If you missed the show and recorded it, don’t read any further — FN Dish is about to break down the episode and chat with the winner.
Appetizer: Black sea bass, wakame seaweed, cream soda and black garlic
Entree: Oxtail, labaneh, mustard greens and fruit cocktail
Dessert: Peanut brittle, Mexican chocolate, grape tomatoes and sponge cake snacks
First Round: Chuck Hughes
Second Round: Elizabeth Falkner
Final Round: Richard Blais
Winner: Gavin Kaysen
Judges: Chris Santos, Marcus Samuelsson and Maneet Chauhan
Gavin Kaysen, the executive chef of Café Boulud in New York City and a James Beard Rising Star Chef winner (2008), can add one more accolade to his wall of fame: Chopped All-Star Round 2 winner. He wowed judges with a refined entree and a nostalgic dessert to capture the win over Chef Richard Blais and advance to the finale.
What was the hardest basket you dealt with?
GK: Honestly, it was the dessert basket because of those sponge cakes — they’re so sweet. I love the idea of Mexican chocolate and peanut brittle. They were no-brainers: Turn them into ice cream, done. But the sponge cakes and tomatoes threw me for a loop. I consider myself lucky, though. Throughout all three rounds, there was not one ingredient I didn’t know how to use.
You said, “I don’t look at dessert as a dish, but a complete meal.” Explain this statement more.
GK: For me, and I say this with all admiration, I walked into the Chopped Kitchen thinking I was going to create a three-course meal for the judges. I didn’t think about being chopped. I didn’t think about being sent home after the first or second rounds. So in my mind, the first course was going to be a crudo, the second course is something a little more bold, and the final course is more homey and robust. I love to make food fancy — to make it worthy to the point of saying, “Of course I should have done that. Keep it simple, stupid.” I told myself that all day: “Keep it simple, stupid.”
You had a quarterback mentality throughout the show. There were a lot of wrestling terms being thrown around. Why the sports terminology?
GK: First of all, people can relate to it — when you talk about sporting events and competitions. But I think that there is a lot of sports analysis and psychiatry out there for a reason. Those people that are very good at what they do, for example, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, etc., they must go through some sort of analysis or strategy to become who they are. You don’t just wake up and you have a gift. After going through The Next Iron Chef, I knew what it felt like to be the backup quarterback that never played, whereas today, I didn’t come in with that same mentality.
Going into the finale, what are you going to take with you?
GK: I’m going to continue to bring the same mentality as I brought today because it’s driven by Julian and the cause I’m playing for, Children’s Cancer Research Fund. This is the reason why I’m here. It’s the most important reason. I’m sure I made mistakes today. I’m going to reflect and focus on what I can do to make my dishes better.
You used both the blast chiller and the anti-griddle tonight. There are many chefs who are afraid to use the lesser-known pieces of equipment in the kitchen. What’s your take on using these instruments during high-stakes moments?
GK: Well, it makes a difference when you’ve used them before — and I’ve used both. I don’t know if I would have used them if I hadn’t. If your techniques are on spot, then the blast chiller should do nothing but help you. These gadgets aren’t supposed to save you; they’re supposed to help you.
Going along with the theme of the show, who do you consider an all-star in your life?
GK: My parents are my all-stars, but my wife is my number one all-star. She takes care of our children. She’s amazing.
More From Gavin Kaysen
- Gavin is competing for Children’s Cancer Research Fund
Gavin joins Sunny in the finale on May 5. Who will join them next? Tune in to next week’s episode, on Sunday, April 27 at 9pm/8c, to find out.