Caribbean cuisine is some of the best in the world, so it was no surprise to see the flavours from our region featured on the popular American reality-based cooking television game show series, Chopped.
Trinidadian flavours were front and center with chef Dawn Tyson.
In a special segment called Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, four chefs competed against each other using random ingredients provided to them, with the goal of making delicious and presentable dishes.
At the end of the third round, the judges declare a winner, and the chef takes home the coveted title of Chopped champion, and the grand prize of US $10,000.
Tyson impressed the judges in the first round with her pork roll pancake, curried tomato, and sausage chutney. While the judges praised Tyson for her ability to balance her flavours, her uncooked pancake almost got her sent home in the first round.
In the second round, Tyson tried to step it up with the mystery lunch ingredients, which comprised of salt-baked fish, Meyer lemons, sandwich bread, and beef ravioli in a can.
Her fellow Caribbean culinary competitor, chef Eustace Wehner from the British Virgin Islands says, he was excited to see the ingredients, which he said reminded him of home.
“Saltfish is huge in the Caribbean, and my mom always made a tomato and lime sauce with her saltfish, so I’m gonna make a fish sandwich with tomato and lime sauce served with a summer salad tossed in a Meyer lemon vinaigrette,” he said.
Tyson was not too thrilled with the mystery basket of ingredients, but once she got an idea for her dish, she continued to power through the lunch course.
She said, “In Trinidad we make bacalao fritter, and bacalao is a salted fish, so that’s where my brains are going. I’m making a fish fritter with a chorizo beef ravioli sauce.”
As Tyson prepared her dish for the judges to taste, she gave some background about herself and her culinary roots.
She said, “I’ve been a chef for 30 years. I’ve written a cookbook, and opened restaurants so I’m here today to show these young chefs how badass I am.”
As the round progressed, Tyson used one of her mystery ingredients; Meyer lemons to make a butter sauce. Host Ted Allen explained the flavour composition of the Meyer lemon, which is like a cross between a mandarin and lemon that carries more floral notes and sweetness than the tartness of a lemon.
Chef Wehner, who was absolutely overjoyed for making it on Chopped, shared a bit of his culinary journey to get there.
He said, “Coming from a small island like St Thomas, it been very, very challenging for me to get to executive chef level. I studied, I worked hard, I even volunteered to work for free....and winning Chopped will show that it paid off.”
Chef Wehner said if he won, he would use the prize money to help his mom since the British Virgin Islands were hit with two major hurricanes last year.
Both Wehner and Tyson felt confident in their dishes in the second round of the competition, but it was Tyson who was ultimately sent home before the dinner round.
One of the judges told Tyson that her dish reminded him of his childhood, and the flavours in the dish were very good but felt it was more like a lunch appetizer and not a lunch dish. However, all three judges felt her fritter lacked fish, which was one of the main mystery ingredients, which led to Tyson being chopped from the competition.
Wehner, kept hope alive for the Caribbean to take home the win, but he fell short of his goal in the final round as he was edged out by Chef Samantha Gordon.
The duo had to create a spectacular dinner using a rack of lamb, beet carpaccio, sea beans, and a frozen dinner.
For chef Wehner and Gordon, the rack of lamb got them both roasted by the judges who were not happy that both chefs served them raw lamb.
While all the judges agreed that Wehner’s undercooked lamb was better than Gordon, they said the rest of Gordon’s plate was delicious, which ultimately scored her the victory.
If you want to see the full episode, the show aired on the Food Network Channel, January 30.