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