I thought of Lois when I received a copy of the new cookbook Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 (Plume Books, $15), by former TV anchor Todd Wilbur. During a recent phone interview with Wilbur, I asked why someone would give a damn about making, say, the California Pizza Kitchen's Thai Crunch Salad when it would be just as easy to go to the restaurant and eat it there.
"Hey, dude, I'm not competition for the restaurants," Wilbur said. "Why do you think none of the restaurants have ever threatened to sue me? People who would rather go out to eat still go out to eat."
It might be hard for any of the big chains, including Overland Park-based Applebee's International, to threaten legal action, because Wilbur doesn't claim that any of his recipes are actually the same ones in the restaurants. "They're my versions of those recipes," explained Wilbur, who created taste-alike versions of no fewer than 13 Applebee's items including the Crispy Orange Chicken Bowl and Tequila Lime Chicken for his new book.
One thing you won't find in Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 is how to make anything from a nonchain restaurant. He says Middle America loves to eat at places such as Applebee's, Red Lobster, IHOP and Olive Garden, so those are the venues he spies on. "I go once to taste the food and take photos with my cell phone. Then I go back, order it again and start to figure out the component parts."
Wilbur's eight cookbooks have made him a wealthy guy, which his previous career at the NBC affiliate in Yuma, Arizona, wasn't doing. "When I was hired in 1990, I was making $12,000 a year. I couldn't live on that. That's why I started writing my first book on the side."
Now Wilbur does TV only if he's shilling his own books, as he probably will do on WDAF Channel 4's morning show January 8. And on the QVC network, the buff, blond Wilbur is a telegenic superstar to Middle Americans who don't just shop at home but prefer eating the Cheesecake Factory Mini Crabcakes there, too.