One-on-One with the Winner of Chopped Champions, Season 5
Tuesday night the Season 5 Chopped Champions tournament came to a conclusion with the four winners of the preliminary rounds getting one more chance with the baskets. Whoever reached the end without getting chopped would earn the $50,000 prize. In this last battle, all four chefs — Meny, Deborah, Andre and Adam — brought their best, which made the judges’ decision come down to the details.
Literally one olive out of place sent home a front-runner in the appetizer round. A mishandling of meat sent home another in the entree round. And dessert came down to who had the better balance of flavors. In the end one chef’s three courses set him apart from his competitors and earned him the prestigious title of Chopped Grand Champion. Find out who won the tournament.
Appetizer: Mangalitsa pork burgers, chow mein noodles, tardivo, blood clams
Entree: leg of lamb, blue cheese lollipops, cognac, cardoons
Dessert: chocoflan, satsuma mandarins, smoked almonds, caramelized onions
First round: Meny Vaknin
Second round: Deborah Caplan
Final round: Andre Fowles
Winner: Adam Greenberg
Judges: Amanda Freitag, Scott Conant, Angie Mar
This time Adam came in with a goal: to take risks and show more of himself to the judges. He moved outside of his comfort zone and put out dishes that showed off his knowledge of ingredients and techniques.
With the appetizer, Adam transformed the clams into a ceviche, which set his dish apart from the pack. Gunning it for the grinder in the entree round turned out to be a smart decision, because he was able to contend with a large leg of lamb by grinding it for a ragout. For dessert, both he and Andre raced to see who could get to the ice cream machine first. Although Andre beat him, Adam worked on other components while waiting for the machine to become free. And his patience worked out.
For the judges, this final competition proved to be very difficult to judge, as it all came down to the tiniest of details. But after considering all three rounds, the judges deemed Adam worked the best with the basket ingredients, and he became the Chopped Grand Champion, winning a sum of $50,000.
Congratulations! How are you feeling?
Adam Greenberg: This is surreal. It’s one of those moments you just realize it’s going to kick in at some point on my drive home or some point. … This is by far the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s incredible.
What was your mindset like in the morning just coming into the competition?
AG: I got to the city early. I wanted to have a nice breakfast, have some coffee, sit down, relax and just, you know — I was on a mission. I was really focused on doing what I could control, and I had to redeem myself from my dessert last round. So I expected to get to dessert, that was my goal, and once I got to dessert, just represent better than last time, and I did that, obviously. I came in just laser sharp. I just didn’t drink yesterday, didn’t do anything else, just kind of really just honed in on what I needed to do, got a decent four hours of sleep, and I was ready to go.
Would you say there was any basket ingredient that stumped you or threw you off of your game a little bit?
AG: I can’t say anything really threw me off. I knew how to use blood clams. I’d used them before. I think the leg of lamb was definitely daunting, not that it’s confusing, but just a whole leg of lamb getting dropped in front of you, you’re like, “What?” So I got lucky using the grinder, and that was my goal, just grab that thing first before anybody else did. There were a lot of factors that could have played not in my favor, but I didn’t let it deter me. The time was still in my favor, so I was able to kind of rebound off those incidences.
What made you decide to leave the clams raw in your preparation?
AG: I left the clams raw because I figured that if the [other chefs] didn’t know how to use them that they would probably try to steam them. In Central America they use a lot of blood clams for ceviche or for crudos . I wanted to push the limits. I wanted to be a little different, and it paid off. … [The judges] said that was the one course that kind of put it over the top, so that’s a great compliment to me, and it worked out well.
When you saw the leg of lamb in the entree basket, was grinding it — making a ragout — your first thoughts?
AG: No, I actually was thinking about doing a burger … but the reason that my mind flipped was the cardoons. So in my head I was like, “Do I make a cardoon aioli or something?” You’ve got to cook cardoons, you’ve got to braise them and cook them for a while usually, so I didn’t really know where to go with it, and then I automatically just went to ragout … but I know that making [Scott] Conant pasta is kind of suicide. So it’s either you win, you know, go big or go home kind of. Although it lacked a little salt and a little depth and it could have been better, based on that it’s better than kind of putting up dry lamb or something else and … having to live with that.
What made you take that risk to put pasta in front of Scott?
AG: I think … the point was to take risks today. I think that was the advice really from Alex and Marcus in my last competition … when I take risks, good things happen, and I didn’t take enough risks last time, but they knew if I did that things would come out right. So I just trusted that today. I trusted that if I just went with what I know and do that it’ll turn out well, because I’m a seasoned cook. I’ve been doing this a long time. So I second-guessed myself last time, and this time I didn’t do any second-guessing. I just went with my gut, nailed it and that was the goal today.
When you saw that Andre was also making ice cream for dessert, what were you thinking?
AG: When he started making ice cream I was like, “Ah, man.” But, you know, again, he was such a good competitor. … I knew I could communicate with him. … He was a great competitor. He was an honest competitor. He was fair, and I like that. I like that about people that if we both give it our all, we’re on an even playing field. … I knew the struggle would be that I’d have to clean [the machine] out and then try to get it in there without getting his ice cream in my ice cream. And it got a little messy over there, and I almost slipped and fell. … I knew it only had to spin for four minutes, so I had 15 minutes left. I figured I could get it done. It was just basically kind of the last thing I was going to get done was the ice cream being finished, but it came out like I wanted [it] to.
You mentioned you wanted to make up for your last dessert round, where you made the problematic churro fritters. Did you practice some dessert elements before this finale?
AG: Yeah, so I had an ice cream base basically practiced down, I had a cake recipe knocked in and a panna cotta. So I kind of had three options that I was going to be happy with. I wasn’t touching the fryer again — I wasn’t going to have that horror. … I actually was like, “Should I do churros again and try to just, like, dominate that?” But, you know, I left that one in the past, and I just said: “Alright, just learn some real basic recipes. Whatever’s in the basket is going to be something you can transform.” … I kind of came in saying, “You’re doing ice cream.” And based on the ingredients in there, it worked out well. But that’s who I am, like, I like to eat sundaes, you know, growing up, you go to the ice cream parlor. … So that [was] something in my head that I was, like, if the ingredients will allow me, I think I’m going to make a sundae.
How did you come up with the bourbon, caramelized onion and almond caramel sauce?
AG: It actually was going to initially be a brittle. It didn’t turn out that way. So when I took it off the anti-griddle, at least it was cooled down so that the ice cream wouldn’t melt, because that was my fear of putting the cake that I had taken from the flan cake, [which] was hot because I put it in the oven, then putting ice cream on top, and that whole fear of melting ice cream and everything. … When I went to get that bourbon caramel, it just ended up not being brittle. So [I thought], “Alright, cool I’ll just spoon it over the top and it’ll be a nice, kind of nutty caramel sauce.” So my mistakes today worked out I guess is what you could say.
How would you describe this whole experience, and what do you think is next for you in your career?
AG: This experience is — it’s a once-in-a-lifetime … opportunity. It’s something that I never dreamed of. I didn’t become a cook to be on a show. I’ve done this because it’s my career, and after the show I’m still going to do it. … This gives me the exposure I want. I’m in that point in my career I’m looking to find investors to open a restaurant. I think this will certainly help. I now have a little money of my own to put up. … The sky’s the limit from here on out. I think this is going to be a nice steppingstone to having my dreams come true.