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'Chopped All-Stars': Did the best man win?

You had to pity the judges on the Food Network's "Chopped All-Stars."

They were forced to choose between one of their own -- judge Aaron Sanchez -- and chef Nate Appleman, who recently competed on "The Next Iron Chef."

The two men had cooked for their lives, both in the early rounds leading up to Sunday's hotly anticipated competion and in the finale itself. And they both had story-lines that brought the judges to tears.

Appleman, a pitbull of a chef, was determined to win the charity competition to raise the $50,000 for the Kawasaki Disease Foundation. Appleman's young son, who has been diagnosed with a rare vascular disorder, made a guest appearance Sunday night that had the judges reaching for the Kleenex as Appleman hoisted him high. Heading into the competition, Appleman said that he simply "wasn't letting anything stand in my way" as he fought for victory. "This is game-changing money" for such a small organization, Appleman said.

Meanwhile, Sanchez's run at the $50,000 granted his colleagues -- and the audience -- a rare look into his personal life. That included his mother's profound influence on his Latin cuisine as well as Sanchez's  troubled youth. (His father died when Sanchez was just a teen, and he rebelled in his grief. He ended up working in kitchens in New Orleans, and he said the discipline required to rise in the ranks was exactly what he needed to get his life back on track.) Sanchez was competing to raise money on behalf of that city's beleagured fishing and seafood industry.

It was such a tough choice that "Chopped" host Ted Allen was compelled to make note of it. Sanchez's place in the finale put the judges in a horrible bind, and it would have been so much easier had he lost in the earlier rounds: "I am so mad at Aaron for making it to the dessert round, because now look at the choice you are facing," Allen said.

Sanchez and Appleman were practicaly dead even heading into that round, where the mystery ingredients included chayote squash,  canned chickpeas, ruby red grapefruit and sesame candies.

Sanchez plated individual-sized sesame chocolate cakes with a chayote salad and chickpea whipped cream. Appleman came up with a dessert that seemed to defy reason: a grapefruit semmifreddo with a chickpea caramel. The judges seemed almost afraid to taste the concoction.

But they loved it.

Sanchez's cakes, while pretty on the plate, were a bit too dry. And while judge Alex Guarnaschelli said the dessert was "beyond reproach," the judges couldn't let that pass, especially if it would seem like they were playing favorites.

"You're a total killer in the kitchen. And to get to know your cooking the way we have, has opened up a whole different level of you to us. But the heart of your dessert lay in a chocolate cake that was dry and that we couldn't give you a pass on, not with so much at stake," Guarnaschelli said, barely holding back the tears.

And with that, Appleman walked off with the win. What did you think of his victory? Were the judges being overly harsh on Sanchez to avoid any appearance of favoritism? And what did you think of Appleman's performance? Did it make you forget all about his sharp-elbowed demeanor on "Next Iron Chef"? Or do you think this win will make him insufferable?

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Chef Nate Appleman, left, and Ted Allen chat with the media at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival earlier this year.

Comments () | Archives (10)

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It was a good showdown. However, I don't believe Nate pulled the ingredients together as well as Anne and Aaron did. I believe the reason that Nate won was that Aaron made the simple mistake of baking something that was dry. As for Aaron not using the whole trail mix package, it wasn't said because the judges already had a similar discussion in one of the prior Chopped shows. One of the contestants used only the vanilla in a Neopolitan ice cream and only one of the two judges ruled against it. If I'm not mistaken, Aaron was one of the judges in that episode that since the Ice cream was used (which is the special ingredient), taking just part of it is permitted. After all, if they're given an apple or grapefruit and they take of the peel and use only the juice, does it mean they didn't use the special ingredient?

No one mentioned that Sanchez did not use all of the ingredients. In the round he was cooking against Ann and Nate he did not use the raisins and the chocolate in the trail mix. This violated the shows own rules. Sanchez should have been chopped for cheating in that round. Who would have won if Nate and Ann had been in the last round is anyone's guess. Why is this fact not reported?

I noticed the celebrity chefs did not have rattlesnake or octopus in their baskets.
Robert Irvine (not sure about that last name) was by far the best chef on the prelim shows. Also Jeffrey was probably the best in his heat. Oh well, it was pretty predictable.

I don't understand why Anne Burrell had to put down Nate Appleman and his "lack of creativity" during the TV program.

Can't she simply stand on the merits of her own food without denigrating others - especially on a show to raise money for charities?

I don't recall anyone else putting others down on the finale. Maybe they did and I missed it. Did anyone else remember that?

Insufferableness makes great TV. Nobody wants contestants who all get along. My favorite all-time Chopped contestant was the snarky blonde woman from Boston who always licked her lips in a really gross way and said "wicked"

As soon as I heard that Nate was going to be a contestant in Chopped All-Stars, I knew he would win the whole shebang. From his time on The Next Iron Chef, I knew that he would be singularly set on the goal of winning that $50,000 for the Kawasaki Disease Foundation, and hearing the story of how deeply it affected him and Oliver just cemented it. He is an amazing chef, and he would do anything for not only the win, but for his son, and you have to admire that.

The rest of the chefs were great, and any one of them could have won. Except Duff. Because Pepto-Pink is not an appetizing color for an appetizer. =)

@cynthia Good lord, I hope they don't give Michael a show. He's nothing more than a gigantic walking cliche. And "fan favorite" or not, he's really not good television.

guess what? it doesn't matter who won..everyone won....i bet michael will get his own show....aaron and anne still have thier shows....and the pitbull? he's a good cook! it is what it is....and it's all good. thanks for a great show...

I wouldn't touch Appleman's "dessert" if you paid me-ugh! At least Aaron's food is accessable. I have a new respect for Aaron and his food-the best of luck to him!

Appleman's win was a sweet victory for him, his charity and his son who is clearly the apple of his eye. I believe the judges were fair in their evaluations, however I'm not certain there's a unit of measure for how impossibly close the call must have been for the panel. Let's hope the win will humble Appleman, insufferableness doesn't make for good TV or parenting.


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