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: Vanilla cupcakes, chicken tenders, avocados and kochujang
Entree: Skirt steak, matzo crackers, sweet orange gelatin cups and collard greens
Dessert: Circus peanuts, passion fruit puree, graham cracker cereal and curry powder
Appetizer Round: Judy Gold
Entree Round: Johnny Weir
Dessert Round: Joey Fatone
Winner: Laila Ali
Judges: Maneet Chauhan, Geoffrey Zakarian and Marcus Samuelsson
Laila Ali is certainly known in the boxing world, but this culinary knock-out has been cooking since she was 12 years old. Self-taught, she’s now going to culinary school and cooks for her family five days a week. It pays off — Laila bested Joey Fatone in the final round and heads to the All-Stars finale next Sunday to compete for her charity, Healthy Child, Healthy World.
You mentioned you were going to culinary school. What do you plan on doing with that?
LA: Going to school is for my passion of cooking — I just want to add to what I know because I am self-taught. I want to learn more. I think I cook really well, but there’s so much more to know. I would love to have a professional career in cooking.
Were you worried about the burned items in today’s competition at all?
LA: You know I was concerned. The toast wasn’t a basket item, so the problem was really more my overcooked meat. I was still confident, though, because my flavors were there, and with just one small change, it would have been different. It really is a taste thing — I like my meat like that.
You conquered the ice cream machine today, which a lot of chefs can’t do in the Chopped Kitchen in that amount of time and it impressed the judges. Why did you decide to do that?
LA: I pay attention to detail. I knew how to work the machine, and I knew how to make the mixture. I knew I wanted to make an ice cream. When I took it out of the machine, I wanted to be safe-than-sorry, so I put it into the flash-freezer. Everyone seemed to like it.
Now that you know how to make ice cream, what flavor would you make at home for your family?
LA: I would make some sort of coffee or toasted almond. My husband actually likes graham cracker ice cream. The great thing about ice cream is you can put almost anything into it.
Going into the finale, Geoffrey said, “Stay the course.” What are some of the lessons learned from tonight that you’ll take with you to the finale?
LA: I know for a fact that some of my mistakes happened because of time management: for example, my overcooked meat. I wasn’t paying enough attention to it. Time makes a difference. I’m going to come in confident — that basket is the equalizer and at the end of the day, anything can happen. I know I can make the meal taste good. I just have to manage my time. Hopefully I’ll know all the ingredients in the basket.
Speaking of the basket, which one was the hardest for you tonight?
LA: The hardest basket was the first basket, with the cupcakes that came with the chicken because I normally wouldn’t put those things together — especially with the time allotted.
You said that you thought the judges went a little easy on you today. What did you mean by that, and were any of the ingredients new to you?
LA: While they weren’t “new,” I’ve never had to deal with incorporating cupcakes into a savory dish — the same with candy. When I said I thought they were going easy, I meant more the items found in the baskets. I’ve seen them give contestants a whole fish. That’s not just cooking it, you have to de-bone and fillet it. That’s what I meant by going easy on us.
If you had to choose between boxing and cooking, what would you pick?
LA: If I had to tell you right now, I would have to choose cooking. I have a passion for cooking, and my dream would be to have my own cooking show.
What would be the theme of your cooking show?
LA: It would be a show that welcomes viewers into my home — sort of a Rachael Ray environment where we could talk about what’s happening in the world and do some cooking. It would be for moms like me: busy and trying to make it all work. I wouldn’t come into the show as if I knew everything, I would just love to share what I enjoy doing and to learn along the way.