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Chopped All-Stars Review: Round 2!

In this second round of Chopped All-Stars, celebrity chefs competed to see who would go on to join Sunny Anderson in the finale competition, while also playing for a chance to win $50,000 for their favorite charity.

The Contestants:
Chuck Hughes – Host of Cooking Channel’s Chuck’s Day Off, Chuck’s Week Off: Mexico and Chuck’s Eat the Street and previous competitor on Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs.
Elizabeth Falkner – Renowned pastry chef and previous competitor on Iron Chef America, The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs, and The Next Iron Chef: Redemption.
Gavin Kaysen – Michelin star chef, winner of the 2008 James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef award, and one of Food and Wine Magazine’s 10 Best New Chefs (2007).
Richard Blais – Winner of Top Chef All-Stars and cookbook author.
This Week’s Judges: Maneet Chauhan; Marcus Samuelson; Chris Santos.

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The Appetizer Round: The chefs had 20 minutes to create an appetizer using black sea bass, wakame seaweed (there always has to be at least one ingredient that no one recognizes), cream soda and black garlic. This was the first round I have ever seen on Chopped in which the judges seemed to have to stretch to find anything negative to say about any contestant’s dish.

Chuck embraced the cream soda to create an alarmingly pink Black Sea Bass Tempura with Cream Soda Broth.

Elizabeth served Pan Roasted Sea Bass with Asian Wakame Fumet.

Gavin made a Crudo of Black Sea Bass with Dashi Broth.

Richard presented Raw Black Sea Bass with Italian Sausage Aioli.

In the end, though, the cream soda in Chuck’s dish set him apart while simultaneously working against him, and he was sent home for his slightly-too-sweet dish.

The Dinner Round: The contestants had 30 minutes to create an entrée containing (precooked) oxtail, labneh in olive oil, mustard greens, and fruit cocktail. I was surprised that any of the chefs were able to make passable dishes including the smushy fruit cocktail grapes, much less the gorgeous plates that they produced.

Gavin pulled together a Beef Stew with Side Cheese Course, which had the judges raving in spite of not incorporating all of the ingredients into one cohesive dish.

Richard created Braised Oxtail in Syrup of Fruit Cocktail, and not all of the judges were completely sold on his chutney.

Elizabeth served Braised Oxtail with Mustard Greens and Fruit Cocktail, the biggest critique of which was that her sauce was slightly thin, making for a slightly less refined plate (which is saying a lot for Richard and Gavin, considering how refined her plate was), and sending her home.

The Dessert Round: The two remaining contestants had 30 minutes to create a dessert recipe using peanut brittle, Mexican chocolate, grape tomatoes, and sponge cake snacks.

Richard created a completely unique Sponge Cake with Mexican Chocolate and Thai Tomato Salad.

Gavin played it a bit safer with his Mexican Chocolate and Peanut Brittle Ice Cream, but his performance in the previous rounds helped carry him through to victory in this second round of All-Stars.

After last week’s episode, I knew this week’s competition would be intense, but I had hardly expected to see such refinement out of these chefs given the time restraints and bizarre ingredients. Just before the dessert round, Richard said, “I think the winner of this [dessert round] is going to take the whole [competition].”

A big statement, perhaps, but one that I do not doubt after seeing the nuanced, sophisticated dishes that were put forth in this round of competition.

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