Dog lovers everywhere can breathe a collective sigh of relief: Michael Proietti pulled it out in the dessert round to win the first round of our Chopped All-Stars series, a full-on face-off between four fan favorites from The Next Food Network Star. We’ve had our fair share of aggressive competitors on the show, but I think Michael is the first one so dedicated to culinary victory that he’d threaten puppies in exchange for a win.
At the risk of stating the obvious, Michael was joking and would never harm a domestic animal, excepting, perhaps, a lobster. He was, in fact, arguably the sweetest and definitely among the funniest contestants ever to compete on The Next Food Network Star—both major reasons we wanted him to compete in All-Stars. But it was his cooking skill, not his personality (or even his elaborate hair) that now have taken him to the April 3 finale, where he’ll compete to win $50,000 for the charity of his choice, the Jed Foundation.
All four Food Network Stars came in with a bit of strut — cooking under time pressure must be a little like childbirth (or so I’m told); you easily forget the pain until you’re right back in it. But, swagger will only take you so far; as always, there can be only one Chopped champion. Lisa Garza, who came in complaining of being robbed on Star, committed one of the most fundamental sins possible in a competition food show — not just failing to get all the mystery ingredients on her plates, but failing to plate three out of the four! Her plan for the dish, a combination of fish roe and eggs that evoked classic Scandinavian fare, would surely have pleased Marcus Samuelsson had she been able to complete it. But even though Alex Guarnaschelli implausibly seemed to be fighting to keep her, Lisa didn’t seem surprised to see her dish on the Chopping Block. There have been rare occasions when a Chopped contestant has moved on to the next round even after omitting, say, a single basket ingredient, but they are extremely few and far between.
There’s a tough cookie in almost every basket, and in the entrée round, that prize went to karela — a bitter melon from India. Brad Sorenson had never tasted this difficult fruit, and for a moment it looked as if that inexperience was going to take him out; Marcus found Brad’s karela so unpleasant that he asked the chef to taste it at the Chopping Block, and then seemed to get a little bit of pleasure watching Brad literally swallow that bitter pill. Ultimately, Michael was the most successful is getting the bitterness out of the karela via blanching. And although Debbie Lee had the best fregola—because, let’s face it, everything really does taste better with a little salty, smoky pig—she had the worst partridge. And there was no coming back from ruining the central protein. So dessert was left to the boys.
In the last round, anything can happen: as they keep telling us, most savory chefs prefer to leave the sweets to someone else. But Michael and Brad brought their ‘A’ game to dessert, both smartly using the blast chiller to speed the process. And although Alex argued strongly for Brad’s dessert, once all the dishes were stacked up against each other, it was clear that Michael had taken the day. The judges felt he was able to consistently create the most balanced dishes out of the mystery ingredients. Congrats, Chef Proietti!
Now, if you thought that episode was amazing, stay tuned for Chopped All-Stars Round 2 next Sunday at 9pm/8c, featuring Food Network chefs Anne Burrell, Claire Robinson, Robert Irvine and Ace of Cakes Duff Goldman!