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On tonight’s episode of the Chopped Tournament of Stars, four comedians entered the competition to try their luck with the Chopped mystery basket ingredients. Though these four funny people can be pretty silly in their profession, when it came to competing, all of them showed that their dedication was no laughing matter. The winner of the round is going on to the finale, where only one competitor will walk away with the title of Chopped champion and $50,000 for charity. These comedians learned that the pressure of doing live standup, improv or television is no comparison to the pressures of the Chopped kitchen. Find out which one proved he or she has what it takes to move on to the finale. FN Dish has the exclusive interview with the Round 3 winner.
Appetizer: pickled pig’s lips, spinach, polenta and gummy fried eggs
Entree: beer can chicken, jalapeno poppers, collard greens and truffle honey
Dessert: cinnamon chips, cheese curls, vanilla cupcakes and apple cider
First Round: Tommy Davidson
Second Round: Robert Wuhl
Final Round: Sinbad
Winner: Gillian Vigman
Judges: Chris Santos, Maneet Chauhan and Geoffrey Zakarian
Comedian and actress Gillian Vigman may have come into the competition looking like the underdog, but she proved her cooking skills could translate to the Chopped kitchen. She put out three inventive courses and outcooked her competitors, all while being extremely funny. She is the Tournament of Stars Round 3 champion, earning herself a spot in the finale for a chance to win $50,000 for her charity, GO Campaign.
What did you expect coming on Chopped? Did you have any goals you wanted to achieve?
I wanted to try and make it past the appetizer round. I was really prepared for some crazy stuff and I was getting ready to get chopped, so it really has come as a big surprise to me that I won. I mean, I’m thrilled and I worked really hard and I felt like I focused and I feel really good about what I did. It’s intimidating, and yet it’s also inspiring.
Who did you see as your biggest competition?
I feel like it kind of swayed back and forth. At first I thought it was Robert. I remember looking over at his plate and seeing that perfect poached egg. I thought, Oh, he’s hiding something. And when I watched Sinbad go from a shaky beginning to that entree, I thought, this guy is naturally creative — I could be in a lot of trouble at dessert. And I still believed after we did the dessert that it was neck and neck. I didn’t know which way it would go. It flipped. It was exciting.
How would you compare cooking to acting or doing standup?
Improvising is where my training is, and it was such a great base. I think that learning to improvise both on stage and in scenes is very similar to improvising a meal, but the problem is you’ll mess up an improvised scene if you come in with preconceived notions. Once you do that it’s destroyed. There will be no freshness, nothing organic. But when you come in with nothing in your head but the focus of the person you’re working with, it can be the most-amazing thing to watch. I think it’s a lot like opening those baskets. All that knowledge you have of trying to cook things or make sauces or anything like that you have to nearly push to the wayside, and improvise based on what you see in that basket. It is both a rush of fear and total adrenaline.
You used some equipment for the first time, like the fryer. What made you decide to take those risks?
After the appetizer round, the judges did point something out. I really had done nothing. I had polenta as one of the ingredients and I was so focused on the main ingredient that I nearly put something as simple as polenta to the side and it really hurt the dish. They told me I could have made croutons using the frialator. I’ve never used a frialator in my life. This is all about taking on a challenge and seeing if you can do it. I thought it would be a great challenge to try and use something I have never used before — not to see if I could master it, but at least put something on a plate after they had asked me to try something like that.
We saw you tasting at every chance you got, a lot like a professional would do. Where does that attention to detail come from?
I think it’s that improvising side of me. You have to know what you’re cooking with, you have to know what it tastes like in order to get an idea how the flavors will all mesh. I love the idea of flavor profiles. I hate using this word, umami, but it’s that idea. When you feel like you’ve got it, or you feel like you’re getting as close as you can, it’s such a good feeling. I’m a lowly mom who cooks at home but even when you do that at home you feel so proud of yourself. At home I don’t have judges other than my husband and 4-year-old son. But I want more than that. Give me more. Give me money for a charity! I think that’s also part of the fun. The scary part is tasting and going from there.
What’s your strategy going into the finale?
It’s like cramming for a final exam. You hit that point where there’s nothing more you can do and you nearly have to have that moment of letting it all go. I think I will probably look at some of my tried-and-true recipes and kind of look at the base of flavor components and then I have to let it all go. It sounds like I have some fierce competition. I’m against other people who are focused and very good at what they do. I’m going to have to take it to the next level or at least remain as focused and as close to my improvising base as I can, and taste everything and see how I can put it all together.