What I love most about being a competitor and a judge on Chopped is that being a competitor actually makes me a better judge. Once that basket opens you can't get stuck on a concept because the clock is there and the ingredients are there and you have to let the limited amount of time and experience drive you. The adrenaline you have every round makes you so tired afterwards, not because you worked long, but because there's a lot of emotion that goes through your body. I revisited some of those emotions last night during a viewing party we held at Ginny's. Many of my chef friends came by to watch the Chopped All Stars finale with me and I have to say I was actually a bit nervous watching the show. I knew the hardest part was behind me-I wish I could have executed the goat's brain appetizer challenge better last week-but I'm my toughest critic. Seeing how the judges really liked the beef heart and broth was fantastic and I knew that was a my slam-dunk moment. I felt like I had treated the ingredients well and I was really, really happy with it.
The biggest equalizer of anything during this show is the clock and the basket, but when you're actually cooking you're at peace because you're in action. The other big problem is you can over think a dish by adding too many ingredients because you think it will make it yummy and delicious. I got stuck on the app round last week because I wanted to do something from my family background and I wasn't thinking enough about the ingredients.
The judges from last night's finale-Amanda Freitag, Chris Santos and Anne Burrell-had some things to say about the plating of my main course and I have to say, I agree. When I first plated the bonito dish I thought I had messed up, but sometimes as a chef you need to do that and realize it can really come together in the end. When you're competing you have to make an instant decision about the ingredients and how can I transform them and make it delicious. Even if you have a bad idea you have to quickly snap out of it because you're short on time and all you can do is execute your dish-when you're cooking you can cut yourself, you might burn the food and it might turn out the way you want it to because it's a new stove-you always have to leave a little bit of room for adaptability. It's such an intense rush and in the long run it makes you a better chef.
In the end, my win was all about C-CAP. When you compete on a show like Chopped you're doing it for yourself, but you're truly doing it for the engine of this charity and that kept me thinking the whole time how much Richard Grausman (C-CAP's founder) and the organization needs this. The Careers Through Culinary Arts Program works with public schools across the country to prepare underserved high school students for college and careers in the restaurant and hospitality industry and it's an organization that's near and dear to my heart. When you're starting out in this business you just need one person to take a chance on you like my mentors did on me, and C-CAP allows talented kids get a real shot to make a difference in their own lives. I know what a career in food has done for me and so I am thrilled that I could donate $50,000 to Richard and highlight all the great work C-CAP is doing.
On the show we are all competitors, but behind-the-scenes it's a real family. That was evident last night when people like Andrew Zimmern and Ted Allen (congrats again on your James Beard Awards!), Marc Murphy, Geoffrey Zakarian, Amanda, Gavin Kaysen, Paul Qui, and the Zagats, came to cheer me and the show on. We're fortunate the show is doing so well and it's even sweeter that Chopped was awarded a James Beard award on Friday night, but it's really about the family we have there. My final competitor Jeffrey Saad is coming to Red Rooster next week and I'm excited to just hang with him and re-live our experience from last night's show. I learn a lot being on Chopped, whether I'm judging or cooking, and you get to start looking at ingredients that you've never thought about. You surprise yourself by how well certain things are working together and it's that kind of innovation I continue to bring to the menu at Red Rooster. Thanks for all the support you guys have given me (especially my Maya) and I'm proud to have won for C-CAP!
Check out my photos of last night below...