Chatting with the Chopped Ultimate Champions: Pros, Part 1 Winner

by in Shows, August 26th, 2014

Chopped Ultimate Champions: ProsFor the first time on Chopped, professionals and amateur cooks will go head-to-head at the end of the five-part Ultimate Champions tournament. But they’ve all competed on Chopped before: They’ve tasted what it feels like to win, and they’re hungry for more. On tonight’s first round, four professional chefs battled to determine which one would move on to the grand finale, where there’s a chance to win the largest prize in the show’s history, $50,000, with a brand-new car to top it all off. FN Dish has the exclusive interview with the winner from Part 1.

The Baskets
Appetizer: eel, pepihuates, shaved coconut and sea beans
Entree: dressed squab, stuffed grape leaves, feta cheese and cherry cola
Dessert: grasshopper pie, Granny Smith apples, puffed rice and smoked sea salt

Elimination Details
First round: Fatima Ali
Second round: Lauren Kyles
Final round: Tom McKenna
Winner: Giorgio Rapicavoli

Judges: Scott Conant, Chris Santos and Marc Murphy

Giorgio, Chopped Ultimate ChampionsSince winning Chopped the first time, Giorgio Rapicavoli has made a name for himself in the Miami area, where he now owns and runs two restaurants. Returning to the competition, his confidence, technique and knowledge has grown. His three courses showed an expert grasp of cooking concepts that impressed the judges so much so that they were able to overlook a missing basket ingredient in his appetizer dish, which they deemed to be the best overall. Going up against tough competition, Giorgio showed that his dishes were unmatched. His dessert was a technical display, and although it wasn’t perfect, it showed he wasn’t afraid to push the envelope. He takes the first spot in the grand finale, representing the pros.

What were your expectations going into this competition? How different do you think it was competing now vs. your last time on the show?
Giorgio Rapicavoli: Honestly, my expectations were to win. I came back here and I’ve won once. I came in here winning. I expected to be much calmer, and, honestly, I was. I felt much more relaxed throughout the event. I kept my composure, my cool. I wasn’t panicking. I think that’s what made it different. I think it’s also a matter of comfort and not necessarily knowing the arena. It’s more about learning to control your timing and learning to pace the meal, and the production of the dish really made a big difference.

Lots of things have changed in your professional life since you were last on the show. Do you think you had a different mind-set coming in to this?
GR: I definitely came in with a different mentality. I came in with this kind of composure. It really made it for me throughout this battle. I kind of knew what to expect. I felt like I made beautiful dishes, but I don’t think there are many times in an appetizer round on Chopped that you’ve got somebody picking herbs on point. It’s like I allowed myself to do that because I wanted to.

Giorgio in the appetizer round of Chopped Ultimate ChampionsDid you think you were going home after the appetizer round for leaving an ingredient off the plate?
GR: I was a little concerned about the missing ingredient, but in my head I knew that the toasted coconut wasn’t going to make the dish, and it also wasn’t going to break the dish. And as chefs, the judges knew that too. It’s crazy for them to say that the one dish that was missing an ingredient was the best dish they ate all day. After that I knew I was starting with a handicap. I knew I needed to bust my ass to knock these guys off their feet.

What made you put all that technique and technology into your dessert?
GR: I basically had the principal parts of my dessert done in 5 to 10 minutes. Within the 10 minutes the apples were caramelized and the ice cream was in the freezer. And I thought: “Now what can I do? How can I accentuate this dish?” I just thought about flavor profiles. When you have that technology and it speeds up your processes tenfold, that sort of amazes me. It’s incredible that you can puree cereal and have a mousse. I love that. But it’s never tool or technique before ingredient. It’s always ingredient, the perception I want and how can we achieve that. I think it was really well executed today.

Did you ever think any of it wouldn’t work?
GR: Honestly, the pie ice cream. I was a little suspicious about it. And once it broke, there was no turning back. It wasn’t like I had another pie. I did what I could with it, and, granted, some of the parts may have not been 100 percent. But take one of those three and see if any of them would ever puree a pie and turn it into ice cream. Even though Scott said he had parts of pure butter, but in your head you’re thinking, “This dude pureed a pie.” I think that’s what gave me the advantage.

Giorgio cooking during the entree round on Chopped Ultimate ChampionsWhen you saw the squab in the entree basket, what was going through your mind, knowing that you cooked squab last time you were on Chopped?
GR: That was difficult for me when I got the squab, because I needed to make something that tasted so far from the last time that I made it. And Chris being my judge then, he knew the dish. So that was kind of tricky. And then the grape leaves. I saw rice. So I thought fried rice. Peking duck. One thing led to another and somehow that dish came to life. I was very happy with it, much happier than getting eel. I don’t ever want to see eel ever again in my life. They are so gnarly to peel. And I was the only one that took the skin off.

Was that basket, the appetizer, hardest for you to work with today?
GR: The appetizer basket to me was the most difficult and, strangely enough, became what was the best dish. When I saw coconut and peanut, I instantly got drawn back to my flavors and foods that I know. We do a dish with these tomatoes at the restaurant that has a very similar dressing. But that’s no fail. Granted, I know it’s a peanut-coconut profile together. It’s flawless. It’s a match made in heaven.

What’s your strategy going into the finale, being that you will be up against nonprofessionals?
GR: My strategy is just to do what I did today and not worry about what anyone else is making, not be concerned about it, not look over, just do me, do the food that I know how to do, food that I love, but most importantly, food that I’m proud of and respect. That’s the most important thing. When you’re proud of what you do, it shines. And the judges notice that. Instantly when Tom went up, they were like, “You’re not proud of this dish, are you?” That’s how quick it is for them. That made me the winner in that sense. I think it’s really important to have a lot of pride in your food and stand behind it.

More from this Episode
Top Moments (Photos)
Smokin’ Dessert (Video)

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Comments (13)

  1. Denny says:

    Your "cooks" need to stop and think before they make demeaning comments about the firefighters who do not cook for a hobby but to feed their fellow firefighters who are putting their lives on the line for us.

  2. 123~ says:

    I think this show is entertaining and fun to watch. But I don't like how the judges gives "star chefs" more appreciated applause as to the normal chefs that goes on. They do get applause but you can visually see the differences. I'm just disappointed in that aspect.

  3. Heredia says:

    I have watched Chopped for a while now and I think it the most prejudiced show on air and I say that with conviction there is never four africa american chefs and never any africa american judges maybe one These people food is judged by people who own not chefs/ what really upsetted me was when that child didn't win on juniors chefs and the kid won because of her father didn't have money please who does! get a student loan and pay it back she won on pity and that is not fair. Last night topped it all the man left off an ingredient and he won please that was supposed to be ULTIMATE CHAMPION NO LEAVE OFF!

    • Stacy says:

      I think that you are ridiculous. There are many different races, ages, sexes, etc on this show. I have never seen a more diverse group of people on the show and judges. I honestly feel that if you are not able to see the diversity that this show and all of the shows on food network put on that you are the prejudice one yourself. You want white people to be a minority and that is all you look for in life. You have a lot of growing up to do.

      Chopped is one of my favorite shows that I could watch on a daily basis. I love the new episodes and even watch the reruns. I feel that this show is a great way for all people to get a chance to show their skills. I would love to be on this show as a common home cook. I do not know all of the big terms and names you call things, but feel that as a mom able to cook at home for my family and them love what I make is great representation of home cooks. I may not be fancy, but it sure does taste good :)

    • Caramia says:

      Get a life and get over yourself so freaking tired of the same one note pity party….

    • ten says:

      I totally agree with you. I just watch the Chopped with 11yrs old kids aired on the 9/30/2014 and I think the "half breed asian kid should have won the competition. The other Caucasian girl won because she cried out loud that she needs the money for her brain damaged father who is in the hospital (during the final review, one of the judges actually highlight this fact again about the kid..just to imply to the other judge that she needs the money- I am sorry for her father, but it isn't fair to the other kids). On her first course she dropped the bread and didn't server the sauce on one of the judge 's plate, and on the main course she didn't transform the candies into anything, just mixed it with the raw apple slide. blah, blah, I watched Chopped for years now and I have decided to not watch it anymore because it isn't fair.

  4. clara says:

    this episode of Chopped, was very disappointing. for the fact that the judges dont follow their own rules! the chefs MUST use all of the ingredients. the winner of this CHAMPIONSHIP competition, did not use all of the ingredients. BULLSHIT !

  5. c thomp says:

    I thought all 4 judges were classy and obviously talented. But I was especially impressed by Lauren and Fatima. These women have battled all kinds of obstacles to reach the pinnacle of their profession. They cooked extremely wonderful meals, but even more importantly, they did so with total class and style and with an understanding that they are role models. I think the Chopped judges make fair calls based just on the food, so I have no quarrel with the outcome of the show. However, I really think Lauren and Fatima deserve mega-kudos for all they have done, both in the Chopped kitchen and out of it. They just ROCK!!!!!!

  6. c thomp says:

    Oops, sorry! In my prior comment I meant to write all 4 CONTESTANTS were classy and talented! But I also have total respect for the judges.

  7. Nvee says:

    Do a chopped kids

  8. David Jorgensen says:

    I just watched the first round of there so called ultimate chopped tournament. The winner FORGOT an ingredient in the first round!! And won the whole thing!! He made it to the final round!! What happened to THEIR rules?? You shouldn't win if you forget an ingredient!! Especially not the ultimate tournament!! This is BULLSHIT!!

  9. SaltLifeGull says:

    Chef Tom McKenna is so dad gum handsome, I couldn't take my eyes off his face long enough to see what he was cooking! That gorgeous hunk of manhood perfection should have won…what ultimate champion leaves off an ingredient then wins??? Put CHEF TOM back on!

  10. abby says:

    did anybody notice that they didn't air when chef lauren was chopped. they went right to the dessert round. why didn't they show her being chopped?

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