Being a Chopped Champion has been an amazing experience. I have met so many people who have enjoyed the episode that I was on and I am inspired by the feedback that I had received. Thank you all for the amazing responses and thank you for all of your support.
It was the hardest challenge I ever participated in and I am glad to have been honored with the title CHOPPED CHAMPION.
So, Chopped Champions. I was invited back to compete again, but this time against other Chopped Champions. The day started early for me, 4:30am and I drove out to Long Island City where the studio was. Like last time, we met at the diner and waited to be called over.
As I waited at the diner I met my competition, Marie-Claude Mendy (from Boston), Justin Burdett (From Georgia) and Alan Harding (From New York). All of them amazing chefs and all of them great people. We got to talking about our different experiences on our first Chopped and what impact it had on us after our Chopped wins.
We entered the studio to many familiar faces and a common bond, we have all won and never lost Chopped.
My vibe was different from last time, I was very happy just to be there, I was not at all intimidated by the moment or by the judges. Hell, some of them were on Chopped All-stars and lost, so they know what it means to be on the other side of the chopping block.
The time came to get going, we all entered the kitchen, and in typical Ted Allen fashion he said “Chefs open your baskets, your ingredients are…..” and so it began.
For those of you who know me, know I am a very very competitive person, so the end result was something im not use to, something that has NEVER happened to me in competition, I felt a sense of balance and a sense of just happy to be there, not one of fire, not one of competition. It wasnt important to me to be the best at the moment, I was alive (beating cancer for the 5th time since the last Chopped aired), the win wasnt important, and for some reason the $50,000 didnt seem to make me hungry to win, nor did the bragging rights of the win again. I wasn’t my usual hardcore, aggressive, competitive chef, it was strange, almost surreal for me.
I got through the first round and felt very blessed that the judges, while harsh, liked the dish for the most part. I was surprised to see Chef Justin get knocked off first, I was glad I didn’t, but I was surprised none the less.
Second round, here we go. We get to the baskets and BAM! I felt for the first moment a little surprised at the ingredients, I had a moment of, WHAT THE HELL DO I DO WITH THIS??? So I figured, lets just cook and see what happens… I started to feel a little uneasy, a little panicked, unfamiliar ingredients, but this is what I do… so why was I not crushing it? Why was I just kind of going through the motions, this is not me, this is not my game, I needed to fire it up!
I look up and see there is less than 4 minutes to go, wow, where did the time go??? Then at that moment I realize I am no way near where I want to be, this isn’t what I do, I have to get it together and get fired up!
Last minute plan, I need a little texture, so I go get some corn meal and I want to make a quick fried tomato for texture, flavor and color….Ted says those words that I didn’t want to hear…Times up chefs. I cant tell you or explain to you the rage I felt towards myself, I know I am much better than this, I know that I didn’t do my thing until the last couple of minutes….but then the reality of the moment set in…nothing I can do but be grateful for being there and having the experience that most chefs never have.
The judging went on and I made the mistake (I believe) in saying that even if I don’t get to the next round I am grateful for the experience. One judge blasted back, “it sounds like you’re giving your exit speech”, maybe I was, I didnt feel at that moment like I deserved to move forward. No excuses, I just didn’t fire it up! First and last time EVER!
We headed back to the sequester room and the other contestants felt that I would go forward while we were waiting for the judges to call us back in.
I was feeling a little more confident than I did after I made the dish, maybe too confident, but my first feeling was right…Ted lifts the plate cover and says “Chef Eric, you have been Chopped” I thought that I would be bothered by it, that I would feel defeated, but that wasn’t the case, not at all, I felt relieved for some reason. I thanked the judges and went back to work at the club.
The experience was a great one, I have made some amazing friends and I learned a lot about myself, my values and what is important. It was another moment of clarity, a moment of growth and a moment I will take with me forever.
Fire it up!