Chatting With the Round-4 Winner of Chopped Champions by Maria Russo in Shows, February 5th, 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.
In a battle to claim the fourth and final spot in the Chopped Champions Grand Finale, Chefs Helen Park, Jean-Louis Gerin, Rob Evans and Kris Wessel faced off with appetizer baskets of sour apple martini mix, fennel, mortadella and white asparagus. Despite preparing properly cooked poached eggs, Chef Kris didn’t continue to the entree round on account of a too-rich sauce that lacked “brightness,” according to Judge Aarón Sanchez. The other competitors advanced to make an entree incorporating calf’s liver, fava greens, honey wine and haloumi cheese. For Chef Helen, this course gave her the opportunity to show off her creativity after she narrowly avoided the appetizer-round chopping block with a simple green salad. Although Judge Alex Guarnaschelli praised her for cooking fideo, a meal “that really resonated with her own style,” the dish was deemed “greasy” and she was ultimately chopped. With only 30 minutes to cook, Chefs Jean-Louis and Rob battled over dessert baskets featuring maraschino cherries, Greek yogurt, canned espresso and corn nuts. Chef Jean-Louis’ cherry crumble received praise for its “complexity” from Judge Alex, but it couldn’t beat Chef Rob’s espresso trifle topped with a smoked cream and corn nut crumble. Throughout the competition, Chef Rob demonstrated advanced preparations like gastriques and gelees and worked with machines including the smoking gun, which showed off his range of skill and deeply creative thinking; in the end, the judges rewarded him for that with a win.
How was your experience in the Champions battle different from the last time you were on Chopped? Had you changed your strategy coming into the competition for a second time?
RE: I took more chances since I knew the format of the show and the kitchen.
Creativity seemed to be your strong suit in this round. Were you concerned that cooking outside the box, so to speak, would sacrifice the flavor of your dishes?
RE: I was more aggressive this time with creativity — being a Chopped Championship, I felt that using creativity might be necessary for a win, and I had a lot of fun pushing the envelope. In hindsight, it definitely sacrificed some flavor though.
You and your dessert-round competitor, Chef Jean-Louis Gerin, are both James Beard Award winners and you both run your own restaurants with your wives, but you’re a modernist chef and he’s very classical. Do you find it easier or more difficult competing against someone with a different approach to food? Why?
RE: I don’t think it matters, modernist or classical. It’s the end product that matters. Although modernist helps on the show because you need to think outside the box (it’s why I enjoy doing the show).
Visit Food Network’s Chopped Champions headquarters for more insider coverage.