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Every Wednesday, Justin Warner, winner of Food Network Star, Season 8, has been remixing the Chopped Champion baskets as seen in the episode the night before in pure Justin Warner style: edgy, intense, passionate and full of wit. If you’ve ever watched an episode and found yourself yelling at the TV that you would have made this or that instead, then these are the posts for you.
by Justin Warner
Congratulations blog viewer, you’ve made it to the finale! If you’ve made it this far, I’m not going to bore you with the details of making a mother sauce.
Appetizer basket: pig ears, ramps, pine nuts and apple strudel
The appetizer round is really getting me ramped up. I feel like I’m on a rampage. Want to hear something my gramps told me? He taught me that allium tricoccum (say it out loud three times and you’ll remember easily), aka ramps, are delicious wild onions from all of Appalachia. They are the most wonderful, glorious and wildest of leeks. Like a leafy spring onion, it’s entirely edible, although its flavor is a bit more pronounced. In the good old days in Terra Alta, West Virginia (where I spent time with Gramps and ramps), folks celebrated the ramp by cooking it in a multitude of ways. These “ramp festivals” are a great event for couples because if you eat ramps and your partner doesn’t, you’ll be asked to sleep outside, lest your glorious oniony eau de parfum permeate the house for a bit. So sayeth my gramps.
Slice the pig ears as thinly as possible. Fry them until they are looking inedible. Grind these up in a food processor with some dry tapioca pearls (we’re faking maltodextrin), paprika, salt, pepper and some scraped vanilla bean. Put this mix in a hot pan and toast it like you would seeds or spices, blotting the oiliness. The goal here is to make a “dirt.” I say dirt because we don’t want a powder and we don’t want pebbles, and I think dirt is in between.
Now grind the apple strudel and the pine nuts in the food processor. Add a little egg white if necessary to make this into a doughy texture. Slice some whites of the ramps, fold these into the dough, and hand-form it into “tots.” Yes, tots. Then roll these in the dirt and put them in a convection oven on high heat. If you make enough tots to put some in your pocket and save them for snacking during the second round, it would be hilarious, because these tots are going to be so tasty you will surely make it to the next round.
Next, make your own mayo as quickly as possible, but toss in a few ramp leaves. When making the mayo, use some apple cider vinegar to echo and amplify the flavor in the strudel.
Plate the mayo as a dollop in the center with the tots all around it like Stonehenge. It’s okay if some of the tots break. Stonehenge isn’t perfect either. Present this to the judges as though you were the smartest man in your dorm. Simply say: “I thought you guys might like some tots.”
Who can resist that?
Entree basket: abalone, curry leaves, amaranth grain and Serrano ham
Abalone is cruel — I learned this from a sushi man I used to live with in Colorado, oddly enough.
Spend 10 minutes making it come out of the shell and getting rid of its stomach and stuff. Slice it as thinly as possible. Now smash the heck out of it.
Put the abalone, curry leaves and amaranth along with some lemon zest, butter and white wine in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes and pray. Throw this into an ice bath to cool it down when it’s done. During this 20 minutes, make four perfect omelets, slightly underdone. Reserve. Slice the Serrano ham and cook it in a little oil in a wok.
Fry the amaranth mix in the Serrano fat. Fill the omelets with this so they look like egg-based burritos.
Plate simply, with a drizzle of store-bought ketchup. You just made a riff on a Japanese dish called omurice, which my sushi-man roommate and I used to eat for dinner on special occasions.
Call this Omuranth.
Dessert basket: carrot juice, almond flour, candied ginger and honeycomb
Right off the bat, try to make some sort of dough out of the almond flour. Use some butter, egg and cinnamon — if you’ve made it to this round, you know what good crust feels and tastes like long before it’s hit an oven. Shape this into tart shells and bake. Sweeten the carrot juice with the candied ginger and some cumin in a blender. Taste it and make sure it’s excellent because this is the last round. Bring this mix to a boil with some agar-agar. Pour into a pan and put it in a freezer to set.
Grind some honeycomb with salt and some whole almonds. This will be like a sticky granola. (Side note: I eat the waxy part of honeycombs because it’s also excellent, if not better than the honey itself.)
Once the tart shells are looking awesome, scoop some fresh chevre into them. Put the crunchy granola on top of the chevre.
Cut the carrot juice-ginger-cumin mix into small cubes and put these on top of your mini pies.
Present without arrogance even though you have a sneaking hunch that goat cheese and cumin made all of this happen, and in turn, sealed your fate as a Chopped Champion.