On Tuesday night my brother, Chef Vinson Petrillo competed on the Food Network Series CHOPPED.
If you have never seen the show contestants must complete 3 rounds of cooking: an appetizer, entrée, and desert using a basket of mystery ingredients. After each round the contestant with the weakest dish is eliminated until the final 2 chefs battle the dessert round and the chance to win $10,000.
During the battle, the panel of 3 judges try to get into the heads of the chefs and we get to know a little more about them. Most of the biography the audience gets is created in the editing room. It seems like each season the show tries to make the chef bios more and more endearing giving each one a purpose and even an obstacle. One chef had Rheumatoid Arthritis, another was engaged and expecting a baby, the third chef was adopted. My brother candidly spoke about starting in the food industry when he was 15 and his battle with Fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression and how the long intense hours keep his body and mind focused. (After the show, he revealed that he thought his bio would be about he, his girlfriend, and the sacrifices it takes to be a chef because the network spent an entire day filming them!) I am sad to see the cute couple on the cutting room floor.
The appetizer basket contained sardines, rice cakes, mandarinquats, and wax beans. Vinson, who had never watched the show before competing, did not have his strongest round creating a less than unified dish of seared sardines on toasted rices cakes with blanched wax beans and sliced mandarinquats. He was the only one who served the quats with the skin. He also appeared to be the only one who knew that the skin was edible.
Consider this: Everything in the kitchen is designed to remove the chef from their comfort zones. Products are packaged differently, and I it seems the like ovens are not calibrated correctly. However, Vinson pulled to the second round when another contestant forgot to have a mystery ingredient on her plate. This is usually grounds for being CHOPPED unless everything else on the dish is superb.
Getting to the next round gave Vinson the confidence to overcome the appetizer round jitters. He turned a basked of Yak, mustard greens, dried shrimp, and mangosteens into a dish that left the judges, Conant, Zakarian, and Samuelsson, stunned and beyond impressed at the young chef’s abilities when they marveled at his plate of perfectly grilled yak served with mustard green pesto, mustard greens sautéed with dried shrimp and mangosteen. Usually, when a chef serves a product 2 ways it is the kiss of death. A judge will typically say there is disconnect between the two. However, while Vinson prepared the greens two ways, he served them harmoniously. The pesto and the sautéed greens were both made utilizing the dried shrimp as was the aioli. All served to enhance the yak steak.
As each round progressed it was easy to see Vinson applying all of the skills and tricks that he has learned in his 12 years of restaurant experience and culinary training. In my opinion, I have noticed that the chefs who do not own their own restaurants have a tendency to do better in this competition because of the broader range of experiences (but that’s just me).
Vinson makes it to the dessert round along with the young woman who was adopted. Here he creates a whimsical almost breakfast inspired dessert out of chamomile flowers, kefir, plums, and black pepper crackers. He makes beautiful vanilla french toast, plums poached in balsamic vinegar, and a chamomile, honey and kefir custard with pepper cracker struesel. In this round he makes Conant almost wet his pants when Vinson uses Ultratex (“a modified tapioca starch”) to thicken the custard instead of putting in the blast chiller (which never works!).
Throughout the entire competition, Vinson is humble, modest, and completely appreciative of the constructive criticism the judges give him. He was kind to his competition. He shows a grace under fire that I have never seen on this show. So many chefs come on trying to cook a name for themselves and their egos, hoping that this will be a big break. Vinson, despite his nerves, was himself and that brought him farther than all of the other contestants when he won the title of Chopped Champion and $10,000.00!
In a the intimate back room of a New York City bar, I had the pleasure of watching the competition with the Chef, our family, and friends. As the show progressed my phone began to go crazy. By the end of the night I had dozens of tweets and G+ comments from well wishers across the country. People from Oregon to Ohio, made a point to find some way to contact Vinson for everything from giving him advice for treating his Fibromyalgia to thanking him for the best episode of Chopped they have ever seen, and he even inspired one young man to want to cook.
The kindness of a country of viewers was as amazing as the pride and happiness I felt for my brother as the show unfolded. Obviously, it doesn’t matter to me if he won. I’m proud of him not only for taking the chance but for conducting himself with poise and for being himself, all with the cameras rolling. My favorite messages came from those who told me that they recorded the episode and want to watch it with their families again to show their kids a positive role model.
And then, to top it all off he proposes to his girlfriend right after the show because as he put it, “during the show it was about me, after it’s about her.”
I wonder if kindness and humility could ever be a mystery ingredient?
If you liked this, check out my book: http://www.amazon.com/Pregnancy-Skeptical-Woman-ebook/dp/B0055E6ZAU