One-on-One with the Chopped: Impossible, Part 3 Winner
In this new Impossible tournament, Chopped is switching up the format: Chefs will compete in three preliminary rounds for a chance to earn a spot in the finale, where the champion will get the opportunity to compete against Robert Irvine in a wild-card round. Just for getting there, the champion will pocket $15,000, but upon beating Robert, he or she will win an additional $25,000, for a total of $40,000.
On tonight's episode, four very accomplished chefs who've competed successfully on Chopped before have returned to take on the most-impossible mystery baskets. Only one of them will earn a spot in the finale and have an opportunity to get to Robert.
Appetizer: alligator, zucchini blossoms, guacamole with roasted crickets, cricket flour
Entree: skate wing, 100-year-old eggs, fiddlehead ferns, marshmallow chicks
Dessert: dessert sushi plate, vanilla ice cream, black garlic, brown bananas
Judges: Geoffrey Zakarian, Aarón Sánchez, Robert Irvine
Sous chef Emily Chapman came into the competition a bit on the nervous side — her shaking hands gave her away. And Robert was quick to point out her weaknesses, but Emily soon proved him wrong. After having to fight for the deep-fryer in the first round, Emily managed to complete her plates, which the judges generally found transformative. Facing some very unusual ingredients in the entree round, Emily found her direction immediately, making the ingredients shine, and in doing so impressed the judges. The only criticism she received centered on plating. The dessert round threw Emily in the beginning, but she soon found focus, and despite some negative comments on her dessert's saltiness, the judges agreed that her three courses were the strongest. In the end, Emily earned the third and last spot in the finale for a chance to go up against Robert on Nov. 12.
How does it feel being back on Chopped, especially since you've been a champion before?
Emily Chapman: It was definitely a little bit stressful, because you know what you're walking into, so in comparison to the first time, where you're kind of going in blindly, you're not sure, like, what to expect, and you went through it, you survived. … To willingly come back onto this show to go through it again is — it was fun. It was a good opportunity. I had a great time the first time, so I was excited to do it again.
How were you feeling this morning? It looked like you were a bit nervous.
EC: Yeah. … I get in my head a lot, which has always been one of my biggest problems. But, you know, it's usually for the best, because I'm just pushing myself to make sure that I can do the best that I can, which I think is really important. … I think it's good to be nervous, because if you're not nervous, I feel like your head isn't fully 100 percent in the game. Some people handle different situations better than others. I don't feel like it affected my cooking. I just feel like it affected my hand shaking.
You mentioned that you got better as you went on. Where do you think you found your stride?
EC: I found my stride after hearing the first round of feedback from the judges. Hearing positive feedback about the food that you weren't necessarily questioning, but, you know, you wish you could have done more, and you're a little bit apprehensive, and you're having second thoughts about whether or not, like, the dish was complete. But once you start to get that positive feedback, you start to kind of rebuild your confidence level, and then you start to kind of just remember, like, "Hey, this is just cooking; this is what you do every day." So, once you can get into that mindset, you just keep on rolling.
EC: The hardest basket for me … was the dessert basket. I think, because my brain was jumping around in a lot of different directions … . I knew the components that I wanted to do, but I didn't know how I was going to put them together until the end. … I wish I could have tasted everything as a whole. You can taste components, and you know it makes sense at the time, but it doesn't mean it'll make sense when it's all together in a bowl. So, that was one of the most stressful situations, I think.
How did you feel about the comments that you got? The judges thought the dessert was salty.
EC: Yeah, again that just comes down to, you know, when your head is so scattered … and you have an idea, but you don't really have the time to be able to execute it, or try it, or make sure that it comes out the way that you want it to. It comes out not necessarily perfect, and knowing that going in, and then having that reassurance that, yes, your doubts and fears are confirmed that it wasn't as perfect as you wanted it to be, it gets frustrating [for] a chef who really cares about their food they've put on the plate.
Do you think you might have done something differently after hearing those comments?
EC: I would have, you know, [if] I could have tasted everything all together. I would have definitely reeled back on the salt in the crumble. I tasted it before I put it into the oven, but salt blooms when it gets hot. … Just because I tasted it raw — and it tasted good raw — doesn't mean that the end product was the same, but at that point, there's nothing you can do. It's, you know, you throw a Hail Mary and pray to God that it works out for you.
EC: My entree dish was one that I was most proud of. I really think that that spoke to the judges as the type of chef that I am. I got to showcase two of my biggest strengths, which is preparing and cooking vegetables and broths. I did a broth when I was on here last time, and I was able to utilize the mystery ingredients really well, and I was happy that I could have the opportunity to do it again — you know, really showcase, like, the beauty of that fish.
Some of the judges had mixed reactions to the fact that there's a broth in the bottom, then there's the crispy fish, and then there's cooked vegetables on top, all of which might be making the fish soggy. Did that cross your mind when you were coming up with the presentation?
EC: The judges having mixed feelings doesn't surprise me. Everybody has their own personal preferences, especially when it comes to fish. Some people like their fish well-done, cooked all the way through. Some people like certain fish simple: seared on two sides and left rare in the middle. Everybody will always have their own opinions. I served that fish in the broth because I knew that that fish would taste good in the broth. … I was very confident in that, and I wasn't second-guessing it. I did say that I wish I had the time to drain off the vegetables so any excess moisture wouldn't have been on top of the fish, but I feel that if I chose to put the vegetables underneath the fish, my presentation would have been completely lost. So, I feel like I made the right decisions based off of what I felt comfortable with.
Also on that dish, the judges commended you on your use of the hundred-year-old egg. How did you come up with that idea, of not necessarily disguising the ingredient, but using it as a flavoring mechanism, but with subtlety?
EC: [At] the restaurant that I work at, I've had a lot of exposure working with house-fermented products: house-fermented herring, making our own soy sauce, vinegars, making wines. So utilizing ingredients that might be somewhat scary to people, I actually embrace, because I've had so much exposure to it, and it's become such, like, a utensil in my cuisine that it's not different for me to look at a fermented egg, and just be like, oh, that's just a piece of, like, dried, salted, fermented herring, or you know it's the same flavor. It's still salty. It still has that really interesting, fishy, fermented, funky flavor, and, you know, if you're familiar with working with those things and you know how to use them in moderation, you can actually use them to really elevate a dish and present a flavor profile that some people might have never been exposed to.
At the end of the round, when the judges asked you why you're here and why you want to win, you mentioned that you think most people underestimate you. Do you consider yourself the underdog?
EC: I do. You know, it's funny; when Antonio and I were speaking, he said that he was so worried about me this morning, because he wasn't sure if I was going to make it. He thought that I was going to be the one to get chopped first, and he's not the only one that, I'm sure, thought that. And, you know, I'm sure last time people had the same impression … . I know that in my own head, that I'm going to go through that, and it's going to take me a minute to go through that, and I'm prepared to deal with that accordingly, like I can cope. But other people watching it — it must be funny for them, because they're probably like, "Wow, this girl is just a basket of nerves, and she is just all over the place," but then it's like a Jekyll-and-Hyde thing. It's like, OK, you might think that, but if you just give me a minute, you know, just back off a minute … and then by the time you hit the second round, then it's just a whole new animal, and at that point it's too late, because I'm just going to go with it.
EC: My strategy is to literally take the advice that was given to me today, and just put my head down and try my damnedest not to go through the bucket of nerves. I mean, I've already gone through six rounds of being in the Chopped kitchen, and what's, you know, two more? If I can make it through two more at this stage of the game, I have no excuse to be, you know, nervous. I should feel confident going in. I should feel that I'm on an equal playing field with everyone else. I just made it through another Chopped Champion round, and so I'm ready to go forward and, you know, show that I'm just as good, if not better.
Do you think you can beat Robert? What are some of your strengths that you think set you apart from him?
EC: I definitely think that I have a pretty solid advantage against Robert, because I have a lot of experience utilizing ingredients that, like I was saying, a lot of people stray away from. … I might be able to outmaneuver [him], in a way, by using my strengths, flavors and my craftiness of using really bold ingredients to my advantage.
Are you ready to take on those baskets, for anything that might come at you?
EC: I'm pretty ready to take on those baskets. I wish I could do it now, just to keep the momentum going, but, you know, I'm ready. I came. I proved to myself that I could do it again, and now I'm hungry for more, and hoping that I can repeat the same thing.
If you do win, what are your plans for the prize money?
EC: I don't have any plans for the prize money. I'm honestly not here for the money … . It would be great just to be able to take some time off from work, maybe go see some things, you know, take some time to go see some family, but, you know, nothing lavish, nothing crazy. No big plans. Just put it in the bank.
Tune in next week to find out who will go up against Robert for a chance to win up to $40,000.