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Firing Line finale: Meet the competitors - INTERVIEWS

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

In Nickel City Chef’s version of the Food Network show “Chopped,” the field has been narrowed to two competitors for a two-heat final: Lloyd Taco Truck sous chef Teddy Bryant and Sample Restaurant sous chef DJ Cook.

Both chefs reigned supreme against two other competitors in their respective heats, downing sous chefs from established restaurants like Seabar and Mike A’s Steakhouse. The championship, which involves two rounds—a 45-minute entree round and a 20-minute dessert period, runs from 2:30 p.m. until 5:15 Sunday at Artisan Kitchens and Baths, 200 Amherst St., Buffalo. Doors open at 2 p.m., and tickets run for $34 after fees.

The setup of the finale is similar to the first two heats—with a twist. Instead of preparing their mastered entree, the two chefs will immediately face a mystery basket of local products to create a dish in 45 minutes. Each chef is allowed to bring 20 additional ingredients along—presumably 10 for the dessert and 10 for the entree. Once they serve the panel of judges—Buffalo News restaurant critic Andrew Galarneau, Buffalo Spree wine and food writer Julia Burke and Bistro Europa chef Steven Gedra—the two chefs will embark on the dessert, which will then be critiqued after a whirlwind-fast 20 minutes.

Coincidentally, Bryant and Cook are friends, and they’re familiar with each other from working as sous chefs at Nickel City Chef competitions for their bosses—Lloyd Taco Truck co-owner Chris Dorsaneo and Sample head chef Adam Goetz, respectively.

Here are the embedded videos, crafted by Nickel City Chef staff, that highlight the first two heats (first Bryant, then Cook):

I had the privilege of speaking with both chefs prior to Sunday’s showdown, and they smoothly dealt with some tough questions:

What did you learn from the first round?:

Bryant: “I thought I lost the first round,” Bryant said, referring to his primary opponent Jason LaMotte from the Conference and Event Center in Niagara Falls. “I was disappointed with how [my dish] looked, and there wasn’t a lot to it, but all the ingredients were good, and that was enough. It’s hard to prepare for a mystery, but at least I know now that I can bring 20 of my own ingredients along to help.”

“The dish came together halfway through [the time period]—I didn’t know what I was doing with the pork belly until 12 minutes left. The first dish was a lot different—I was able to develop the dish: I thought about it for a week or two, put it on a plate and tried it. If I had time to think about the second entree, I would have done something a lot different. I’ve thought of a few things over the last couple days that I would have rather done.”

Cook: “I’ve done competitions for job interviews and culinary school auditions, so I had a rough idea of the techniques I wanted to use—like making homemade pasta. It was my ace in the hole. You can really incorporate it with any mystery ingredient, so I just took certain techniques that I trusted, and all the flavors made sense.”

“I just wanted to get my first plate to the judges. With the second plate, it took me 25 minutes before I really had an idea what I was doing—I just was cooking as I went. I ended up being confident in my dish, but [Seabar chef Dan Kirby] may have been more technically sound, more refined. [Sample head chef] Adam [Goetz] helped me with having a microphone in my face, how to help the judges know what they’re tasting—like why sweet goes well with savory, for example. Chefs that explain the dishes the best, that steer the judges through the meal, usually have a good chance of winning.”

2) What would be in your dream mystery basket?

Bryant (pictured below): “Bacon, mushrooms, onion, garlic, potatoes—you know, the things that are really good in November. Fall is one of my favorite seasons to cook. I try to put bacon in everything, even my dessert.

Cook: “Duck—it’s a fun protein to work with. A simple potato would be good, too. The kohlrabi was a curve-ball, for sure. I really hope there’s no insides or anything creepy or weird,” the chef said with a laugh.”

3) What’s your experience like with desserts?

Bryant: “There’s only one ingredient with the dessert, so I’ve tried to narrow it down to three things. I’m coming in with a plan, but if it’s none of those three, it could be trouble.”

“I was in a bakery contest in my junior year of high school—I got crushed—then spent seven months as a pastry chef in Las Vegas. There’s not much time for the dessert, especially if it’s cake—mixing the batter, baking time and letting it cool, all in 20 minutes?”

Cook: “I’ve never done desserts against time. Some of my French co-workers in New York put me through the ringer for desserts, though. It’s not my strong-suit, but I think I have enough basic talent. I have some rough ideas for it.”

4) Why you think you’ll win:

Bryant: “I’ve had lots of experience in these competitions—in high school, to get into college, where I won the New York State competition and finished 10th in the national competition. I did a few at the Culinary Institute of America, too. It’s just competitive, like playing sports. I’m confident that whatever I make will taste good.”

Cook (pictured, left): “I’ve got eight years of experience in restaurants, and my time in New York and with Adam [Goetz] has been valuable. I’m so confident in my technical ability and my training.”

TAGGED: cooking, firing line, food network, lloyd taco truck, nickel city chef, sample restaurant, teddy bryant

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