Omar Giner, the co-owner of La Isla Cuban restaurant near City Hall in Hoboken, has been making stuffed French toast since he needed to scrape together a fancy breakfast for friends while in culinary school.
At the time, he used the ingredients he had around the house, including Captain Crunch cereal for breading. These days, he uses corn flakes and almond for the breading, and stuffs the French toast with guava and strawberries. It’s one of the popular dishes at his slender, busy restaurant at 104 Washington St.
Last September, Giner got a call from a freelancer who said she looks for people to feature on the Food Network. She came to La Isla, watched him make his French toast, and used a portable camcorder to record it.
“I always get somebody saying to me, ‘I’m going to write in to the Food Network.’ ” – Omar Giner
Two weeks later, the Food Network called and said they were interested in doing more research. They told him they wanted to film him creating the dish again. They met him at a larger restaurant, the Quays on Sinatra drive.
Imagine his surprise when famed chef Bobby Flay entered the room.
Flay’s show, “Throwdown,” pits Flay against another chef in an attempt to prepare the best dish. They usually surprise the chefs who compete. This time, the dish in question was stuffed French toast, with Flay preparing his own interpretation of the meal to see whose is better.
The show will air this Wednesday.
Giner says he can’t say who won the challenge because he signed a confidentiality agreement. But he has a guess as to how the freelancer found out about him.
“I think a lot of that has to do with the actual customers and the people who live in town,” said Giner, who attended culinary school at Hudson County Community College. “I always get somebody saying to me, ‘I’m going to write in to the Food Network and get you on one of those shows.’ ”
La Isla has been open for more than 40 years, and it has been under its current ownership since 1996. Giner owns it with his wife, Ana Costa-Giner, his wife’s sister, Anabelle Luis, and his wife’s sister’s husband, Armando Luis, who also owns Sparrow Wine & Liquor on the same block.
“I owe them a lot,” Giner said.
Hoboken is no stranger to reality TV. Giner happens to be across the street from another cable TV favorite: Carlo’s Bakery, the subject of the popular reality show “Cake Boss.”
The episode of “Throwdown” featuring Giner will air on the Food Network on Wednesday, March 17 at 9 p.m. It was filmed in mid-December in Hoboken in front of a live audience.