The competition reality show typically tasks contestants with concocting three-course meals using mystery ingredients, but this season, Food Network sweetened its offerings with a dessert-centric spinoff. "It's like Chopped but all about sweets," Gonzalez explains, adding the inspiration for the show came from a successful dessert-themed episode in the original series.
Last summer, a casting director contacted Gonzalez about the series' cookie-themed episode. "They had seen my Instagram and loved what I was doing with Night Owl Cookies and invited me to be on the show," the Miami native says. "Since every episode has its own theme, I'm in the one that's all about cookies, naturally."
Gonzalez says being a Chopped contestant is like being a college kid: "Imagine being really hungry and opening up your fridge and finding ramen, old Chinese food, and milk and having to come up with a dessert based on those ingredients," he says. It sounds like an impossible mission, but where there's a grumbling stomach, there's an extraordinary meal — or, in this case, a cookie — waiting to be made.
"I went in expecting to have to work with some crazy ingredients, and they definitely exceeded my expectations," he says with a laugh.
A teaser for the March 2 "Tough Cookies" episode reads, "The humble cookie takes the spotlight as Scott Conant challenges four pastry artists to create an imaginative twist on popular cookie varieties. The competitors discover a jar of something alarming in the first basket."
Chopped Sweets will be the Night Owl founder's first time on Food Network. He walked onto the soundstage confident as hell, he says, but lost some self-esteem as soon as he opened his first box of ingredients.
"I tried to stay true to my Miami roots with my creation on the show, which may have been a little too ambitious of me," he says, adding how he's both excited and nervous for people to see the episode.
Without giving too much away about the confection he invented, Gonzalez promises Miamians will get a chance to sample it for themselves. In celebration of his Chopped Sweets episode, Night Owl will offer the new cookie for a limited time: Friday, March 6, through Sunday, March 8.
"The cookies won't be on our permanent menu, but I want to share what I came up with on the show with our Night Owl customers," Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez started Night Owl in 2013 after a visit to a cookie shop in Gainesville. The cookies he tasted were "just OK," he says, and he wondered how he could make something better. A self-taught baker, Gonzalez subsequently experimented in his mother's kitchen for about three weeks before he settled on a recipe and launched his own cookie business.
"I feel like a cookie never gets old. It's a classic, traditional sweet that is never going to die out."
Chopped Sweets episode with Andrew Gonzalez. 11 p.m. Monday, March 2, on Food Network.