Chatting With the Winner of Chopped Champions by Maria Russo in Shows, February 12th, 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 host Ted Allen announced the start of cooking at the beginning of tonight’s final Champions matchup, four of the best of the best chefs to ever compete in the Chopped kitchen were just a few baskets away from the Grand Finale prize. Course by course, however, competitors fell, not because their dishes were fundamentally flawed or lacked proper thought but because the level of contest was exceptionally high in this finale round. In the end, after Chefs Kenneth Johnson and Vinson Petrillo faced the appetizer- and entree-round chopping blocks, respectively, Chefs Rob Evans and Jun Tanaka went head-to-head to create the dessert of their lives with such mandatory ingredients as carrot juice, almond flour, candied ginger and honeycomb. As per his signature style, Chef Rob took a contemporary approach to the basket, choosing to make a carrot-and-ginger gelee with cinnamon-dusted French toast and almond foam. Chef Jun, however, embraced both classic French desserts and his mother’s at-home baking tips to prepare a frangipane with mascarpone and yogurt chantilly. Both offerings were worthy of a Champions finale, with stand-out taste and elegant presentation, but ultimately Chef Rob’s dish left some judges questioning whether it was in fact a dessert, and he faced the chopping block for the first time. Chef Jun, now a three-time Chopped victor, proudly accepted the title of Chopped Grand Champion and a $50,000 prize.
Congratulations on your title: Food Network’s newest Chopped Grand Champion. Tell us about your winning moment. Do you remember the first thing you thought when you saw your competitor Chef Rob’s dessert on the chopping block?
JT: It was more of a feeling than a thought — it was an overwhelming sense of relief! Competing in Chopped was more stressful than I could have ever imagined. I thought that it would get easier as I progressed through the competition but it was the complete opposite. Each time I competed, I couldn’t eat anything all day because my stomach was in knots, so after my initial feeling of relief it was quickly followed by hunger!
Are you still planning to open your own restaurant with the $50,000 prize? What can you tell us about it? Where will it be located, when will it open, what kind of food will you serve?
JT: Absolutely! I’m going to need a lot more than $50,000 but every cent of it is going into the restaurant. I’m currently looking for a site in central London and my plan is to open at the end of the year. It’s going to be a contemporary French bistro, with simple, seasonal French-style dishes designed for sharing. Although the menu will be based on French cuisine, it will be much lighter than the traditional recipes. There will also be an emphasis on seasonal vegetables; my aim is to make people see that vegetables can be as exciting as they are delicious and that they don’t have to just be accompaniments to meat or fish. I could go on about it for ages but to put it simply, I have always wanted to own the kind of restaurant that I would want to eat in, and that’s exactly what I’m aiming to do.
How do you feel about incorporating in your restaurant menu some of the dishes you made on Chopped? Do you have a favorite appetizer, entree or dessert that you’d like to offer to the public?
JT: Definitely not! The combination of ingredients was just too weird. Also, in Chopped, we had about a minute to think up the dishes. Usually, great dishes take time to perfect, so each dish in my restaurant will be tried and tested many times over even before it appears on the menu.
The judges bestowed upon you some remarkable compliments throughout the Champions competition. Is there one praise in particular that you’ll take with you and remember as you start your own restaurant?
JT: I remember in the finals, Geoffrey Zakarian saying that each dish I cooked got better and better with every course and that this is hard to achieve on Chopped. That’s definitely something that I will take with me when I start my restaurant, in a sense that every time I put a new dish on the menu, I’ll make sure that it’s as good as if not better than the last.
In the nine dishes you made during your three Chopped battles, what’s the one that you’re especially proud of, that you just can’t believe was executed so flawlessly?
JT: That’s easy: the frog’s leg dish. It wasn’t flawless; it was more of a canapé than an entree! But the flavor was fantastic and that’s what food is all about.
Your parents were understandably emotional when they learned the news of your victory. What was your homecoming in Britain like?
JT: I am very lucky; my parents are amazing. They have always supported me in everything that I do and I know that they would have been as proud even if I got chopped in the first round.
You’re now the fourth Chopped Grand Champion. If the opportunity ever presented itself, would you face off in another Chopped battle against the other three Grand Champions for the chance to claim a fourth victory, or are you through with culinary competitions?
JT: I never believed that I would be Chopped Grand Champion so a part of me is saying ‘Quit while you’re ahead’ but then again, if it’s for $100,000 … I can be persuaded!
Visit Food Network’s Chopped Champions headquarters for more insider coverage.