One-on-One with the Chopped Champions, Battle 4 Winner
Tuesday night the Season 5 Champions tournament continued with the final preliminary round, where four previous Chopped champs battled it out to earn the last spot in the grand finale. There the winners of all four preliminary rounds will compete for a chance to walk away with $50,000.
In the last round of this fourth battle, one young chef went up against one experienced chef, who also happens to be an expert in pastry. The dessert round looked like it would be an easy win, but when it came to considering all three rounds, the judges chose the competitor who presented the best three courses overall. Find out who won this fourth preliminary battle and earned the last finale spot.
Appetizer: stone crab claws, butterfly leaves, vanilla frosting, peach-strawberry salsa
Entree: rack of wild boar, dried spicy mango, baby kale, pina colada
Dessert: duck mousse, sea beans, saffron, honeycomb
First round: Silvia Baldini
Second round: Adam Sappington
Final round: Jackie Sappington
Winner: Andre Fowles
Judges: Aaron Sanchez, Alex Guarnaschelli, Angie Mar
Even though he hasn’t been a chef for long, Andre brought a vitality to the competition that was evident in the dishes he put forth. When conceptualizing his dishes, he reached into his heritage and all that he learned from his grandmother.
For his appetizer he created a flavorful curry with crab dumplings that Alex adored, although Aarón felt there were too many dumplings. The entree basket gave the chefs a gift in the rack of wild boar, which Andre spiced and pan-seared, and presented alongside the kale prepared two different ways. The kale pesto, however, came off too oily for Alex, and she argued that Andre didn’t cook to his full potential.
Going up against Jackie, a trained pastry chef, in the dessert round made Andre dig deep into his toolbox. He baked a cake with a duck mouse cream, sea bean brittle and raspberry coulis. His biggest critique was the brittle not setting. Luckily, it didn’t prevent him from moving forward. Andre was named the champion and earned the last spot in the tournament’s April 26 finale.
How would you compare this time competing with the last time you were on Chopped?
Andre Fowles: It’s a lot more pressure. There’s a lot more competition, because, bear in mind, [your] fellow [chefs have] already won Chopped, so pretty much they have that experience, the feel, the vibe of the kitchen. So it was definitely a bit more challenging, and again being that it’s a Chopped Championship round, I felt that each of the baskets were … harder than the next. … Especially in the dessert round — that basket was brutal. Man, there wasn’t really a focal ingredient to, like, build the dessert on … .
What happened in the dessert round? It looked like you had a batch of cake going that didn’t work out for you, and you started over again.
AF: Yeah, initially I wanted to [incorporate] the duck mousse into the cake, but when I started it I thought that the fat [would prevent] the air [getting] into the eggs, so I had to scrap that idea … .
It looked like you also had some problems with the sea bean brittle. Do you think that presenting it with a different name, calling it a caramel, might have changed the judges’ minds, or were you really hoping for it to be a brittle?
AF: The brittle was my hardest challenge, because it didn’t set in time, so when I went over to the blast chiller to check if it got hard, it was like a gloopy mess. I pretty much wanted to convert it to a caramel, but … it got even harder, not crispy but just chewy. If I had called it a caramel it would have done more damage than good. I pretty much had to stick with calling it a brittle.
Thinking back to your entree round, Aaron said that he thought you killed it in the appetizer round, but Alex said that you were slightly off in the entree round. What do you say to that assessment? Do you think you were thrown off by the entree basket?
AF: Honestly, I wasn’t. Each of those ingredients were pretty good. We had the sweetness from the pina colada and the sweetness from the preserved mango, so I think I executed that dish pretty well. My chop had great flavor … . It wasn’t, like, perfectly cooked all the way through [on] all four dishes, but nonetheless it’s all about highlighting each ingredient for what it is and not [masking] it with the pantry.
Why did you decide to grill some of the kale before turning it into a pesto?
AF: For me food is [all about having] different flavors, textures, different profiles, so I wanted to leave [part of] the kale raw … to present it [as] a salad as well as give it that extra boot, [by grilling some of] it … to impart more flavor [and then turning] it into the pesto to just [take] it to another level — that’s what it’s all about.
What dish were you most proud of?
AF: Definitely my first course. With Chopped you have to start off strong, so my game plan’s always start off strong, take a risk in the first basket, but take a risk that’s measurable. Don’t take something that’s gonna take 25 minutes when you only have 20. So it’s all about taking a risk, but a calculated risk, and I think I did that with the dumplings and the broth. I think that was a really good dish. There were a little bit of flaws here and there, but it’s a competition, so for what it is I thought I did a pretty great job, and you guys heard it from Alex herself — she said that it was pretty amazing. So, having that confidence going into the entree round is always a big plus.
What’s your strategy going to be going into the finale?
AF: My strategy for the finale is just, again, just sticking to my game plan. My game plan is all about the basket, what it is. Don’t care if it’s something that’s really crazy — as a chef it’s all about being a creative person, so as soon as Ted says, “Open the basket,” your brain should be like, jumping. So, all right, the first ingredient, my thing is try to pick out the hardest ingredient to work with and try to turn it into something spectacular that sits well with the judges, so they can say, “This guy’s here to win, this guy’s being creative, this guy’s pushing himself to definitely [becoming] the Chopped Champion.” So that’s my strategy: work well with those four ingredients and not bring the entire pantry to the table.
What would winning mean to you professionally? We know that you’ve just been cooking for a couple of years, but you’ve definitely risen in the ranks.
AF: Being 26 and [having] recently moved from Jamaica to the States, I’ve been here just over a year, and so not only competing one and winning, but again, it’s like … it’s a tremendous feeling, man. It definitely means a lot to win the finale, to come and win it all, both financially, both for the exposure, or to, like, inspire people. It’s just personally for me it would be like a validation to say, “Hey, I made the right choice; I’m doing something that people appreciate,” not just saying …, “Hey, I’m confident in myself and I can cook.” But if someone gives you a compliment, a great compliment, and says, “Hey, your food is great, and I’ll award you with the title of Chopped Champion” … that’s going to be a life-changing experience for me personally.
What would you do with the money?
AF: Haven’t really thought about it that much, but it’s a lot of money. There’s so much stuff you can do with the money. My wife, she wants to buy a house soon, so I guess I’ll have a sit and talk with the wife. She’s the one that’s in charge. But my personal goal is to be a caterer. I like to cater to people, I like to, to do something that’s personal to your style, to what you want, so that’s my thing. I want to sit with you, and you tell me what’s your vision of what you want, whether it’s a wedding, a dinner, a banquet, whatever it is, that’s my thing.
I want to also be a restaurateur, but that’s not on the top of the list, because it takes away from family time, and my wife and I, we celebrated our third anniversary this year, so it’s just, like, you want to have that balance between personal life and career, and so far I’ve sacrificed a lot. I’m just 26. It’s best to do something that you can also find a time to be with your family.
Tune in Tuesday at 10|9c for the finale of the Chopped Champions tournament.