In last evening's episode of Chopped on the Food Network, Palate Party food truck owner Robyn Almodovar was visibly nervous when presenting her plate to judges Geoffrey Zakarian, Marc Murphy, and Amanda Freitag. The chef, competing for $10,000 along with three other hopefuls, had just made beef tendon and purslane wontons from the ingredients found in her mystery basket.
Although Almodovar was up against some heavy hitters, including Four Seasons Chicago executive chef Stephen Wambach, Buddakan's Oscar Toro, and Robert Sevcik from SEA, the judges approved of the way she transformed the spongy tendon into something delicious. That seemed to give the chef confidence, as her nerves gradually slipped away, replaced by Almodovar's trademark bravado and zest for living.
In the next round of competition, Almodovar seemed to stumble when using mystery basket ingredients trash fish, olive tapanade, vermicelli, and blood oranges. An attempt to fry the noodles to puff them up resulted in a gummy mess. Smacking her head with her hand, the chef realized that the noodles are fresh and re-planned her dish. That thinking-on-her-feet attitude did not go unnoticed, with judge Geoffrey Zakarian saying that he admires the food truck chef because, "she's not wasting a minute".
What seemed like a dismissal of the food truck chef's abilities, especially by Four Season's Stephen Wambach, turned into respect, as Almodovar's tenaciousness and skills made her the one to beat. In the final round, with 30 minutes on the clock, Almodovar faced Wambach in the dessert showdown.
What do you do when you have to make a dessert with egg custard tarts, coffee infused tequila, caramelized onions, and pretzels? Turn it into a fried bread pudding with a savory strawberry onion jam on the side. Georrfrey Zakarian was especially pleased with the use of the onion, and noted that the petite chef looked less nervous than in the beginning of the show.
After deliberation, host Ted Allen revealed the dish on the chopping block. Stephen Wambach's custard sponge, which judge Marc Murphy called, "a terrible bite", was eliminated and Robyn Almodovar was named the Chopped champion.
As Almodovar danced for the judges in a surge of joy, Geoffrey Zakarian told the chef that she, "cooked her truck off". The chef replied, "I feel like I took the world and put it in my pocket."
We're not sure about the world — but Almodovar's pockets now hold an additional $10,000.
Watch the Chopped judges make a dish with the same mystery basket ingredients in this episode of Chopped After Hours:
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