One-on-One with the Chopped All-Stars, Part 1 Winner

Get the exclusive interview with the winner from Part 1 of the Chopped All-Stars tournament.
Show: Chopped

Chopped host Ted Allen and chefs Eric Greenspan and Art Smithfor Chopped $75,000 charity All-Stars competition, as seen on Food Network's Chopped, Season 24.

Photo by: David Lang ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

David Lang, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Celebrated chefs from around the country have entered Season 4 of the Chopped All-Stars tournament for a chance to walk away victorious. For many it's not their first time setting foot in the hallowed kitchen, but for others it's their first attempt at cooking with and transforming mystery basket ingredients. On the line is the largest prize yet, $75,000 for charity. In Part 1 Art Smith, Brian Malarkey, Eric Greenspan and Madison Cowan brought their best game to the competition, but in the end it all came down to the one who dealt best with the baskets. FN Dish has the exclusive interview with the Part 1 winner.

The Baskets

Appetizer: smoked pork tails, natto, cilantro, clams

Entree: shrimp skin, hamachi, pomelo, green garlic

Dessert: maple smoked cheddar cheese, almond flour, mayonnaise, dates

Elimination Details
First round: Brian Malarkey
Second round: Madison Cowan
Final round: Eric Greenspan
Winner: Art Smith

Judges: Scott Conant, Maneet Chauhan, Amanda Freitag

More from the Episode

Chef Art Smith reacts to finding out he will move on to compete in the $75,000 charity competition finalfor Chopped $75,000 charity All-Stars competition, as seen on Food Network's Chopped, Season 24.

Photo by: David Lang ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

David Lang, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Although it was his first time in the Chopped kitchen, it wasn't Art Smith's first time around in a competition. He's been on both sides of the judging table, and he knew exactly what was expected of him. And he delivered. The proud Southern chef brought the flavor of the region to all his dishes, masterfully transforming the basket ingredients better than his fellow chefs. He worked diligently to ensure his dishes pleased the judges' palates, and by doing so has earned a place in the tournament's finale on May 26.

FN Dish: What were your expectations going into battle?

Art Smith: I've done a lot of these competitions. People love me when I do them. [laughs] I guess I'm not a sore loser. But, you know, I try to be entertaining and funny. I'm always scared. I find God in the kitchen, not in church, because I pray so much that I'll get through it whether I win or lose! They're really enjoyable. The best part of them is the camaraderie with other chefs, fellow chefs. The thing is, is that [in the profession] chefs work so hard that their time for socializing is far and few in between. And so it's good to see people that you don't get to see often. One of the things I didn't like about being a personal chef for all those years … [was] the solitude of it. I think food is something that's to be shared and cooking is something to be shared. I love having other people to cook with, and I feel the same kinship when I do these competitions with fellow chefs.

Chefs: Eric Greenspan, Madison Cowan, Brian Malarkey and Art Smith work on their appetizers that must include: smoked pork tails, Culantro, Natto and clamsfor Chopped $75,000 charity All-Stars competition, as seen on Food Network's Chopped, Season 24.

Photo by: David Lang ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

David Lang, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Who would you say was your biggest competition?

AS: Brian Malarkey is like this big, Hollywood, you know, handsome, you know, leading man. I quite honestly felt that Brian was probably a shoo-in. Now, I have to also say that, you know, Chef Madison, being the first winner of Chopped, was a little frightening … just a force to be reckoned with. I kept seeing myself in Eric. …You know, he's like the Jewish version of Art Smith! He was telling me about how he makes these latke bites. I'm like, "Jewish Tater Tots!" Haha! So I was really loving it! … One of the things that got me about Chef Madison [is] he has this extremely, almost like velvety, British accent. And I'm saying with that accent you can sell anything. Because part of this competition is this: OK, it's important that you know how to cook, but you have to know how to tell a great story. And you know I'm Southern — our whole lives is telling stories. … But you know, I can tell a story. I can make a french fry sound interesting. But with that accent — boy, he beat me hands down.

What was it like being on Chopped for the first time?

AS: People know me from Food Network as being a guest judge on Iron Chef America for eight years. And it was kind of cool being in this [same] studio. … You know, Mario Batali, … Bobby Flay, Cat Cora and Morimoto … . I mean, they were a force to be reckoned with. In fact, they would scare the heck out of me if I had to compete with them now. But, you know, you'd have these young chefs with so much confidence and … a great ability to cook, and they would go against them and cook these meals, and I'm telling you I've probably had the most remarkable food in my life in this studio. It was kind of cool coming back, not only being on a show that I've never been on, but actually coming to be on a show and actually being in a place where I spent eight years of my life judging. And one of the things I will tell you as a judge — and you and everybody out there can see it — is that I was always the nice one! [laughs]

What inspired you to make the dishes you made today?

AS: I'm kind of like "have biscuit, will travel." I'm Southern and I will always be Southern. … I'm not so much worried about competing against the chefs [as] I'm more concerned about pleasing the judges, because I've been at that table and [have been] judged before. And I understand it's all about what they think. It's not about how you think about them or their food, because it's about how those judges feel. … I know all of them, but I was concerned, because I know these people and Chopped is well regarded [as a show] that has judges that know food.

Chef Art Smith working on his entree that must include: shrimp skin, Hamachi, Pomelo and fresh green garlicfor Chopped $75,000 charity All-Stars competition, as seen on Food Network's Chopped, Season 24.

Photo by: David Lang ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

David Lang, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

It appeared you were working slowly. Were you nervous? What was going through your mind?

AS: Let it be understood that I've only been in the restaurant business for 10 years of my life. I have spent probably exactly less than a day on the line. I spent over 25 years as a personal chef to billionaires. “We hired out! OK! We hired the chefs!” … You know, I own restaurants — I don't work them! [laughs] … [When] I cook, I cook at my home for my kids, and, you know, like — of course I'm slow! That's why I don't cook on the line. But I'm thoughtful. I'll be honest with you … . When I'm quiet, I'm really, really scared. When I'm kind of scared, I laugh, I talk, you know, I'll talk a lot, but I'm really just scared out of my mind and don't say anything. … I was not talking very much because I was thinking to myself: "OK, this is TV and they're thinking, ‘Well, how come Chef Art's not being very himself?’ And then they'll think ‘Well, you know, maybe this is the first time he's actually gotten scared in a competition.’" This is the first time I've ever done a competition where there were mystery ingredients. … Here you've got, you know, four ingredients that you've got to kind of figure out how to put it all [together], and you're thinking, "Dear God, you don't forget one of them" … or you're gone. [laughs]

What was the most-difficult basket for you to work with?

AS: To be honest with you, the most-difficult basket for me to work with was the dessert one. … I told myself if I made a dessert I would win. But when I opened the basket and I saw what was in it, I was like, “Hmm.” … I had this idea of what I was going to make. I was going to, like, pull off a cake, which I did. But when I saw dates and mayonnaise and maple [smoked] cheddar cheese and [almond flour], I was like, "OK, this is going to be a little bit more complicated." … I'm a traditionalist when it comes to dessert. I love chocolate! Lots of chocolate! … Give me things that say dessert. You know, when I looked over there and [saw] poor Eric making a grilled cheese sandwich, I went, "Why are you making a grilled cheese sandwich?! This is a dessert; this is not like some appetizer!"

Chopped host Ted Allen checks in on chef Art Smith as he works on his dessert that must include: Maple smoked Cheddar cheese, almond flour, mayonnaise and datesfor Chopped $75,000 charity All-Stars competition, as seen on Food Network's Chopped, Season 24.

Photo by: David Lang ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

David Lang, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Why did you decide to make a cake and ice cream, two of the most-difficult things any chef can make on Chopped?

AS: [laughs] Because I'm crazy! … I made a cake and ice cream because if the cake was just OK, the ice cream would take it over the edge. There isn't anything worse than a not-great cake [and] nothing with it. And so, when I made that buttermilk lemon zest ice cream … it was like God made that ice cream. … First of all, I had never used one of those machines in my life. … I thought [the mixture] had frozen in the machine and I was going to have to dig it out [of] there. [laughs] But it started coming out, like, slow, [in] this ribbon and … [I thought], "Oh my God, this makes Dairy Queen look like trash." It was beautiful. So, but the cakes, I was so fearful. Because what I was trying to do was make a cross between a cake and a pudding. And what I did was … I lined the pans with [the almond flour] because what I wanted to do was give it a crust on the cake, but I wanted the cake to be kind of gooey — well, it was a little too gooey. … That was a little challenging, but I got through.

Do you think you got to showcase everything that you had wanted to?

AS: I think I did OK. … Why didn't they hide a damn chicken in that fridge? I could have made some fried chicken and then it would have been, oh God, it'd have been over. [laughs] They better have some chicken, because people expect some chicken on there. That's what the fans will say: "Where is this fried chicken? And how come he doesn't have some fried chicken?" … Maybe for the finale.

Chefs Eric Greenspan and Art Smith stand before host Ted Allen and judges: Scott Conant, Maneet Chauhan and Amanda Freitag after finishing working on their desserts that must have included: Maple smoked Cheddar cheese, almond flour, mayonnaise and datesfor Chopped $75,000 charity All-Stars competition, as seen on Food Network's Chopped, Season 24.

Photo by: David Lang ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

David Lang, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

What's your strategy going into the finale?

AS: My strategy — from the very beginning — was to stay true to myself. That's something that was taught to me at a very young age. And Oprah Winfrey instilled it upon me, it's that "Honey, do what you know, and what you don't know, you hire!" [laughs] And I'm going to keep the Southern thing going. There's always going to be one element of Southern in each dish. … The reality of it is this: All those judges have eaten everything under the sun, around the world, etc. They all have kind of jaded palates because they've tasted everything. But one thing they don't get enough of — it's just like in that great movie about that rat, Ratatouille. [laughs] The greatest thing was when that critic had that ratatouille and he saw his mother. When we taste something that tastes of home, it takes us to that place. It's not about who's going to compete with me; it's about the judges. If I win [over] the judges, I win the competition.

What would winning mean for your charity?

AS: You know, I come from a charming little town, 4,000 people, northern Florida. It's [no longer] the town that I grew up in, because it's now very poor. A lot of people are [in] at-risk situations. And they call upon me to help bring it back and to revive [the town]. … I have decided that through Reunion that I can revive this community through grassroots efforts, from teaching kids how to cook (which we already do through Common Threads) to teaching reading. But what I'd love to do with $75,000 [is] have a farm and I would love to build a farm kitchen, because I want to teach the people who live in this beautiful, well-regarded farm community [where] many don't depend on the land like they used to and because of that their diets have changed. I grew up with a garden. They don't have a garden. And what I'd like to do is reconnect them back to the farm, at the table.

Keep coming back to FN Dish every Tuesday night after each episode for interviews with the Chopped All-Stars winners, and visit Chopped headquarters to go behind the scenes of the competition with photo galleries and video clips.

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