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Chopped Review: Wheatgrass Roots

This week, Chopped explored its “hippie” side by centering the baskets around ingredients such as chia seeds, wheatgrass, and tempeh, encouraging several of the chefs to explore vegetarian recipes.

The Contestants:

•    Rich, Chef and owner from Philadelphia
    •    Mustapha, Executive chef
    •    Sonya, Executive chef and restaurant owner from Austin, TX
    •    David, Chef owner from Austin, TX

This Week’s Judges: Alex Guarnaschelli, Marc Murphy, and Amanda Freitag

Chopped pic

The Appetizer Round: The chefs had 20 minutes to create an appetizer using rice wrappers, morel mushrooms, chia seeds, and dandelion greens.

While Rich and Sonya went the obvious route by creating a Horta Roll with Morel Stock and Morel Spring Rolls with a Winter Salad, respectively, the other two chefs decided to take a more creative path with their dishes. Mustapha used the rice wrappers to create a Noodle Salad with Greens and Morels, while David served a Mushroom Ragout with Braised Dandelion Greens. In spite of some good flavors, however, David did not do a good job of cleaning or preparing his mushrooms, an error which served to send him home.

The Dinner Round: The contestants had 30 minutes to create an entrée containing etrog citron, golden beets, wheatgrass, and tempeh. It was after seeing the combination of wheatgrass and tempeh that I personally felt the desire to get up and cook some bacon.

Mustapha did the best job of transforming the flavor of the tempeh in his Asian Sautee Tempeh, and even had meat-loving Marc admitting that it was delicious. Rich, however, was slightly less successful with his Steak Spice Tempeh – his decision to serve the tempeh as a steak did not do much to impress the judges. Sonya, however, was the least successful with the tempeh, and when combined with the fact that her pickled beets nearly killed Alex Guarnaschelli, she was, not surprisingly, sent to the chopping block.

The Dessert Round: The two remaining contestants had 30 minutes to create dessert recipes using cranberries, edamame, green tea powder, and local honey.

In spite of Rich’s potential ethical crisis with the addition of honey in this basket, he ultimately decided that winning was more important than making a statement and used the honey in his Edamame Turnovers with Cranberry Sauce. Mustapha, on the other hand, turned to his childhood with his Merlot Cranberry Sauce with Candied Yams, a dish the judges were not sure could really count as dessert. Had he made a more traditional dessert, he probably could have taken the title of champion, but instead the title went to Rich.

As talented of a chef as Rich undoubtedly is, he was also lucky that the only animal byproduct in the baskets this week was honey – had he competed on a typical episode, he likely would have been eliminated for not using some of the basket ingredients. As it stands, however, perhaps his competing on this episode will do a lot for the vegan restaurant scene, which for him would likely be the best prize.

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