One-on-One with the Chopped Grill Masters, Round 4 Winner
David Lang, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.
Tonight was the final preliminary round in the five-part Chopped Grill Masters tournament. In each of the four preliminary rounds, four expert grillers, barbecuers and chefs from across the nation competed to earn a place in the finale, airing Aug. 11 at 10|9c, for a chance to leave with the $50,000 cash prize and the title of Chopped Grill Masters Champion.
Seasoning was the big issue in the appetizer round of tonight's episode, as many of the competitors seemed to forget how important it was for achieving flavor. Luckily by the next round the competitors learned from their mistakes. By the final round the two strongest grillers remained. But in the end one competitor rose to the top, overcoming issues of seasoning and putting out dishes that hit on all three judging criteria: presentation, taste and creativity. Hear from the Chopped Champion of tonight's episode.
Appetizer: spare ribs, rhubarb, fava beans, black-eyed pea cakes
Entree: monchong, ramps, macadamia nuts, Galia melon
Dessert: plums, halloumi cheese, poor man's toffee, white BBQ sauce
Two chefs, a barbecuing expert and a food truck operator competed in this final preliminary round. The first to be chopped, Phil, made the mistake of not serving enough of the basket's protein. In the entree round, it all came down to flavor, and Ash, unfortunately, bombarded the judges' palates with a powerful pesto. Mike and Angie made it to the dessert round, where they found themselves facing a basket with a savory angle. For Angie, savory desserts are her thing. Mike, however, wasn't able to harmonize the ingredients, and his presentation was found to be lacking — a problem he had in all three rounds. Despite lacking seasoning in the beginning, Angie earned the win with beautiful plates, strong flavors and immense creativity. She takes the final spot in the Chopped Grill Masters finale on Aug. 11, where she'll battle against Chris, Stan and Leslie for a chance to win $50,000.
FN Dish: What did you think about the baskets today? Was there one in particular that maybe was the hardest for you?
Angie Mar: Yeah, I think that white barbecue sauce at the end really threw me off. I think the first basket that I opened with the spare ribs and the black-eyed pea cakes, that one ... was fine, I just didn’t like the black-eyed pea cakes, so I was just trying to figure out what I could do to make them more edible. But yeah, the dessert round — I’m not a pastry chef, you know, I’ve really never done pastry. So I was really excited to see the plums, because we smoke and grill plums all the time at the restaurant. But that white barbecue sauce [laughs], I keep tasting it and I couldn’t figure out what to do with it until the end, until maybe five or six minutes before I plated it.
What did you think of the whole savory aspect of that basket? You seemed to embrace it by adding pancetta. Were you aiming to take it in that savory direction?
AM: I love savory desserts. Just in general, I don’t really like super-sweet things. ... It’s not really my deal. So at my restaurant I’ve got foie gras profiteroles and bone marrow ice cream on my menu. So that’s really where my head lives is meat, and I think I said to the judges earlier that I love meat with fruit. Like, that’s really what the basis of my menu is and it’s where my head lives — it’s meat, fruit and herbs. And so if there’s a way that I could take pancetta and make it sweet, you know, and do a sweet/savory dessert, I was going to do it for sure.
The judges loved the flavors that you developed in your appetizer, but they did call you out on not seasoning the ribs enough. What do you have to say to that?
AM: They totally called me out on it. Yeah [laughs]. I seasoned those ribs really aggressively, and I know what happened. I seasoned them ... and I just threw them on the smoker and ran back to my station and ... I realized that there weren’t any wood chips in the smoker yet. That was the problem. ... Because it had been laying in the grates of the smoker and I dragged it off and ... when I dragged the ribs off, I knew that it had taken some of the salt off and I should have reseasoned it before I threw it on the grill, and that was my fault for not doing it for sure.
Is that why you decided to smoke the fish in your entree round?
AM: Absolutely. ... I smoke so many things at my restaurant — smoke is a big, big component of my menu and ... I was going to use that smoker come hell or high water.
So talk about the macadamia nuts. Why did you decide to puree that basket ingredient and leave it raw?
AM: So I love nut purees, and I actually really love nut purees with fish, and I think I told the judges that when they called me out on that. I have done nut purees before and I do them at the restaurant all the time. But I use pecans and I use walnuts and nuts that are really deep in flavor. ... I know that they wanted me to toast them. ... [But] the fish was smoked, I charred the ramps, I grilled the melon, and so for me to have one more toasty component in there, I just thought it was going to be too much.
Why did you decide to use the rosemary in the dessert? I think that was probably the one hang-up for the judges, because they seemed to love everything else.
AM: Yeah for sure, again: meat, fruit and herbs. I think ... that if I were to do it again I probably should have candied the rosemary, because I had a simple syrup going already with the pancetta. I probably should have used the simple syrup to candy the rosemary and that’s probably the one change I would have [made] on that dish.
David Lang, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.
What does it mean for you to compete today, especially since you've been cooking professionally for only about six years?
AM: I left the corporate world and just have not looked back at all. I think that this is definitely what I should be doing. ... I’ve never competed before and I’ve always just worked in kitchens and run kitchens, and so to compete today, especially against really talented people that have so much experience behind them, it was really intense for me. ... It was such a great opportunity and I’m so thankful for it.
Do you have any strategy going into the finale? Are there things that you want to accomplish or some mistakes you want to avoid?
AM: Having gone through this now, I know that [the judges] wanted me to season more … especially the first two rounds, Amy kept telling me, "But why don’t you use any spices?" And so finally at the end I said like, “This is what my food is and I’m not going to change it.” I think that’s my strategy ... just doing what I know how to do and cooking with flavors that I think are right. ... I was the only one of the chefs that didn’t do a spice rub, and going in to the second round I thought about putting a spice rub on the fish and then I was like: "You know what? No. I’m just going to cook what I know." ... I know that’s what they wanted me to do, but I know I wasn’t going to change my flavor profile for anyone.
If you do win, what will you do with the prize money?
AM: I’m a huge, huge advocate of Share, which is an organization in New York that supports breast and ovarian cancer. So I definitely think that a part of the winnings would go to that and ... eventually I want to open my own restaurant; I think [the prize money] would definitely go toward seed money to doing something on my own, hopefully.
Tune in next week for the finale of Chopped Grill Masters, Tuesday at 10|9c.