One-on-One with the Chopped Champions, Battle 3 Winner

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Tuesday night the Season 5 Champions tournament continued with four more previous Chopped champs battling it out for a coveted spot in the finale. There the winners of all four preliminary rounds will compete one last time for a chance to walk away with $50,000.

In this third battle, the dessert round became the determining factor: The final two chefs battled neck and neck throughout the competition, which meant the judges would be looking at even the slightest slip-up to make their decision. After taking into consideration all three courses, the judges chose the chef who did the best job transforming the baskets. Find out who won this preliminary battle and earned the third finale spot.

The Baskets

Appetizer: chicken livers, cinnamon whiskey, edamame, grape licorice

Entree: duck breasts, harissa, pear frangipane tart, orange sherbet

Dessert: bison jerky, sour cream, freeze-dried blueberries, egg waffles

Elimination Details

First round: Raffaele Ronca

Second round: Mo Major

Final round: Rian “RoRo” Morales

Winner: Deborah Caplan

Judges: Geoffrey Zakarian, Chris Santos, Christian Petroni

Coming into battle much more confident than her last time on Chopped, Deborah was geared up for almost anything, except for maybe offal. Despite not liking chicken livers, she created a crispy liver appetizer that the judges appreciated — although Chris received a few undercooked bits. In the entree round, duck presented a gift and a curse to all the chefs, as cooking and resting the protein within the time constraints turned out to be the biggest concern. Deborah cooked hers well, but she didn’t have time for resting the meat, which disappointed both her and the judges.

The dessert round presented the chefs with unique ingredients that inspired Deborah to make an ice cream and a fruit crumble. Although she wasn’t able to execute her first plan, her final dish came out rather successful, unlike her opponent RoRo’s. The judges did, however, differ on their opinions regarding its sweet-versus-tart profile, with only Christian calling it well-balanced. The judges named Deborah the champion for executing the best three courses, and she earned a spot in the tournament’s April 26 finale.

How would you compare competing this time with the last time you appeared on Chopped?

Deborah Caplan: It was definitely tougher this round. The judging was a lot [tougher]. They were very detail-oriented. It was a little more lenient with mistakes the last time around — this time they were like, “Nope, you’re champions; you need to bring it, no flaws.”

What would you say was the most-difficult basket for you today?

DC: I am not comfortable with offal. I don’t eat it, I don’t really cook with it, so I was a little nervous with that appetizer round. I was glad that I executed it well, but [I] was honestly just, like, really lucky, because I don’t really eat chicken liver. But I think [in] the entree round… the second I saw duck I felt confident. And the dessert round was disappointing, just because my vision did not come through the way that I wanted it to, but it still ended up being a delicious plate of food.

What do you think was your favorite plate?

DC: The duck was definitely my favorite plate. That’s something I want to eat. I want to eat duck with demi-glace and sauteed spicy spinach and apples and pear. That’s what I want to eat. That sounds delicious to me.

The judges did call you out for not letting the duck rest enough, with all the blood running out on the plate. When you were hearing those comments, especially from Chris, you seemed really disappointed. What was going through your mind?

DC: Well, it’s frustrating, because, you know, I saw it too as I was plating… and it’s, you know, disrespectful to the duck, because [it’s] such a beautiful piece of meat, and that when it does rest, it’s got the most beautiful juice and you want to keep that inside. So, it’s frustrating to see that happen; hence I would have left the duck whole and not cut into it, let it rest a little bit longer. Presentation would have suffered, but I’d rather that than [have] blood all over the plate. So, it’s disappointing, but, you know, it was such a large piece of meat, and the time constraint, there was no way that it would rest in time… before cutting it.

After the dessert round, you mentioned to the judges that you were working on tart shells, but you had to scrap the idea. What were you originally imagining for that dessert?

DC: I really wanted the shortbread crust to just be the vessel for … a delicious apple and blueberry [filling]. I think that would have been really nice, because it would have brought everything together in a better way instead of being so clunky on the plate. I was dreaming up until the last two minutes that these cookie shells would bake in time. I should have just gone back and gotten a better vessel… as far as plating, like, a crisp. I could have put [it] on a plate with the ice cream next to it or on it, whatever. I think it would have been more well-received, but I was dreaming. I really wanted that to work out.

Ted commended you for running to the ice cream machine right away and getting that started right away. Do you think starting the shells first might have been the better strategy?

DC: Yes… I think the tart shells should have gone in the oven very first. It’s one of those things where I was like, “I really don’t want to clean up after somebody else makes ice cream, so I’m going to be in there first.” It doesn’t take more than six minutes to get the ice cream done, so, you know, I could have done the tart shells first.

When it came to the judging and tasting for that dessert round, it seemed like Geoffrey thought it was way too sweet, Chris thought it was kind of tart and Christian said it was balanced. What was your opinion on the flavor of that dish?

DC: Personally, I think all together it was very balanced, and just for the fact alone that somebody said it was sweet and somebody said it was tart, and they were both talking about two separate components of the dish. So, I would think that they would eat everything together. I can’t put cold ice cream on top of bubbling hot apples and blueberries; it’s going to melt… I should have told them, “Please eat this together,” because together this is a balanced, well-composed dish.

Thinking back to everything that you’ve done today, what would you say is your strategy going into the finale? Are there any lessons that you’ve learned today that you’ll take with you?

DC: Yes. I need to bring it, and my technical errors cannot be there. [In] the next episode I need to … know how to cook and think under pressure. And with that time constraint, yes, there are, you know, limitations to what you can and can’t do, but I know that I understand the technical errors that I made, and I will do everything in my power to not make them again.

What would winning mean to you professionally, personally? I know you mentioned that you’re a line cook, and today you faced off against these executive chefs.

DC: I mean, it’s pretty surreal right now. I can’t believe I just won Chopped … for the second time. I couldn’t believe I won the first time, so to win again is — I’m shocked. I’m insanely proud of myself . I won this round, but it’s not over yet. I’m going to win the $50,000, because it’s going to be really nice to have $50,0000, yes, but also to be able to say that I’m a champion of that many champions — that’s a pretty good feeling.

What do you plan to do with the prize money?

DC: I will be able to just work, and … not have to work seven days a week. [I] don’t make that much money as a line cook, so I’d be able to focus on working on my career, working on my craft instead of overloading myself, and, you know, having to get a second job, because that’s the reality of living alone in New York City and working as a line cook. Those are the cards that are being dealt right now. I know that’s not forever, but having $50,000 in the bank account will let me just focus on what it is I really want to do, and give me time for myself. I’ve learned that … as a human being, you need time for yourself. You need that time to, you know, give it all to work, and then have days where you’re giving it all to yourself. It’s important.

Tune in Tuesday at 10|9c for Battle 4 of the Chopped Champions tournament.