"No amateur is taking me down," Rapicavoli uttered even before the show began.
No stranger to the Chopped kitchen, Rapicavoli has come a long way since his appearance in 2012. He's been nominated for a James Beard Rising Chef Award, he's received the Slow Food "Snail of Approval," and he's opened two restaurants, which is much more than the other chefs in this round can boast. Rapicavoli faced Tom McKenna from Jean Georges in NYC, Fatima Ali, and Lauren Kyles.
The premise of the show is simple: Contestants must make an appetizer, entrée, and dessert from a basket of mystery ingredients before the clock runs out. They are judged on presentation, taste, and creativity. Whoever's dish doesn't cut it is chopped until only one chef is left standing.
The first basket of the night included eel, pepihuates, shaved coconut, and sea beans.
"I know I'm the best chef here," Rapicavoli claimed as he handled the eel. He was the only chef who removed the skin, making barbecued eel with heirloom tomatoes and a pepihuate curry. He added the sea beans as the natural salinity to garnish the dish but forgot the shaved coconut he had toasted. "Oh, motherfucker," he muttered when he noticed after time was up.
But forgetting an ingredient didn't get Rapicavoli chopped. The judges raved about his plate, calling it "hands down the best dish of the round." Instead, the brininess of Ali's sea beans got her eliminated and kept Rapicavoli in the running. "I purposely left out the coconut to give these guys a fair advantage," Rapicavoli quipped. "Just kidding." Or was he?
For the entrée round, Rapicavoli found a familiar ingredient in his basket -- squab. (He got squab his last time on Chopped.) Wanting to showcase his different skills and techniques, he grilled the squab to make a Peking squab with grape leaf fried rice using the other mystery ingredients (stuffed grape leaves, feta cheese, and cherry cola). His creative use of ingredients and fantastic job of cooking the squab pushed Rapicavoli to the dessert round, while undercooked squab sent Kyles home.
The final round meant the heat was on for McKenna and Rapicavoli to perform. Rapicavoli had to make up for his missing coconut in the first round. Faced with a basket of grasshopper pie, Granny Smith apples, smoked salt, and puffed rice, Rapicavoli's eyes lit up. "I'm really excited to go into dessert. At my restaurant, I do all my own pastry." The chef immediately thought to purée the grasshopper pie into ice cream. "I want to show there's a lot more to me than just missing coconut." So he cooked the apples in a way similar to bananas Foster and flambéed them with cognac. Puffed rice mousse brought together the whole thing. "This isn't a $50,000 dessert; it's a $100,000 dessert," Rapicavoli said.
On the flipside, McKenna's dessert wasn't what he had envisioned. Still, both chefs received compliments for their desserts, but judge Marc Murphy praised Rapicavoli for his creative energy.
Ultimately, McKenna's failure to remove the eel skin in the first round proved more unforgivable than Rapicavoli's forgetting the coconut. Judges Scott Conant, Chris Santos, and Marc Murphy announced Rapicavoli a Chopped winner for the second time.
Rapicavoli moves on to the final round, which will air September 23 at 10 p.m., for the chance to win $50,000 and a new car.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha
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