In the premiere round of the five-part Champions tournament, four previous Chopped winners return to the kitchen in the hopes of outcooking the chopping block once again and scoring a spot in the finale battle where they'll have a chance to compete for $50,000 and the coveted title of Chopped Grand Champion.
For French Chef Sylvain Harribey, it's of the utmost importance to remain true to the French style of cooking. In both the appetizer and entree rounds, he relies on classic French dishes like a galette and gratin, although they're ultimately not enough to best his competitors' offerings and he's chopped after the second course.
Chef Kenneth Johnson gets to work breaking down two heads of wild striped bass to be featured in his entree of fish cakes with root vegetables. Though the judges applaud the beauty in his dish's presentation, Judge Geoffrey Zakarian says that the cake is "dense" and Judge Chris Santos notes that he found scales in each bite he took.
"I know that there's a secret in these fish heads and that is the cheek and collar," Chef Sean Scotese says, deciding to prepare these parts with five-spice powder and star anise. Even though he ultimately fails to include one of the basket ingredients in his entree offering, the judges are floored by his dish's top-notch taste and texture, and he advances to the third and final course.
"I hope that they are challenged by the plate that I put in front of them because I'm not trying to make anybody's job easier," Chef Sean says of the judges' perception of his dessert, a spring roll stuffed with plantains, green apples and ham. During judging, Judge Geoffrey is especially critical of the offering, questioning whether or not it is a dessert, but Judge Alex Guarnaschelli appreciates its "whimsy."
Successfully overcoming a tricky can of haggis, oversized fish heads and an oddball roll of sugar cookie dough, Chef Kenneth Johnson ultimately outcooks his competitor, Chef Sean, and is named the round-1 winner of Chopped Champions, earning one of four spots in the finale battle. "The $50,000 will be the icing on the cake for my family and me," he says, looking ahead to the next battle.