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On tonight’s episode of the Chopped Tournament of Stars, four actors entered the competition to take on the reality of competition. They would realize that this wasn’t just another role for them to play; no amount of acting could save a dish from the Chopping Block. Still, only one could walk away as the winner of the round, with a chance to go to the finale and earn $50,000 for charity. These actors learned the competition is a lot harder than it looks on TV. Find out who proved he or she was able to make it through all three courses without throwing in the towel. FN Dish has the exclusive interview with the Round 4 winner.
Appetizer: squid, dinosaur kale, popcorn on the cob and candy blood
Entree: steamed spiny lobster, pink variegated lemon, amaro and French breakfast radishes
Dessert: star cookies, strawberries, mascarpone and Buddha’s Hand
First Round: Tasha Smith
Second Round: Lucas Grabeel
Final Round: Peter Scolari
Winner: Michael Imperioli
Judges: Maneet Chauhan, Alex Guarnaschelli and Amanda Freitag
Actor Michael Imperioli proved that with a zen attitude and sheer persistence, it’s possible to beat the baskets and turn out dishes that are worthy of earning the final spot in the tournament. His focus, more than his skill, got him through the challenging rounds, and even when it didn’t look all too bright, he showed that the ends justify the means, even if the means were messy and hectic. Michael is the Tournament of Stars Round 4 champion, meaning he’ll go on to the finale for a chance to win $50,000 for his charity, The Pureland Project.
What did you expect coming on Chopped? Did you have any goals you wanted to achieve?
My goals were to get everything on the plate and that everything would be edible. A lot can happen where things don’t make it onto the plate or you make something that’s barely edible. I was really glad that that didn’t happen. I kind of exceeded those expectations.
Did you practice before coming on the show?
I tried to just do things fast. I tried to work in a couple of different ingredients. I just became more aware of presentation and composition in the last couple of weeks.
Who did you see as your biggest competition?
At the beginning, before we even started, I thought it was Lucas. He had a knife from Japan and he seemed to know a lot about chefs. And I thought, uh-oh. And when I saw that first dish he made on the plate, I was thinking, this kid is a pro, because his appetizer looked fantastic, like a restaurant dish. Mine was a little homier-looking. I thought he was the guy to beat. But his pizza didn’t cook. If that dough would have cooked completely, he may have been sitting here in my place.
Which was the hardest basket for you?
The dessert was the hardest. I kind of was clear on what I wanted to do; I just didn’t have the technique. I don’t have a repertoire of desserts. I’ve cooked many types of pasta and I know the foundations of how to make pasta. But desserts — it’s really not something I do. And then I tried a lot of different techniques, which in the end kind of worked out. I could have just gone off the rails at any point. I squeaked by in that round.
Alex called your entree two separate dishes, but she appreciated it for its homeyness. How were you inspired to make the dish? And to present it as two separate dishes?
The lobster, the amaro and the lemon all went together. I thought that the liqueur with cognac would make a good cream sauce. I didn’t want to put everything in there, because I felt the radishes would have gotten lost. I could have, and it would have been one dish. But I felt there was no highlighting them. So I thought, let me do this as a little side. I wanted to find a way to put it on one plate, but the sauce was too liquid-y. It would have just been a mess. Alex said I could have put it on top. I actually thought of that, but I thought I would look like an amateur. But it made me think that there’s a lot of leeway you have. I kind of thought the pasta and the salad did go together. You can lose a little in points because it is supposed to be one dish. Luckily they liked the salad.
You talked about staying in the zone while cooking, and it reminded you of when you worked in restaurants in between acting jobs. Did you call up your past experience for this competition?
In terms of endurance, yes. I don’t usually have to move that fast or that hectically around the kitchen. I take my time. I put on music. I relax and it’s very meditative. So there’s the exhaustion factor. I haven’t worked in a restaurant in a long time. I was very young when I did. I kind of knew the competition was going to be pretty grueling. I had that in mind.
What’s your strategy going into the finale?
Get rest and sleep. I think what I learned is that you have got to take your time. You also have to be fast, but you have to take your time. If you’re going to rush it, you’re not going to execute things properly. You have to take your time.