Film & TV

SushiSamba's Chef Cara Thompson on Chopped Tonight: Restaurant Hosts Watch Party

Another Miami chef is facing off on Food Network's Chopped.

SushiSamba sous-chef Cara Thompson will battle three other chefs in an episode titled "Redemption Intention." Each contestant has been a runnerup on the popular cooking competition, which features picnic baskets filled with freaky foods designed to trip up the chefs.

The episode -- which airs tonight, Wednesday, March 19, at 10 p.m. -- will feature a "precooked protein and a slimy sea creature" as the mystery items.

SushiSamba is hosting a watch party tonight featuring a special menu created by Chef Thompson, inspired by ingredients she worked with on the show. The à la carte dinner menu features several dishes and a dessert, including Kuromitsu chicken ($15)

with enoki mushroom, pickled sea cucumber, and soy paper; pork terrine ($22)

with peruvian corn, sriracha gel, smoked pineapple sea salt, and chicharrones;

and mamey sorbet ($12)

with peanut crumble, anise catupiry crema, and sugared squash blossoms.

We asked Thompson, who was chopped because of her dessert after the last round of her season-seven Chopped appearance, why she decided to appear a second time for "redemption" and to give us an inside view on what filming the show is like.

New Times: You were on Chopped once before and came in second place. Why did you want to go on again?
Cara Thompson: It was something that I could not possibly turn down. Isn't it everyone's dream to have a second chance at something you did not conquer the first time? I had been working at SushiSamba for almost three months, and I learned a lot about various ingredients, creating menus, and dish presentation. Plus, to be honest, being on the show the first time was an honor, but I wasn't satisfied. People would tell me how awesome it was that I was on the show, and I always hated that I had to reply with: "Yes, but I came in second."

Do you really not know what's in that basket?

I really enjoyed Chopped, because yes, it is exactly what you see on TV. We have no idea what is in the mystery basket, no idea who our competitors are going to be, or the judges. The judges get a lot of hate or love depending on the episode, but I can tell you that they are very fair -- and very honest -- and I appreciate that. The producers cut a lot of the positive things that the judges say for the sake of television. Whether you like to admit it or not, they are usually spot on with their comments and critiques about you and your dishes.

How long does filming take?

Filming takes anywhere from five to 12 hours depending on where you end up in the competition.

Chopped is all about thinking on your feet with surprise ingredients. How does that work for you?

For me personally, it is a combination of techniques, dishes I have made before, and just the desire of wanting to push the envelope. If I had to take you step-by-step in my head, it would be this: First, I look at everything. Do I know these ingredients? If not, I taste them.

Next I think, What can I do in this time limit, and what techniques do I want to use? Once I establish those things, I start cooking and prioritizing. Somewhere in the process I think, What can I do to make myself stand out and make me better than my competitors? And I always plan my plating in my head long before the time runs out.

How did you prepare for Chopped?

I read up on everything food-related to have a basic knowledge on how to work with any kind of crazy ingredients they threw at me. This time I got extra help from my guys at work. One Saturday, I walked into work with a list of random ingredients and had 20 minutes to prepare an appetizer. It was a great exercise, as I thankfully did better on the show than I did in my kitchen that day.

If you could put together a mystery basket, what four ingredients would you choose that someone would not instantly think could ever work together but are actually delicious when prepared properly?

Alligator, dark chocolate, Scotch bonnet peppers, and gooseberries.

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss