Chatting With the Round-2 Winner of Chopped Champions by Maria Russo in Shows, January 22nd, 2013
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In an all-new season of Chopped Champions, 16 chefs, each with a previous Chopped win under his or her belt, are returning to the kitchen to face off for a second time in the ultimate multicourse cook-off. Although they’re no strangers to mystery baskets, these chefs are under more pressure than ever, as they’re competing not just for Chopped glory but also a spot in the finale where they can ultimately claim a $50,000 prize and the coveted title of Grand Champion.
Each week, four chefs will take their places in the kitchen and battle it out in the hopes of outlasting the chopping block once again. While three will crumble beneath the demands of Champions cooking, one will prove his or her culinary chops for a second time. Check in with FN Dish every Tuesday night after the episode to hear from the latest winner.
When round-two champions, Chefs Fatima Ali, Rachel Willen, Vinson Petrillo and Walter D’Rozario, opened their baskets this week, they found fruitcake, shad roe sacks, vodka and Tokyo scallions staring back at them and only 20 minutes on the clock. Chefs Fatima, Vinson and Walter each received minor critiques from the judges for their appetizer preparations, but it was ultimately Chef Rachel who was chopped on account of burned scallions and a dense Dutch Baby. Chefs Walter and Vinson fared well in the entree round with such mystery ingredients as squab, peanut butter and jelly spread, red quinoa and karelas, but a quick slip of the knife caused Chef Fatima to seriously cut her finger and started a reaction of challenges for her. Although the judges praised her use of dried mango with the karelas in a dish of roasted squab, Chef Fatima’s undercooked quinoa did her in. With only 30 minutes to cook and plate a dessert with mitmita, Sauternes, cream-filled sandwich cakes and cottage cheese, Chefs Vinson and Walter faced off in their last cook-off for a spot in the finale. In the end, the judges weren’t impressed with how Chef Walter simply sliced and scattered his chocolate cream cakes, nor with the texture of his corn pudding. Thanks to his mitmita-spiced cottage cheese dumplings and a no-bake brownie, Chef Vinson scored a second Chopped win.
Now that you’ve won two Chopped competitions, are you starting to recognize your own abilities as a chef? Has your self-confidence improved going into the grand finale?
VP: I am finally starting to realize my abilities as a chef, and I guess I’m not that bad! I have so much self-doubt, and in my mind I was just not good enough to win. Winning my episode of Chopped Champions has definitely boosted my confidence for the finale, and I’m going in feeling pretty good.
You said that if you were to win to the $50,000 prize, you’d like to take some time off and relax. How did you spend the $10,000 winnings from the past competition?
VP: I spent my last $10,000 a couple of ways. I paid off my credit card, went on a trip to Costa Rica and put some money down on my fiancée’s engagement ring. The $50,000 would be great though!
In your last Chopped competition, you explained, your nerves almost got the better of you. During this battle, you seemed very much in control, both of the ingredients and time on the clock. What was your secret to staying relaxed — at least outwardly — in the kitchen this time?
VP: Inside my mind was going crazy. I felt every time I spoke, words were not actually coming out of my mouth. Like I said, I have had to deal with anxiety my whole life, but this time I knew what to expect and I knew I just had to do what I do every day — cook great food.
You said that you don’t work with desserts often, but your third course of spiced dumplings, brownie and fruit compote impressed the judges with its creative elements. And you mentioned that in your last battle, your dessert offering was particularly “strong.” Given your success, do you plan to start experimenting more with desserts?
VP: I do play around with desserts — much more often now. I feel this brings a whole new element to creating food. I like to incorporate savory elements into my desserts to make them unique. I even impressed myself with the dessert I made on Chopped Champions, except for the fact that it was sweeter than the judges or I would have liked.
What do you consider to be the most crucial part to competing on Chopped: the ability to work well under pressure or the know-how to transform unusual ingredients? Do you think you excel at one more than the other?
VP: Definitely product knowledge, and I have the privilege to work with new ingredients every day. You have to be open-minded and creative. I always have worked well under pressure; both are equally important for winning Chopped.
Visit Food Network’s Chopped Champions headquarters for more insider coverage.