Many Louisianans, including us at the Louisiana Restaurant Association, were on the edge of their seats last night when owner of Restaurant Cotton, Chef Cory Bahr, appeared on the Food Network show Chopped. As the opening of Chopped unfolds, the rules are revealed, “Four chefs, three courses, only one chance to win.” What does the reigning chef win? A whopping $10,000 cash prize!
Bahr admitted that he had never seen an episode of the show before he was selected to compete. His unfamiliarity with its premise influenced his decision to prepare for the competition in a way that one might not expect.
"It seemed pointless to me," said Bahr. "I would never be able to guess the mystery basket ingredients, or recreate any dish I could come up with during any practice. I just decided to focus on technique and flavor and hope that it would be enough."
The challenge throughout the competition is to create an unforgettable meal using the items in a mystery basket and staples available in the show’s stocked pantry and fridge. In last night’s episode, the appetizer round’s mystery basket included corned beef, black olives, baby corn and gummy fried eggs.
From those ingredients, Bahr prepared a corned beef steak with regular and sweet potato hash peppered with olives and baby corn that he and his competitors had to shuck. The judges liked his hash but remarked that the corned beef was a little tough. Despite that small criticism, Bahr moved on.
In entree round, the mystery basket revealed striped bass, sour lemon candy, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) and cream of mushroom soup. Bahr saw the fish and was really excited, although he said, “I can’t go back to North Louisiana if I don’t cook this fish right.”
The judges really liked Bahr’s preparation of the striped bass and the sunchoke puree, but didn’t think his treatment of the sour lemon candy was creative enough. Regardless, Bahr moved onto the final round.
The dessert mystery basket held raisins on the vine, spearmint leaf candy, knodel—a type of potato dumpling—and almond flour.
These ingredients inspired Bahr to call upon his grandmother’s recipe for bread pudding, which the judges loved but commented on it being a little undercooked.
His overly-confident competitor in the final round looked over at Bahr’s bread pudding and said, Yea, I got this.”
In each round, candy was one of the mystery ingredients. Did their inclusion throw Bahr off his game?
"I tried to use the candy's flavor profile to enhance each course," Bahr explained. "In the first round, I used the gummy fried eggs in the viniagrette because of its citrus and sweet flavor; the lemon candy in the second round was used as an acid to the fish and also for its textural component and the spearmint candies in the dessert round were used in the mint sauce for the bread pudding."
When host Ted Allen lifted the cloche to reveal his competitors dish, Bahr exclaimed, “Yes! My grandmother is going to lose it!”
Not only did he flex his culinary chops, he represented Louisiana and his native Monroe extremely well. Throughout the show, Bahr maintained a positive and friendly attitude and steered clear of any trash talking that some competitors on Chopped partake in. Those watching at the restaurant’s viewing party were ecstatic and so are we!
"I really agreed to do the show, in part, to show the country that there is great food, great restaurants and great chefs in North Louisiana," said Bahr. "I want people to know that you can get an awesome meal anywhere in our state."
Bahr, of course, has known that he was the winner of his episode since February. He found it extremely difficult to keep the secret, especially because every day, someone would ask him how he did.
"I only told my wife and my grandmother," Bahr confessed. "It was hard, though, because everyone was so nice and sincere in wishing me good luck. I just told them I tried my best and that I hoped it carried me through the competition."