One-on-One with the Chopped Grill Masters, Part 4 Winner
Tonight Chopped Grill Masters continued with Part 4 of the five-part grilling and barbecuing tournament. In each of the four preliminary rounds, four expert grillers, barbecuers and chefs from across the nation competed for four spots in the finale, where only one will ultimately win the grand champion title. In tonight's fourth and final preliminary part, four fierce competitors took up the challenge, but in each round, one chef got knocked out until only one remained, winning $10,000 and earning the last spot in the finale for a chance at an additional $50,000 in winnings. Hear from the Chopped Champion now.
Appetizer: tri-tip, hen of the woods mushrooms, avocados, rose petal confit
Entree: red snapper, grape leaves, Meyer lemonade, beets
Dessert: olive oil cake, cheddar cheese, Gala apples, salted caramel
Judges: Marc Murphy, Amanda Freitag, Geoffrey Zakarian
As a recipient of a James Beard Award, Tony came into the competition pretty confident he knew what he was doing, and through the three rounds, he proved over and over again that he knew how to control the grill and manipulate the basket ingredients. Although Tony created a unique rub for his steak in the appetizer round, Amanda thought it masked the flavor of the rose petal confit, one of the basket ingredients, and the steak itself turned out tough. Making it into the entree round, Tony was ready to use the grill to his benefit: Working with red snapper, he extracted additional flavor by grilling the bones and using the drippings to make a sauce. The judges loved his technique on the fish, but leaving the grape leaves uncooked was a bad decision, according to Marc. The dessert round inspired Tony to take a French direction with the olive oil cake, making a pain perdu, but with savory notes by using fresh herbs such as sage and thyme. The only issue the judges had was not being able to taste the cheese, which Tony tried to infuse into cream. Both he and Chrissy were neck and neck, but considering all three rounds, the judges found his courses superior. Tony's expert way with extracting flavor earned him the $10,000 in this battle, and he won the last spot in the finale. There he'll face Part 1 winner Jonathon Sawyer, Part 2 winner Sophina Uong and Part 3 winner Daniel Gomez Sanchez for a chance to win an additional $50,000.
Tony Maws: I thought the baskets were ... cool. They had a good mix of things that I automatically knew exactly what I was going to do, and then they had a couple things in there that were the curve balls, and you know, you expect curve balls, but you don’t know what they are, and that’s why they’re curve balls. So, they made you think, meanwhile you don’t have a lot of time to think, so ... it’s a challenge.
Which ingredients were the most difficult for you?
TM: I think it has to be a tie with the rose confit and the cheddar at the end, not because of the ingredients themselves, just because they weren’t awesome. ... You want something that’s always, like, on its own terrific ... and then you decide what you want to do with it, and to try to figure out how to incorporate something that just isn’t awesome, that’s a big challenge because that’s just not, as a chef, the way we think.
Was there a dish in particular that you were most proud of?
TM: I think the entree course with the fish was a dish that I would serve anywhere. You know, maybe I would tighten it up a little bit in a restaurant, but I thought, you know, using the whole carcass, cooking the fish just right, making delicious accompaniments, different mediums, too, some crunchy, some, you know, cooked a little bit more, balance. I thought that was a real dish.
Is there anything that you wish you would have done differently?
TM: I mean, I think every dish I’ve ever put out, ever, has always been, "Hey, what am I going to do different next time, how can I make this better?" ... Part of it is also getting to know the judges a little bit, too, because you’re really not sure going into this competition about whether or not you’re supposed to do bells-and-whistles stuff ... or [keep it] really about the food. ... So, you learn a little bit about their taste as you go, and you hope that you’re doing well enough to keep on learning. ... I thought the flavors were there with everything I did, and ... I’m proud of the food.
TM: I love using flame, but I think it’s really important to know what’s appropriate. So, there’s good char and there’s bad char, and there’s no one answer to that. It really depends on the dish. So, you almost have to start at the end and work backwards and say: "OK, cool. Is this hard, you know, hard char, or am I looking for just, like, a little bit of caramelization? Am I looking for, like, a lot of smoke flavor, or am I looking for something that’s a little more nuanced?" And it’s really just about understanding how to get there. You know, you’re dealing with heat, you’ve got a lot of different parts of that grill. You know, make sure that you’re using them all appropriately. You’ve got hot, hot sear, you know what that’s going to do and understanding how that’s going to affect the food, the ingredients that you’re putting on the grill, and then you’ve also got indirect heat way far off. So I think the philosophy is making it delicious, of course, and then understanding what you’re doing.
TM: As a chef-owner of two restaurants, it’s my job to make people happy, but there’s a lot of different ways through the ride, throughout this tremendous ... journey, and to always just think about other people, you still have to find ways to motivate yourself, so it’s good to do something where you get amped up and you get pumped up, and you know you’re just going at it, and you look left, and you look right, and you’re working with tremendous people. Like, anybody could have won today. I mean, there was a lot of good food out there, but it’s fun to get the competitive juices flowing and just do something that’s just fun and exciting and a little nerve-racking too.
TM: I think I learned from the judges today, and it was a great reminder that I just need to be true to myself. ... People come to my restaurants, so I feel like we know how to cook good food, and if on any given day, you know, in a restaurant someone doesn’t like a dish, like, I don’t like to admit that that happens, but of course that happens. I think the same thing could happen at the judges' table. So, my point is, like, I’m going to do what I know how to do. I’m going to cook things right, I’m going to season them right, I’m not going to go way out in the left field or way out in right field, I’m going to keep it exactly the way I think it’s supposed to be, and if that wins the competition, awesome, and if someone else pulled something out of their hat that was more impressive, well then, I’m going to have to accept it, but I’m still going to walk away knowing that I did my very best.
If you end up winning, what will you do with the prize money?
TM: I’ve been pretty straightforward that ... there’s been a lot of sacrifices made along the way, and I don’t know if it’s going to be handing out hundred dollar bills or throwing a great party or taking my wife and my son on a trip for vacation. I’ll have to think about what’s the best way to do this, but, you know, there’s parts of the restaurant that need to be upgraded, and there’s, you know, stuff that we were hoping to buy that would make everybody’s lives easier within the kitchen that I’ll absolutely consider, and then there’s the people themselves and, you know, my wife and my son. Obviously money doesn’t buy happiness and love, but it’d be great to, like, say, "Hey, guess what this is, what we’re doing?" And it’s a treat, and I think that would be really cool.
Watch the finale of Chopped Grill Masters next Tuesday at 10|9c to find out who wins it all.