One-on-One with the Chopped Champions, Battle 2 Winner
Tonight the Season 5 Champions tournament continued with four more previous Chopped champs battling it out for a coveted spot in the finale. There the winners of all four preliminary rounds will compete one last time for a chance to walk away with $50,000. In this second battle, two strong opponents made it to the dessert round: one with great skills at executing, and another with confident creativity. If the win had been based on just the dessert, the champion would have been obvious. But taking into consideration all three courses, the judges chose the chef who did the best overall. Find out who won this preliminary battle and earned the second finale spot.
Appetizer: smoked sausage, cavatappi, napa cabbage, frozen yogurt
Entree: beef kidneys, petite French lentils, beets, pickled cockles
Dessert: queso arrocero, peanut butter chocolate wafers, raspberry spoon fruit, dandelion coffee
Judges: Aarón Sánchez, Alex Guarnaschelli, Marcus Samuelsson
Adam went the route he knows best, pulling out a comforting mac and cheese in the appetizer round that got Alex to call him a good cook. Aarón's only comment was that Adam should have featured the smoked sausage more. Going into the entree round, Adam was the only chef who'd had any experience with beef kidneys. and Marcus saw that Adam knew what he was doing. Alex didn't like the kidneys, but finished eating the entire rest of the dish. In the dessert round the judges expected more from Adam, who had a lot of trouble trying to make churros — he ended up serving fritters. Although his opponent Dafna's dessert was far more creative, her pastries were still raw inside. Considering all three courses, the judges felt Adam did the best work with the basket ingredients. Adam once again became a Chopped champion and earned a spot in the tournament's April 26 finale.
How would you compare this competition with the last one you did?
Adam Greenberg: I found this competition a lot more challenging. You know, it’s the championship round, so you expect to go up against the best. I’m confident in what I do, but this was definitely a challenge.
AG: The most-difficult basket actually was the second basket with the beef kidneys. I did better on that course than I did the dessert course. So even though [the dessert basket] was easier, sometimes as a chef you just overthink things and you overcomplicate things, and you try to deliver and sometimes you fall short.
You mentioned you had experience with offal. When you found the beef kidneys in the basket, what went through your mind? Did you have any ideas right off the bat or were you baffled a bit?
AG: I’ve used them but not a lot, so it was definitely still a challenge. But I knew, kind of, how to handle them and that there was like a real muscle that kind of goes through it, so I knew that would be tough and chewy if they’d eaten that. So, I was happy how I fabricated it. But it’s definitely not something I use every day, and it’s not overly comfortable. It just gave me, after the fact, a little more comfort knowing [that the other chefs had] never used it before.
AG: Probably the second course, with the beef kidneys, ironically … it was the toughest, but I think that [dish] really separated me from the other two competitors, especially in the dessert course, because [Dafna] nailed it. I mean, even though she had … raw puff pastry … she still brought it [in] that round where I didn’t challenge myself enough. So I think at the end, when they were deliberating, [my entree dish] kind of put me over the top.
Marcus pointed out something really interesting about your first two rounds — that the two dishes could have been switched. What did you think of that when he said that?
AG: Yeah, it was interesting. You know, I have a different style of dining … . I’m more family-style. So, it was interesting to have him say that, because the first course, it definitely can be considered a side, but it could also be an appetizer, as far as I’m concerned, with people being able to kind of split and share [it] … . I don’t think he’s wrong; I just think we have a difference of opinion on it, based on dining. And then the second course [was] plated as an entree, but I think beef kidneys are really an appetizer to begin with anyway. You can’t eat a big bowl of beef kidneys. … I think they’re entitled to their opinion, and obviously they’re accomplished chefs, so whatever they say, you've got to take it to heart and try to kind of carry it into your next round or carry it into something else.
In the dessert round, when you were having trouble with the churros, you decided to just cut off the pastry tip and pull chunks of dough with your fingers. What was going through your mind then? Were you thinking, like, "Oh, no, this is not going to work"?
AG: Yeah, I was. I was pretty disappointed. I mean, you kind of got to roll with the punches. So, it was disappointing, because I knew they weren’t going to be perfect churros, and I know that Aarón knows what a perfect churro should be. … I wouldn’t have called that a churro, but being able to change the name helps, so you kind of just rebound and call it a fritter, but it sucked. It definitely set me back, and this was by far, out of all the rounds that I’ve done, this was definitely the least confident I was as far as being Chopped, because it was terrible. I mean, it just didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, but I can’t let it bother me. I kind of just brought it on the first two, and the cumulative pushed me through.
Alex called you out for putting so many ingredients, three-quarters of the basket, into the chocolate sauce. How did you end up with the dessert you put forth?
AG: Yeah, I think with that basket … I had ideas to use the cheese, like grated, because it had a real salty complexity to it. I thought by building the sauce, I just added too much chocolate that it overpowered everything else. I was building layers, by steeping … the dandelion coffee, which is like chicory [coffee], and it had some nice balance, and then I just added too much chocolate and it kind of killed it. … After the fact I realized, like, "Oh, whoops, I kind of threw everything in one pot," and that, I know … doesn’t go far with [the judges]. … Sometimes you’re at a certain point in the competition [where] you got to just kind of live with it and be confident and try to make it taste the best it can.
When it came to the chopping, after hearing the varying comments on your dessert, did you think that maybe it would be your dish under the cloche?
AG: If you’re to score each round, I knew that I had the first two rounds, but not by a wide margin. … I felt that I left them with this real salty taste, and I left them disappointed, because they know how capable I am of being better than I performed. So, I thought I was actually chopped. I did. I was shocked to not see mine under there. I had already, in my head, contemplated going home to tell my wife what it was like to lose and all those kind of things, but, you know, at the end of the day I was still proud to be in [the] final round. … Obviously, it feels better to know that I’m going to the finale … . It definitely was a shock, but [I'm] appreciative that they know that I’m better than that and that I’m able to perform.
At one point you said that winning this competition would put you on the same plane as chefs like Jamie Bissonnette and others who've competed here. What would winning mean to you professionally?
AG: Oh, winning this would be awesome, because I don’t know anyone who’s ever won this [championship]. I’ve known a lot of people who’ve won an actual episode of Chopped, but to win the [title of] Grand Champion, or to even get to where I am now, is an honor. So … you just keep kind of building that resume and legacy and just keep trying to push, and that’s what I’m trying to do. So, it’ll be really fun to be able to give them a call and bust their balls a little bit.
Now, what will be your strategy going into the finale? Do you have any things you want to keep in the back of your mind?
AG: I actually think [in] the first competition I did better, and that’s because I came in with an open mind and just really threw myself out there. I think this time I tried to be safe, because I know I’m good enough if I do that, but I think the judges definitely gave me some pointers in really taking risks and making sure that I don’t just take the easy way out or kind of go with what I know. … I think appetizer, entree — I think I’ll get through, but dessert’s going to be that one that I've got to work on, and I've got to get in the workshop, if you will … and just kind of get some desserts knocked out so that I can feel a little more confident about that.
If you do end up winning, what’s your plan for the prize money?
AG: I know my wife wants a leather jacket and a handbag. We want a new dog, and then the rest of it is going to a down payment on a house. … I know it’s not as exciting, [but] we’re probably going to put it away for a little bit, but it’ll basically make us debt free … . We’ve been married a year and a half now, so going into that second year of marriage it’ll be a real nice cushion to start with. It’ll be unbelievable. So, looking forward to it.
Tune in Tuesday at 10|9c for Battle 3 of the Chopped Champions tournament.