The Food Network's megahit reality series Chopped has featured a bounty of Austin talent this season, including MAX'S Wine Dive's Erica Beneke and Restaurant Jezebel's Parind Vora. This week, two local fine dining chefs — Second Bar + Kitchen's Jason Stude and The Carillon's Josh Watkins — competed alongside each other on the culinary competition. In the end, Stude wooed and won over the judges with his well-rounded, well-executed appetizer, entree and dessert — seizing $10,000 for the victory.
Stude discussed the Chopped experience and his award-winning three courses with CultureMap.
"I tried to stay true to what I like to cook – Southeast Asian and Southwestern American flavors. I wanted to put three dishes out there that made sense together."
CultureMap: What attracted you to auditioning for and appearing on Chopped?
Jason Stude: I've wanted to compete on Chopped since I first saw it air on The Food Network in 2009. I like that the show is completely about cooking and is judged by chefs that I have a profound respect for. Also, in looking at the amount of time the show would take me away from my family and the restaurant, I appreciated it being shot in one day — one very long, crazy day.
CM: Is the experience as nerve-racking as it seems, or is that just good TV?
JS: Being on the show is as stressful as you would expect — maybe more. It's pretty nuts. It's real, and there are no second chances. The part that killed me was the amount of times they shot the cloche with Ted Allen's hand over it before it's actually lifted to reveal whose dish it is. The whole time you're just hoping your dish isn't on the chopping block. Yes, it's very stressful, but I think keeping the focus on the clock and solely about cooking in the same environment is precisely why it's a great show.
CM: How was the show different from what you expected?
JS: This was my first time to do a television show, so I didn't have many expectations on the process. The Food Network knows what they're doing, and I am grateful to have been there. All of the competing chefs and the judges were very cool. The only thing that actually surprised me was how cold it was in that room and that there was only one ice cream machine!
CM: Could you detail some of the dishes you made?
JS: Before setting out to do the show or even knowing what the theme of the show was — which by the way, you don't know any of it until you open your basket, roughly 20 seconds before you start cooking — I knew that I wanted to have a narrative. I tried to stay true to what I like to cook – Southeast Asian and Southwestern American flavors. I wanted to put three dishes out there that made sense together.
In the appetizer round I went with a broccoli soup with braised beef and a fortune cookie with mint gremolata. I did my best to make a cohesive flavor profile. For the entree round, I was thrown for a loop when I saw a giant block of German chocolate cake. What I came up with was a mole, and to tie the coconut flavor in the cake together, I made a potato puree with coconut milk and lemongrass. For dessert, I just did the best I could. I made a corn custard with sangria candied corn and a donut chip. Sounds crazy, but I was going for a visual of chips and queso.
CM: What were the inspirations behind these dishes?
JS: The only inspiration I had was to win. There is a very small amount of time to think, so you need to be true to flavors and techniques you know. It's not like at the restaurant where you evolve a dish or speak from a certain place, garden or season. You're just trying to get the job done as best as you can.
CM: What was one experience or new idea you took away from the show?
JS: Doing the show was a blast. I have a tremendous amount of respect for my competitors. We all agreed early in the morning that we were going to keep things positive and professional. It was great that everyone kept their cool. I'll be honest though, I had stress nightmares about the show for a couple of weeks after we filmed. I'm actually stressed out right now talking about it! But, it was a great time that I will always remember and be thankful for.