Just as the chefs are settling into the rhythm of the Chopped kitchen, host Ted Allen presents them with their first mystery basket of the battle. In only 20 quick minutes, Fatima Ali and her competitors must incorporate shad roe, fruitcake, vodka and Tokyo scallions into a Champions-worthy appetizer.
Although the judges believe that Chef Walter D'Rozario could have been more creative with the fruitcake than simply topping it with shad roe, they applaud the flavors of his creamy mushroom sauce. Judge Aarón Sanchez deems it "the perfect complement to that shad," and Chef Walter ultimately avoids the appetizer-round chopping block.
To serve alongside her pan-seared shad roe with vodka-fruitcake sauce, Chef Rachel Willen makes a Dutch Baby, a pancakelike dish that, instead of turning out light and fluffy, ends up dense and compact. Judge Amanda Freitag finds the Dutch Baby "a little on the chewy side," and Aarón adds that her scallions feature an "acrid, bitter taste." In the end, Chef Rachel is chopped after just one course.
To best concentrate the flavors of the squab, the main protein ingredient in the entree basket, Chef Vinson Petrillo breaks down this miniature bird into each of its parts and serves them with pickled karelas and red quinoa. His quinoa offering is simply undercooked, but Judge Amanda nevertheless says of Chef Vinson later, "I just think he did the best job with the squab today. I was impressed."
For Chef Walter, the decision to plate his roasted squab with peanut butter and jelly sauce in a deep bowl nearly costs him his place in the competition, as the judges find it challenging to approach the meat. "He chose a very constricting plate," Aarón explains. "He left all of the ribs inside the squab," Judge Scott Conant adds. "That makes it difficult to eat as well."
Just minutes into the entree round, Chef Fatima loses track of her knife and cuts her finger straight through the nail. Although she's able to finish her dish of roasted squab with quinoa, dried mangoes and braised karelas, she's ultimately chopped before dessert. "You had some trouble with your quinoa, unfortunately," Amanda tells her. "It just needed to cook more."
To best showcase the cream-filled snack cakes, Chef Vinson melts them with milk chocolate and quickly cools them in the blast chiller. Soon, these unbaked brownielike bites are sturdy enough to slice, and he serves them alongside cottage cheese gnocchi with mitmita and a Sauternes-laced fruit compote.
In the dessert round, Chef Walter prepares a cottage cheese pudding cake with a raspberry-Sauternes sauce, but some of the cakes end up with practically raw centers. Ultimately, the panel isn't impressed with how underbaked the cakes are and aren't pleased with his choice to simply slice and plate the chocolate sandwiches.
Despite his overly sweet dessert, Chef Vinson has outcooked Chef Walter and is named the Round-2 Champions victor. He's earned one of four spots in the finale battle where he will compete to take home $50,000. "I overcame my anxiety and did better than I thought I was going to do," he reflects after the competition. "I am a great chef."