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Chopped Review: “Walk on the Whelk Side”

This week’s episode of Chopped continued this summer’s theme of finding premade desserts in the savory round baskets, as the contestants had to use lemon bars in the appetizer round.

The Contestants:
Ben, Executive chef from Long Island, New York
Natasha, Chef/owner from New York City
Paolo, Chef/owner from California
Katsuji, Chef/owner from Los Angeles, California

This Week’s Judges: Aaron Sanchez, Maneet Chauhan, and Geoffrey Zakarian.

The Appetizer Round: The chefs had 20 minutes to create an appetizer using lemon bars, acai juice, upland cress, and whelk snails.

from Chopped

This was an usual appetizer round in that the contestants actually transformed all of the basket ingredients in their appetizer dishes – something that rarely happens in any round, much less straight out of the gate.

Natasha served Sauteed Snails over what Geoffrey deemed “magical” potatoes and a perfect acai and lemon bar puree, though she did overcook her snails. Paolo’s Sauteed Snails, in contrast, had great flavor but were presented very poorly – in fact, his plate was downright bland looking. Ben and Katsuji both presented Snail Ceviche, though the judge’s felt that Katsuji’s was better executed than Ben’s, which was most notable for it’s terribly sloppy presentation.

Apparently the judges were not any more interested in a plate smeared with red liquid than I would have been, and sent Ben to the chopping block.

The Dinner Round: The contestants had 30 minutes to create an entrée containing lamb shawarma, baby romanesco cauliflower, cornichons, and chicken-flavored potato chips.

This was really a great round, with all three of the chefs pulling from their cultural roots to successfully transform the ingredients. Natasha turned the shawarma into a “very tasty” stroganoff, demonstrating her smart use of the basket ingredients yet again. Katsuji made a take on a quick mole that Aaron Sanchez was “really proud of” – which is about the highest praise you can get from the man who usually scoffs at any attempt at a mole on this show.

Paolo’s Lam Shawarma Polpette was “really yummy” (c’mon Geoffrey, you can come up with better adjectives), but needed a bit more seasoning. It was the blandness of this dish that sent Paolo packing – which is just as well, because his constant complaining was really starting to get irritating.

The Dessert Round: The two remaining contestants had 30 minutes to create a dessert recipe using cucumber salad, cantaloupe, sesame seed candy, and marshmallow spread.

This was, by all estimations, a bit of a bizarre dessert round. Even though the basket ingredients weren’t too off-the-wall, Geoffrey said that Natasha’s Sesame Cookie with Marshmallow Cream was an “unusual dessert" and Katsuji himself said that his Crepe with (poorly executed) Cantaloupe Cucumber Sherbet was “a weird dish."

In spite of hoping to beat out Katsuji for his cockiness, the judges felt that Natasha’s dessert lacked the nuances that Katsuji’s showed, and she was chopped. Regardless of who won, both of these chefs are proof that the “American dream” does exist, and that it is possible to rebuild your life while keeping your culture’s food at the center.

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