In this all-new Chopped tournament, 16 stars from the Web, sports, comedy and Hollywood have converged to prove their star power. In the first episode, Web cooking show hosts Hilah Johnson, Lazarus Lynch, Justine Ezarik and Josh Elkin are putting on the Chopped jackets to compete. We’ve seen them cook for their fans on YouTube, but what the esteemed panel of Chopped judges think will rule. After cooking through three rounds of mystery baskets, a single star rose to the top. Find out who earned the chance to return to compete in the finale on April 25.
Appetizer: blood sausage, shishito peppers, Japanese mayonnaise, dates
Entree: duck breast, broccoli rabe, mashed potato pancakes, Thai iced tea
Dessert: mango mochi ice cream, quince paste, instant oatmeal packets, dragon fruit
First round: Justine Ezarik
Second round: Hilah Johnson
Final round: Josh Elkin
Winner: Lazarus Lynch
Judges: Scott Conant, Amanda Freitag, Geoffrey Zakarian
Lazarus Lynch came into the competition confident as ever that he’d make it to the end, and he did just that. The judges praised his creativity all throughout the rounds. With the appetizer basket ingredients, Lazarus created a breakfast rendition of eggs with Japanese mayonnaise and a blood sausage patty. For an entree he presented perfectly cooked duck breast with a flavorful Thai iced tea curry sauce. And in the dessert round, he left the judges with a sweet taste of mango mochi panna cotta with quince and dragon fruit sauce. He earned the first spot in the finale, where he’ll compete against three other champions for the chance to win $50,000 for his charity, 4H. Read on to find out what’s his strategy for coming back even stronger and more confident.
How are you feeling after having won?
Lazarus Lynch: I’m really excited. This has been a long time coming and the win is finally here. I’m super excited, super stoked about this.
Thinking of everything you’ve done today, what was it like competing? You’ve judged on Chopped Junior before, so what was it like being on the other side?
LL: Competing on Chopped definitely is a gymnasium for every chef, and I think every chef should experience this, because it is the ultimate culinary workout. Seriously. All of my culinary juices were flowing. Every single thing that you’ve learned up until this point you access in the Chopped kitchen. When else do you experience that? That was what was most thrilling about this, and it’s cool being a judge, but the real test is if you can cook and hold yourself to the same standards you hold others too. I definitely felt that pressure, but overall I think I did a successful job. Clearly I am the winner today, and I’m really appreciative of that and I’m also really glad to do this for charity and to share my message with other people to be inspired by.
Of all the baskets, which one would you say was the most difficult?
LL: The most difficult was the entree round. I had no idea what to do with those potato pancakes. If you think about it, it’s potatoes – make mashed potatoes, make an omelet, make something – but it was just this odd ingredient for me, and it was so weird how something so familiar when paired with things that may not be so familiar can completely throw you off. I had a plan of attack for the not-so-familiar ingredients, but for the potato pancake, I was completely thrown off by it, which is weird, but it did stress me out a little bit.
Scott said that your entree could have been more buttoned up. And Amanda talked about your mistake in not straining the sauce. Thinking back on it, was there anything you would have done differently, could have improved upon?
LL: There were definitely times in the entree round, really throughout all the rounds, where I feel I could have executed better, specifically in the dessert round where I fell really, really short — not as short as my competitor. But I do feel, from an execution point of view, managing your time is super important. Also, learning ratios and thinking, “if I do this in a smaller cup, it will cool faster because it’s a smaller size.” Those little, tiny steps that you know and that you do all the time in the restaurant world, I would definitely apply those lessons more directly in the next competition.
What would you consider your most successful round?
LL: My most successful round was my appetizer round. I love those eggs. Scott, I know he doesn’t love onions, so he didn’t really care for the shallot. I personally loved it. I think that was really cool, the mayonnaise did not break in my eggs, which I actually was not worried about. I just think it was overall a successful dish. It was probably a little bit heavier than they were expecting. It was definitely a “good morning” kind of a dish. I think that was my most successful execution today.
You mentioned the dessert round being difficult for you. Did you have any other ideas, recipes you practiced ahead of time, desserts you wanted to make? How did panna cotta come to your mind?
LL: Panna cotta was a dessert I used to make all the time in high school, so I felt pretty good about approaching it. The only problem is that I didn’t have half an hour to deliver four panna cottas. I did definitely take a risk here. The risk paid off, but really by a hair. It’s dessert, and I make desserts all the time. It depends on the mood; it depends on the ingredients that I have available. Sometimes I realize the pressure that’s in the Chopped kitchen, you can’t think of the things that you thought of beforehand. It just really escapes your mind. I make biscuits left and right all the time, and I couldn’t think of the biscuit recipe to save my life. Why? Because you’re in a competition, and those things happen when you compete. It’s life. You deal with it. But next time, I feel like I’ll definitely do something that I am more comfortable doing and successfully execute.
Did you practice before coming on the show, timing yourself or setting up baskets for yourself?
LL: I’m not one to really prepare. I’m a procrastinator to the tee. It made me nervous to even watch previous episodes. It was just frightening for me. I like to practice; I did practice a little bit. I had friends who helped and suggested certain ingredients I work with, but I did not officially practice the way that my other competitors practiced. For the next round I may practice. I may not.
Were you cooking in honor of your dad today? I know that’s something you mentioned many times, how he inspired you to start cooking and you worked in his restaurants.
LL: For sure I felt like today was dedicated to my dad and to his legacy. My dad taught me how to cook from the time I was a kid, and cooking was always a way for us to connect. Now cooking is the way I connect with millions of people around the world. Being here meant a lot. It meant a lot for him for sure. He’s looking down — he’s no longer with us — but he’s definitely alive in my heart, and he’s alive in memory. I think I honored him today in the Chopped kitchen.
What’s your strategy going into the finale? Is there a mistake you don’t want to repeat again or are you just going to shoot for the moon?
LL: Here’s what you do. When you walk into the Chopped kitchen, before you even walk into the Chopped kitchen, you have to pep talk yourself. You tell yourself that no matter what, you’re going to do your best, and by doing your best that means focusing on technique, focusing on flavor, focusing on presentation. That’s the only thing you can do. You can prepare a thousand recipes, but you have to just walk in with the confidence that you’re going to do your best, and that’s what I’m going to do the next round. There really is no strategy other than to have fun and to understand that everything that you’ve ever done professionally and personally to get to this point in time has led you here, and so you’re already successful. That’s how I see it.
Personally, what would it mean for you to win, and what would it mean for your charity?
LL: To win the finale would mean a lot to me both personally and for my charity. Personally, I’ve been waiting a really long time to compete on Chopped – since high school. So, it’s really going to be an incredible affirmation for what I do for a living and for the many millions of kids out there to have a dream to be a chef – or have any dream – that they can do it and that they can be successful at it. … I’m competing for National 4H Council and the money … will go to reaching more kids, specifically kids who don’t have opportunities in low income areas and communities, kids who may not have access to fresh produce and health education. … 4H reached out to me and my community, because they had the resources to do that … . It definitely made an investment and impact in my life, and now I’m just paying it forward.
Tune in for the next installment of the Chopped Star Power tournament on Tuesday, April 4 at 10|9c, and come back to FN Dish for the interview with the winner.
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