Chopped: Ronnie Vincent, Past Contestant, Loves Food, Football and Bench Presses 275

On a past episode of Food Network's Chopped, Ronnie Vincent lost a closely matched dessert round. The executive sous chef at Joe's Stone Crab comes from Overtown. Despite the loss, his appearance has since brought him many accolades.

Raised by a single father who worked three jobs to support his family, Vincent saw drugs and violence -- the rough life -- growing up but has always maintained a positive attitude. His own brother was shot five times but survived.

Once he graduated from high school, his athletic prowess earned him a scholarship to play football for Glenville State College in West Virginia. Running 4.48-second 40-yard dashes and majoring in education, he was well on his way to having a robust football career. After tearing his ACL and having his first child during his sophomore year in college, he decided to not pursue football but instead focused entirely on his culinary career, reading books, teaching himself, and practicing cooking in his own kitchen.

He is also actively involved with his community, often volunteering and coaching at Northwest Boys & Girls Clubs in Miami.

Short Order caught up with Vincent to talk about his college football days, reflections of Chopped, and the secret of his success.

New Times: How did you land a spot on Chopped?
It was myself and a couple other guys that actually applied for it and I didn't want to do it at first. I was like "Nah I don't need the attention." I went in thinking that I wasn't going to get picked anyways. So the woman started asking me questions and I was just honest with her ... then after a month or two later I got the email.

What would you have done different in the dessert round?
I probably would have made a parfait. When they said "times up" I kind of turned around, looked in the back and I saw the parfait glasses. I knew that I would have folded more whipped cream, put the grits, put the berries, then put the whipped cream topping and I could have made a parfait out of it.

What was the first thing on your mind when you opened the basket and saw the ingredients?
Remember your basics of cooking, just the sauteing and the broiling, what needs to be seared, whatever. I went in with that kind of mindset and when I saw the ingredients, it was more like look for the proteins, what are the proteins, what goes well with a protein and from there I just figured it out.

You said you've been tapped for Chopped Redemption and Chef Hunter, but still unsure whether you'll go, why?
It's frustrating. It's just hard to train for something like that because you're going into an environment where you have no control over anything. Nothing's finalized because the season isn't over ... but if they say "we really want you to do it," then I probably would.

What is your overall opinion of Miami's culinary scene?
It's a good thing. If you look on food shows, you get a lot of chefs from New York, California, but you really don't get anything from Miami. It just has to be put out there.

Finish this sentence: My 2012 new year resolution is...
To actually grow with my career a lot more, to fine tune what I know.

Who is your inspiration?
My father was the main inspiration because he was a single parent, raised me and my brother...he basically trained us how to take care of ourselves, and cooking was the first thing he taught us when we moved in with him, I was like 7 years old, he was 62. My father was older, so he always taught us to take care of yourself which means you need to learn how to cook, learn how to clean, do everything you need to do because you're not going to have anyone to take care of you.

Describe your worst experience in the kitchen.
It's hard to say because the restaurant business is so up and down when it comes to performing in the kitchen...I honestly can't even remember. Sorry I couldn't answer your question!

Not a problem. What chef would you most like to get drunk with at a bar?
That's a funny one, who would I? The chef that actually I would really, really like to meet is Emeril and Mario Batali. I really respect Mario Batali.

What's it been like for you since appearing on Chopped?
A lot of people actually came to the restaurant to speak to me, a lot of people want to meet me, but it was kind of cool because I never actually thought that it was as big as it was. But the funny thing about it is that a lot of people who call the restaurant say that children want to meet me...that means that the kids are actually focused on wanting to learn how to cook, which is a good thing.

How much can you bench press?

When I was playing football, I was benching 315 and squatting 485, and I was weighing 195 pounds. Now I bench press 275.

What NFL team would you have liked to play for?
When I was in college, I always thought I was playing for the Raiders, I don't know why. I love Ronnie Lott, he was like my idol, I mimicked everything about how he hit, and that's what I was doing in high school and college. I was just a hitter, I loved to hit people.

What position did you play?
I played cornerback, I was a 200-pound corner, running a 4.48 forty. I was fast, but I was just a big corner.

How do you rank yourself among other Miami chefs?
I think I can hold my own just like anybody else, but I still want to grow, I still want to get better.

Kind of like saying you are your own worst critic?
Yeah, I am. People tell me things and I still don't want to believe them. I've always been that way. I just keep trying to do better. That's what keeps me excited about cooking.

Watch Chopped next week to see Miami chef Adrienne Grenier.

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David Minsky is a U.S. Navy veteran and Tulane graduate who has experience reporting on stories from California, South Florida, and the Deep South. He has also won some journalism awards. Email or tweet David with story tips and ideas.
Contact: David Minsky