Vic “Vegas” Moea, Penny Davidi, Justin Balmes and Chris Nirschel know the pressures of competition cooking. They also know what it’s like to be in front of a camera. These four Food Network Star finalists gave it their all last season, but still came up short in the end. That wasn’t enough for them, though. They’re still out to prove that they’ve got what it takes and they’re still out to take down each other — they did just that on last night’s episode of Chopped All-Stars.
If you missed the show and recorded it, don’t read any further — we’re about to break down the episode and chat with the winner.
Appetizer: razor clams, breakfast radish, green grape tomatoes and shrimp paste
Entrée: culotte steak, Okinawa sweet potatoes, turnips and strawberry leather
Dessert: mango chutney, white apricots, blue cornmeal and bacon bits
First round: Chris Nirschel
Second round: Justin Balmes
Final round: Vic “Vegas” Moea
Winner: Penny Davidi
We caught up with Penny, who from the very start wanted to take home this win. More than once, she emphasized during the show that she especially wanted to beat Vic, who made it further than her on Food Network Star. Well, she put her “knife” to it and succeeded. Here’s what she had to say:
Amanda said the chutney was the hardest ingredient in the dessert basket to work with. What was the hardest ingredient for you out of the three rounds?
PD: The hardest ingredients for me were the razor clams. It’s just not something you come across every day, or better yet, ever in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Did you look at this as an opportunity to redeem yourself? You mentioned several times that the way your personality came across on Food Network Star wasn’t the real you.
PD: I absolutely looked at this as an opportunity to redeem myself and for people to see the human side of me — a loving and nurturing mother to five children. It’s very different when you’re competing on a show like Food Network Star. You are pulled away from everything. Your reality is very different in that state of mind. You have to focus on the prize and you can lose yourself completely.
Aaron really found your meat pounding technique to be interesting. Ted said it was, “Hard core.” Do you do that at home? You didn’t think twice once you couldn’t find the meat tenderizer.
PD: (Laughing) Yup! That is exactly what I use. It may not work for everyone, but a tender piece of meat is more important to me than an expensive manicure any day. Now, my pedicures, that’s a different story!
You were so confident with your second dish. Justin was beyond confident that he had “another round in the bag” after seeing your “dead, gray steak.” I saw the smirk on your face when he was chopped. How does it make you feel when he continues to say that he is more skilled than you and Vic — that you’re not at his level?
PD: Justin is an awesome chef, but what killed it for him was the fact that he’s trained to think inside a culinary box. He led our team to victory on a Food Network Star challenge, but on Chopped All-Stars, you have to bring your “A++” game. I guess he’s right, I’m not at his level — I’m better. Sorry, JB!
You said if the “Iron Chef America producers are watching, that’s what I want next.” What’s your ultimate goal?
PD: My ultimate goal is to have my own cooking show on Food Network. I want a show where I can bring modern Middle Eastern cuisine to the American kitchen — to not only educate the masses, but to empower them to go out there and try it themselves. I want to make global food accessible and approachable. I think I can be an ambassador to the cuisine of this region.