Chopped Ultimate Champions: Amateurs — Part 2 in Review

Browse highlights from the Amateurs round of the Chopped Ultimate Champions tournament.

Photo By: David Lang ©2014,Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: David Lang ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: David Lang ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: David Lang ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: David Lang ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: David Lang

Photo By: David Lang ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: David Lang ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: David Lang ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: David Lang ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: David Lang ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: David Lang ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: David Lang

Photo By: David Lang ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: David Lang ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: David Lang

Photo By: David Lang

Photo By: David Lang ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: David Lang ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: David Lang ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

The First Round of Amateurs

Returning Chopped champions and amateur home cooks Dinah Surh, Keith Young, Elda Bielanski and Marisa Biaggi are battling for a spot in the Ultimate Champions finale, where they'll have a chance to win $50,000 in prize money and a brand-new car.

Appetizer Basket

The dishes must include cheese blintzes, salsa, ground pork and poblano peppers. The judges are interested to see how the cooks utilize the peppers: "I'm obsessed with poblano peppers," says Alex Guarnaschelli. "The poblano has heat, but it also has those floral notes."

Familiar Flavors

Last time Dinah stuck to her Korean heritage, and this time it's no different. "I want to use that route again," she says. So she's making Asian-fusion dumplings, combining the poblanos, the cheese filling from the blintzes and the ground pork to make a filling. She intends to turn the salsa into a dipping sauce.

Seasoned Competitors

"These are all folks who've won before and are forces to be reckoned with," says Marisa of her competition, hoping her dish will set her apart. She turns the ground pork and the blintz wrappers into fritters, serving them with a cream made from the poblanos and the cheese filling. She worries that the fritters aren't seasoned enough.

Stroke of Luck

"My stuffed poblano peppers are a favorite of my grandchildren," says Elda, excited about getting poblanos in the basket. She's filling them with a sauteed mixture of the cheese blintzes and the ground pork. She finishes plating just before time is called, garnishing with queso fresco and cilantro.

Slow to Take Off

"If I don't figure things out, no doubt in my mind I am going home this round," says Keith, wracking his brain for ideas on what to cook. He eventually decides on a Latin-inspired pork crepe using the blintz wrappers. After time is called, he worries that he's just created "a disaster" and prays he makes it through.

Hitting the Right and Wrong Notes

Although Keith's dish is messy, Aarón Sánchez finds "it tastes a lot better than it looks" because of the spices. Elda's stuffed poblano reminds Aarón of his grandmother's. The judges consider Dinah's dish incomplete, but it's Marisa's underseasoned pork fritters and grainy crema that send her home.

Entree Basket

The dishes must include Wagyu rib-eye steaks, jalapeno chips, pink pearl sedum and mangoes. The judges will be keeping an eye out for how well the cooks work with the steaks. "Wagyu beef, as they say, is the American version of Kobe beef," says Ted. "It's got great intermuscular fat and incredible flavor."

Battle of the Ages

"The only way to cook this beautiful piece of meat is on the grill," says Elda of the Wagyu. She's hell-bent on getting a grill pan, even if it means ripping it out of the hands of her competitor Keith. "I am not going to look good fighting with a grandma," says Keith, so he gives up.

Sweet Comeback

"I really need to bring my dishes up a notch this round," says Dinah, hoping to impress the judges, who thought her appetizer was ordinary. She makes a mango granita "to break up the richness" of the steak, which she's marinated in soy sauce and sedum before grilling. She also fries jalapeno flatbreads.

Emotional Roller Coaster

"I'm coming into this round full of confidence," says Elda, after getting great compliments on her appetizer. She pulverizes the jalapeno chips for coating the rib eyes and serves them with a red wine sauce and mango salad. But she worries they cooked inconsistently: "Maybe karma has come to bite me."

Happy Accident

"Now I've got to resort to a saute pan," says Keith of having the grill pan stolen right out of his hands by Elda. He uses the pan to his advantage, creating a pan sauce, a rendition of steak au poivre, to bring his dish "to the next level." It turns out to his liking, and he and Elda make up their differences.

Perfection Attained

"Elda's the one to watch," says Keith when the judges ask him about the grill pan fiasco, but Alex redirects the subject. "As far as I'm concerned, that's a steak that a professional cooked," she says. Although Elda got a flavorful crust on her steaks, the meat is overdone, points out Aarón.

The Judging Criteria

Dinah hoped her numerous techniques would get her through, but Scott Conant reminds her: "You're judged on the execution," not the amount of "tricks." The combination of her granita not being frozen and her flatbread not being cooked through sends her to the chopping block. Elda and Keith make it through.

Dessert Basket

The dishes must include cookie spread, creme anglaise, grapefruit and microwaved mug cupcake, the salient item in this basket. "This  particular cupcake seems very dense and heavy, so they will really need to transform this product," says Scott.

"Grandma's Got a Blowtorch"

"I'm known for my desserts," says Elda, "and I was going to make a cake from scratch," but the mug cupcake has changed her plans. Instead she soaks the cake with grapefruit juice. But she's not afraid to push the limits, using a blowtorch to brulee grapefruit segments: "Literally, I'm going out guns blazing."

A Dish Best Served Cold

"I see the creme anglaise, and I immediately think I have to get to the ice cream machine," says Keith. To it he adds the cookie spread and grapefruit zest, along with black pepper to tone down the sweetness. He intends to layer the ice cream in between rounds of cake and a compote frozen on the anti-griddle.

"It Comes Down to Dessert"

Aarón finds Elda's dessert "striking," but he's disappointed that she didn't repurpose the cake enough, though Alex thinks "imbibing" it with grapefruit juice counts. Even though Keith didn't transform his cake much either, the judges like the format, finding it the stronger of the two.

His Place in the Finale

Keith earns the first amateur spot in the grand finale, where he'll compete against the pro chef winner and winners of the next two amateur rounds for a chance to win $50,000 and a brand-new car. "I know what it feels like to be down," says Keith, "and I know what it feels like to get back up, though."

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