeah! I’ve seen that done.

Matt: Biscuit joiners are great, but in my personal opinion, Festool’s Domino does it better than anyone else. I literally use it as often as I can because it makes getting the job done so much easier.

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VIP: What color would you say best describes you and why?

Matt: Blue, and I do not know why! It’s been that forever.

VIP: I totally get that! Blue is my favorite color, and I am strangely attracted to it.

Matt: Yeah! Whether it’s eyes or a shirt or whatever–I just tend to lean toward blue-colored things.

VIP: What advice can you give to people who are looking to start a bathroom renovation?

Matt: Definitely watch and take notes from the television shows.

VIP: Hint, hint *wink*

Matt: Yeah–hint, hint!

VIP: With that said, how did you actually get involved with bathroom renovations as a designer?

Matt: The TV show happened. I did not seek the show out, they found me. To be honest, I wasn’t even really that interested in doing such a specialized job because I was really happy with the diversity of doing restaurants, casinos, and special commercial design. My design work kept things interesting, and I thought that if I specialized I would get bored, BUT the TV part keeps me from getting bored. So, now, I can just focus in on this [bathroom renos], and try to make it interesting and entertaining.

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VIP: What is your favorite part about being the host of Bath Crashers?

Matt: Hm…I don’t know! It’s definitely interesting. I really like the idea of being someone to go to for this information–that’s kind of empowering, but it’s also a lot of responsibility because I want and need to make sure I get it right. I also really like the opportunity to “get it right” because I used to watch shows like this [Bath Crashers] all the time growing up, and they were not often hosted by real designers. And I would watch these programs as a designer and get frustrated because the renovations and such were being portrayed in a way that I did not feel did the design community a favor…kind of worked against us a little. So, I think it’s really cool to have the opportunity when on camera to use the correct terminology and show people the correct way to do things while making it an entertaining show.

VIP: Is there a specific aspect or area of the bathroom that is your favorite to renovate?

Matt: Every episode is its own thing. Demo is fun because I get to smash and grab stuff, which if I’m having a bad day that’s a great way to blow off steam. Other times, my favorite part is the reveal, or it’s a specific project that turned out way better than I thought it would. As I drive away after day three, the things that stand out to me are not necessarily the things I thought would be great going into it. It’s really cool and really fun because my favorite part is always different every time, every episode.

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VIP: Recently, my parents and I renovated a 1980 time capsule from top to bottom with three full bathroom redos. By the time we had the house finished, my dad hated bathroom renos! haha

Matt: Oh yeah! Bathrooms are hard and scary because there is so much that can go wrong. That’s one reason I really love bathroom renos–I like the challenge. The challenge is the difficult part, but it’s also the opportunity. The hard part is getting the job done, but the room [bathroom] offers so many awesome possibilities that its unlike any other room.

VIP: I know that when we were working on the renovation, we watched your show a lot. One thing I really love about it is that you are always incorporating cool design aspects.

Matt: That’s one thing I really love to do.

VIP: And I think that’s what makes the show so special and appealing to so many different people.

Matt: Thank you! The adding of cool design really puts a challenge on us, but it’s so awesome figuring it all out and making it happen. The hard work definitely pays off. We always love to add in the unexpected.

VIP: I think that’s so great because it would be so easy to get stuck in a rut with such a specifically themed show.

Matt: It would make life much easier to do the same thing in-and-out on every show, but that’s not what we are about. It’s hard coming up with new ideas all of the time and sometimes we take really big risks, but that part is really fun for me. I look forward to bringing something new to the table for everyone to see.

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Stay Fabulous,

Abby Hathorn

Birmingham Home and Remodeling Show 2014

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The annual Birmingham Home & Remodeling show kicked off September 26th and wrapped up on the 28th. For three fabulous days, nationally renowned experts in home improvement, instructional how-to seminars, giveaways, and hundreds of exhibitors took over the BJCC in The Magic City. 

Matt Muenster of DIY’s Bath Crashers and Bathtastic! and Top Secret recipe hacker Todd Wilbur were the two big celeb guests for this year’s fall show + local celeb “Birmingham Bargain Mom” Christie Dedmon also made some stage appearances giving viewers tips about saving big in Birmingham. 

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Secrets were revealed at the 2014 Birmingham Home & Remodeling Show…yes, secrets *gasp* Matt Muenster of DIY’s Bath Crashers gave insights on expert bath renos and Todd Wilbur of Top Secret Recipes handed over food-hacks with live demonstrations (See the VIP interviews coming soon) + Birmingham’s own local celeb “Birmingham Bargain Mom” gave some helpful tips on how to save big in The Magic City. Also at the fall show, a variety of exhibitors and experts gave the attendees inside looks at the hottest new products on the market, remodeling tips, home improvement ideas, design tips, and more! Oh, the Birmingham Home Show is always a good time. Almost like Christmas for bloggers and home improvement gurus (and even newbies!).

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One thing that separates the 2014 home show from ALL of the rest was the Log and Timber Home Show, which was a BRAND NEW addition where guests could tour log cabins that were built right inside the convention center. Log cabins in downtown Birmingham….Talk about cool, huh?! *wink* Log and timber frame designers, manufacturers, and builders from all over the U.S. and Canada showcased their unique products and services + exhibitors had unique furnishing and decor for the cabin on display. The Log and Timber Home Show reminded me very much of when I visited Blowing Rock, North Carolina…oh, I would just love to go and stay in that cabin again :) 

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Also at this year’s Birmingham Home & Remodeling Show, Birmingham Magazine hosted a Craft Beer Fest that was presented by AlaBev. At the Craft Beer Fest (Friday, September 26), show guests got to exclusively sip some savvy brews from Yellowhammer Brewing (national and international craft beers), Good People Brewing (a Birmingham fav! See here.), Avondale Brewing (another Magic City fav! See here.), Blue Pants Brewery, Straight to Ale Brewery, Salty Nuts Brewery, Lagunitas Brewing, Arbita Brewery, and Oskar Blues Brewery. 

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Want to get another INSIDE LOOK at the Birmingham Home & Remodeling Show 2014? Well, head on over to Sweet Sorghum Living to find out more! Pst…the brilliant writer is finally revealing her top picks from the show + she talks about the Fall Floral Showdown (the what?!). Click here, y’all *wink*

Be sure to stay tuned to VIP to see the amazing interviews with Matt Muenster and Todd Wilbur! Woo hoo!

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Stay Fabulous,

Abby Hathorn