Behind the Scenes of the Chopped All-Stars Finale

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...

Photos: Jeannette Park and Cyndi Amaya

For more photos of my events, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Join Me At The Chopped All Stars Finale Viewing Party

Thanks to all those who tuned in on Sunday to watch Food Network's Chopped All Stars and I'm thrilled to have made it to the last round in hopes of winning on behalf of CCAP. I'll be watching the finale this Sunday with my friends and I hope you'll join me to show your support.

Come by Ginny's Supper Club for my exclusive Chopped All Stars finale viewing party on Sunday, May 6th at 8:00pm hosted by MasterCard. Come share some great food inspired by the show, get insight to my behind-the-scenes experience and mingle with special guests from Chopped. Reservations are running out, so be sure to snag your seat today!

For more updates on my events, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Tune In To Chopped All-Stars This Sunday

Have you been watching Chopped All-Stars on the Food Network? It's been a real nail biter! In this week's episode, I finally get a chance to compete in the All-Stars challenge and possibly win money for my favorite charity- CCAP. Careers Through Culinary Arts Program, CCAP, gives young adults just out of high school the exposure to decide whether they want to pursue a career in the culinary field and also helps to place them in internships in restaurants to help further their experience. I've been a long-time advocate for their success and I can't wait for the chance to help them along in their mission by competing in Chopped All-Stars this season.

Tune in this Sunday, April 29th from 8:00-9:00PM on the Food Network to catch my episode of Chopped All-Stars. I'm competing against my fellow Chopped judges which are sure to be tough to beat. So tune in or set your DVRs for Chopped All-Stars this Sunday. It's bound to be a good match! 

For more updates on my happenings, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Chopped Friends Pay A Visit to Red Rooster

Last night, my Chopped friends and I had a reunion! I was happy to have my fellow Food Network's Chopped judges stop by last night for dinner at Red Rooster Harlem. All of them showed including Marc Murphy, Ted Allen, Alex Guarnaschelli, Aaron Sanchez, Seamus Mullen, Amanda Freitag, Scott Conant, and even the newly crowned Iron Chef America Jeffrey Zakarian.

It was so great to see everyone get together, especially for them to be able to check out my restaurant for some food and cocktails. It was also very exciting to be able to cook for all my friends. Chef Michael Garrett and I had fun putting out some new food for them like the Mayan Shrimp, as well as some Rooster favorites like the Harlem Chowder and our Fried Yardbird.

They brought a great buzz and vibe to the restaurant last night and I was honored to share my food with them. I can't wait to reunite with them once more. Until then, check out some photos of last night's gathering below.

For more of my photos, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Chopped All-Stars on Food Network

The first episode of Chopped All-Stars premiered last night, marking my first of five-episode stint as guest judge. It was great to see this round's chefs, all former contestants from The Next Food Network Star, work with the surprising ingredients inside the baskets. What a challenge to successfully combine calves liver, mango, bottarga and pound cake for an appetizer!  In the end, Michael Proietti won the final round. Congratulations to Michael, who will have a chance to compete in the final round for 50,000 dollars to be donated to the charity of his choice.

It was great teaming up with my fellow judges and chefs Alex Guarnaschelli, Marc Murphy, and Chris Santos. Tune in next Sunday for Episode 2!