On Tuesday, January 21, 2014, friends and family gathered at Rudy’s Pub and Grill to watch our favorite chef, Chef Joe Youkhan battle for the title of “Chopped Champion”. Rudy’s was gracious enough to have most of the television screens on the Food Network so everyone could have the best vantage point for the show.
As the show title came on, we started to cheer for our local culinary hero from Orange County, CA. Chef Joe owns and operates the Tasting Spoon food truck and catering. Some of his family, including his dad, traveled here from New York to help cheer him on. If you have not seen Chopped before, there are 3 rounds: Appetizer (20 minutes), Entrée (30 minutes), and Dessert (30 minutes). At the beginning of each round, the chefs are given a basket of mystery items and can use items from the show’s fully-stocked pantry (staples like eggs, milk, vegetables, seasonings, spices, flour, etc.) It’s a similar premise as Iron Chef, but they just need to make one dish for each round. The mystery items usually throw a curve ball to the chefs, making them think on their feet and turn on the creativity. Chef Joe’s competitors were Chef Maxcel Hardy (personal chef to the stars in NY), Chef Ashley Fahr (freelance catering chef and food stylist in NY), and Chef Laurie Potts (Executive Chef of Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville, TN).
Here’s a rundown of the dishes Chef Joe made on the show:
In the Appetizer round, the chefs opened their baskets to: pickled pig’s feet, butter beans, coleslaw mix, and sweet potato chips. Joe decided to make Butter Bean and Pig’s Feet Cassoulet with Sour Cabbage Slaw served with Smoked Tomato Bruschetta. He also used jalapenos, pancetta, and chickpeas in this dish. Chef Joe said, “When I saw the butter beans, I immediately thought cassoulet.” The water left from rinsing the pig’s feet was a little vinegary so he added it to the coleslaw mix to make the sauerkraut. The sweet potato chips were used as texture to replace traditional bread crumbs in a cassoulet. The judges PROs were: amazed with complexity of flavor in 20 minutes whereas a traditional cassoulet takes a couple of days to cook; sauerkraut play with the coleslaw. The judges CON was: cassoulet should evoke some type of broth but it was not present and would have been perfect to use the bruschetta to soak it up. Joe said he used chicken stock but it was fully absorbed into the dish. As the judges deliberated, Joe’s competitors complimented his attempt to make a cassoulet. As the chefs made their way back into the kitchen, we were all quiet awaiting the verdict. Chef Ashley was “chopped” and the room exploded with cheering as Chef Joe advanced to the next round.
In the Entrée round, the chefs opened their baskets to: venison tenderloin, watercress, eggplant, and pecan pie. The first thing Joe said was, “What am I going to do with a full pecan pie?” Joe decided to make a Five Spice Seared Venison with Potato Gnocchi and Eggplant Pecan Pie Caponata. He also used flour, butter, and parmesan for the gnocchi and made his own five spice from coriander, cumin, cinnamon, hot paprika, and black peppercorns. At the end of 30 minutes, Joe said, “Holy Cow! I just did gnocchi. It’s very ambitious. But I definitely made a solid dish that is possibly going to get me to the dessert round.” The judges PROs were: amazed how much work Joe squeezed into just 30 minutes; bold flavors of the dish; attempting to make gnocchi; eggplant caponata was the star of the dish with briny, vinegary, and acidity. The judges CONs were: venison was black and blue (which I would have eaten in delight), not rare – but raw in the middle, but at least it was not overcooked; gnocchi was more like a dumpling – too much flour made it dense. As the judges deliberated, the chefs talked about their kids. I know how hard Joe works and I know it just kills him that he doesn’t get to spend as much time with them as he would like to. Upon the judges’ return, Chef Laurie was “chopped” and the room again exploded in cheers as Chef Joe advanced to the final round.
In the Dessert round, the chefs opened their baskets to: chai tea latte, lady gala apples, black licorice, and puff pastry. Joe decided to make a Deconstructed Roasted Apple Strudel with Chai Tea Black Licorice Cream. He also used heavy cream, bourbon, brown sugar, currants, vanilla bean, and raw apples for texture. Chef Joe was sweating as the final seconds were ticking away and mentally counted the main ingredients to make sure they were all utilized. “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Time’s up! Please step back.” The judges PROs were: not too sweet, well balanced; celebrated the apple with deeper notes when cooked; liked the idea of licorice, apple, and raw texture. The judges CON was that the puff pastry was raw, but both Chef Joe and Chef Maxcel had the same problem. As the judges deliberated for the last time, Joe said to Maxcel, “This race is neck and neck for sure. Whoever wins buys the first drink” as they both smiled and bumped fists. The crowd in the restaurant screamed as Chef Maxcel’s dish was revealed. “And that means, Chef Joe Youkhan, you are the Chopped Champion!” A lot of us were in tears as Joe said, “I look like a big mean guy but when I talk about my kids, I cry.” Have fun on your culinary trip to Italy with the family. You all deserve it for all that you do!
For information about Chef Joe Youkhan:
Chef Joe Youkhan’s Tasting Spoon Food Truck and Catering
Serving Orange County, CA
Book Tasting Spoon for your next event – corporate events, weddings, parties, etc.
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