WINNER!: Madison Cowan
Chef/Owner, Avenue, inc.
My family reads like the United Nations. I was born in South London to a Jamaican father and an African-American mother. My wife is Danish, my daughter is Japanese and I'm just a ragamuffin from Brixton. I've also lived in Detroit, Jamaica, New York, France, Holland and Japan. But now New York is home. The reason why I came back to Manhattan is there's no city like it on the face of the planet. Bar none. I'm an international chef, and I own a global culinary production company. I've been self-employed for the last nine years, and I'm quite happy. My cooking style is very soulful, make no mistake about it. I do soul food, a comforting, loving, earthy type of cooking with clean, fresh ingredients and global dishes. I've been blessed to be able to pick up on different tricks and trades and techniques from people all over the world, and my teachers have been women. I learned cooking at my mother's kitchen table. She wanted to teach all of her sons to cook and to care for themselves so we would never depend on a woman like my old man depended on her. So for that, I'm very grateful. When I'm in the kitchen my energy is focused on the job at hand and getting it done. Getting it on the plate and making it look aesthetically beautiful is what I love. The atmosphere in the kitchen can be laid back or a party, but at the end of the day the job's got to get done. If you can manage your life, then you can manage a kitchen. It's all about the work and the focus on the work. But like anything else, if you put yourself into it you know you'll have a good product. Working in restaurants is extremely competitive and very narcissistic, but I think to be a better chef you have to be a better person. When it comes to being on Chopped, there's nothing to it but to do it. If I'm on my game I'm walking out of there with a $10,000 check in my pocket.
Executive Chef, Camp of the Woods Resort
I am originally from Hawaii, of Japanese and German descent. I grew up in a very small town and eventually, through schooling and work, my family and I ended up in New York. Hawaii had become far too small for me, and I felt the need to discover the culinary world that was past its shores. Since then I have worked in various places across the country, including Alaska and even a short stint in Canada. My family and I are now residents of Speculator, N.Y., a small town in the middle of the Adirondack Forest. About 10 years ago, after flunking out of college, I was working for my father at his contracting business. I was actually being primed to take over the business, but my fiancee (now my beautiful wife) — who knew that I enjoyed puttering around the kitchen — signed me up for a week-long, non-credit cooking class at the community college. I knew after breaking and fixing my first hollandaise on day three that the culinary industry was where I was meant to be. I applied to the Culinary Institute of the Pacific, where I eventually graduated at the top of my class. I went on to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, and graduated from the bachelor's program with honors. I love to create innovative flavors, textures and food effects using a combination of new techniques and the classical standards. The most exciting thing about the culinary world is that there is no end to the horizon. Food continues to evolve and there are always new things to create. Trendy cuisine and molecular gastronomy definitely have their place in today's cuisine, and I love to utilize new techniques from today's culinary pioneers. My cooking incorporates clean and fresh yet substantial flavors. I hope to do well on Chopped because I'm a fierce competitor with many years of culinary competition experience under my belt. And during those years I've done a number of "mystery basket" competitions.
Head Chef, Beast
Co-owner, Stuf Catering
At Beast I work part-time, around 35 hours a week, as an executive chef. I just started a catering company, so I'm trying to kick it off the ground. I'm a little tired of working in the restaurant business, and I think catering gives you more freedom to be creative. I love working one-on-one with the client. I do any kind of food anybody wants. My style is Mediterranean with New England flair, but I do a little bit of everything. I do events, corporate catering, birthday parties or anything desired. In the summer if they want a clambake, I'll throw one. I am Greek-Italian and my family just constantly cooked — my mother is amazing. At 27 I was bartending and my friends wondered why I wasn't cooking. I decided to go to culinary school and hated it. It's just so military. Food is fun to me. Sometimes when you're working in kitchens everything is very militant. We're not brain surgeons or saving lives. It should be fun. Number one: I love to eat. I think food is just gorgeous; visually, I love everything about it. I can't imagine doing anything else. I think it's pretty cool to get paid to play with food as a job. I always loved food but never actually thought I could become a chef. I'm a joker in the kitchen. As long as things are getting done and coming out right, I'm good. I think I handle pressure fine, and I actually might work better when I'm busier and under more pressure. That's kind of why I want to do Chopped. I like testing myself. The whole time thing is interesting. I think I'm pretty fast, but you have to like the stress or you won't be a good chef. I think I'm really, quietly competitive. I'm not one of those people who's all, "yo, I'm gonna kick your ass," because I think that bites you in the butt. I will stick to what I know and make food that tastes good.
Executive Chef/Owner, Logan's Bar and Grill
I was born and raised on Long Island, N.Y. I attended Johnson & Wales University's College of Culinary Arts, then worked in New York City for approximately six years as Tony Bourdain's sous chef. (The chapter "sous chef" in Tony's book Kitchen Confidential is about me.) Then I worked as a chef in Miami and currently own a restaurant in the Adirondacks where I'm also the executive chef. At 15 I was hired as a dishwasher at a local restaurant, and the chefs quickly taught me how to cook. I knew that was what I wanted to do with my career. I have a passion for food. I love to create. I love to cook. I love to prepare. And I love to serve. What makes me most happy is when I look out into a dining room and I hear someone say "wow" when they get their plate. When plates come back into the kitchen and they're clean, that makes me happy. My cooking style is basically all over the map. I can pretty much do everything. I don't have any one favorite type of cooking or cuisine. Here at the restaurant in the summers, we have different theme nights, from lobster and Mexican nights to Greek and German evenings. When I'm in the kitchen, I'm the best friend you can have. I'm not bossy and I don't yell. I just want the job done. And cleanliness is a very big part of my kitchen. What I get upset about in the kitchen is when someone doesn't listen, when you have to show somebody something four, five or six times — and they still don't get it. If I feel myself getting a little stressed out in the kitchen, I do a little dance or I do a little whistle. When it comes to competing on Chopped, I guess the advantage I have over other chefs is that I'm not going to get cocky. I'm just going to do my dish and worry about myself. I'm not afraid to cook anything. I'll try anything once. Nothing in the kitchen scares me.