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: Diver scallops, harissa, pink grapefruit and speck
Entree: Capon, ramps, canned pizza sauce and burrata
Dessert: Ruby port, olive oil gelato, dried apricots and French toast sticks
Appetizer Round: Marc Murphy
Entree Round: Alex Guarnaschelli
Dessert Round: Amanda Freitag
Winner: Scott Conant
Judges: Aarón Sánchez, Geoffrey Zakarian and Marcus Samuelsson
Chopped judge Scott Conant admits that he was hesitant to compete on All-Stars, but thanks to some arm-twisting from his fellow judges and an Iron Chef, he threw his hat in the ring for Season 3. After squeaking by in the appetizer round, Scott got into his groove in the Chopped kitchen and hit his capon entree out of the park. In the final battle against Amanda Freitag, his German-inspired dessert topfenknodel even impressed Marcus Samuelsson who, like Scott himself, spent time cooking in that region. At the end of a long day, Scott took home the win and will go on to represent the Chopped judges and compete for his charity, Keep Memory Alive, in the All-Stars finale. FN Dish sat down with Scott after the win to get his take on his first-ever battle in the Chopped kitchen.
What was your favorite dish that you produced today?
You know, I am inherently unhappy with everything that I do, but I think there were certain elements that I really liked. The poached capon breast I thought came out exactly the way I had hoped. The berries on the dessert, believe it or not, with balsamic vinegar, reduced port, confectioners’ sugar and tarragon were really bright and beautiful.
You said it took a lot of arm-twisting to get you to do this — you were the last of the Chopped judges to compete on All-Stars. What finally did it for you?
It was a combination of a few things. First, Michael Symon, when he competed as one of the Iron Chefs on Chopped; I really was taken by his attitude toward it. All the Iron Chefs, for that matter. They had really positive attitudes. Then I had a conversation with Aarón one day. We were talking, and he said, “You know what, man? You need to put all that stuff aside.” We had a really nice conversation. He gave me some perspective and Michael really put it into perspective as well.
What was holding you back?
I don’t think that this is a fair assessment of my cooking abilities. I’d like to think that I can cook pretty well. I wasn’t sure if this would be a fair assessment of that, but you know what? I had a lot of fun.
You dodged a bullet in the first round. How did you get your head back into the game?
The thing about the appetizer round was that there were a few elements on the plate that I was very happy with like the harissa with the herbs in that pan with the scallops, and the scallops were cooked properly. I just wasn’t accustomed to that kind of range. I think if I had sauteed 4 scallops instead of 12, I would have been okay. But that’s the thing you have to learn before you go into it. I had never done it before and the fact that I squeaked through — I knew that there was some finesse on those dishes, but it was just an unfinished thought. If I had to put a title to that dish, it would be An Unfinished Thought.
You never got to put your red onion on the plate. That was a bit of a joke in the Chopped kitchen, representing your disdain for raw red onion. Was this little touch something you had in mind going into the competition?
As I was running by, I saw the onion and I just grabbed one. I was so upset with myself that it didn’t get on the plate. It was tasting really good — exactly how I wanted it to taste.
Marcus said that two of your dishes were so good that you should put them on the menu at Scarpetta: the capon and the topfenknodel. Would that ever happen?
Maybe I’ll use them as starting points. Those two dishes would be difficult to put in a restaurant environment. That’s what’s really different about being a chef versus being a really good cook – understanding the functionality of certain dishes. We’ll see!
This round had a lot riding on it. You all know each other so well — the people judging you and your competitors. Do you think that makes it more of a friendly competition or more intense?
Listen, I’m a target, you know? I know people will make fun of me win or lose; they’ll talk smack. I knew that I needed to step up my game. But being with such close friends, people that you love, it makes it a little bit easier, but then you know that the ribbing is going to come.
You said you hadn’t competed in many years; now you’re going to compete twice. Are you ready to go out there and represent the Chopped judges in the finale?
It’s a lot of pressure. They’re all looking to me to step it up and do a good job. I know I’m going to be up against some fierce competitors moving forward. I’m not as young as I used to be. I might have to get some sleep; I might have to get a massage!
Now that you’re here, are you glad that you competed?
I am. Even in the next challenge, if I get Chopped in the first round, I’m going to be happy with today for sure.
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